Worst to Best
The Monkees
Season Two

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Monkees TV show, a programme based around a fictional band that ended up becoming a real one. To celebrate the anniversary the group have released a new album, Good Times!, available from Amazon.
     


by
THE ANORAK
SEPTEMBER 2016


In order to celebrate the golden anniversary of the show here at The Anorak Zone, we'll take a look back at the second season, where more SF and fantasy plots abounded, and things got ever stranger. The entire season can be ordered online via The Anorak Zone Amazon store. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the second season episodes, from worst to best...

26 A Coffin Too Frequent

The Monkees are still pretty much loved here at The Anorak Zone, with the feeling that their music, while its origins were artificial, has underrated value on its own terms. Not only that, but their movie Head is a great favourite, and their TV special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee has its moments. The TV show, however, while improving in quality through this ranking, does sadly belong more in the "it's not as good as you remember" category, at least for the first dozen or so entries. Seeing frequent repeats through the 70s and 80s, where it picked up fresh child audiences, maybe it's not the fault of the programme but of those watching it: it is, after all, a series that appeals to the very young.
     Even by the loose standards of the TV show which was, when it comes down to it, a product to sell advertising/records, this is a thin plot. Probable highlight is Davy teaching an ogre how to tap dance, over six years before Young Frankenstein, though it's all pretty desperate stuff. One bonus of season two is that the band were getting their own way somewhat, and finally got rid of the canned laughter track which stands out so badly in 2016. A Coffin Too Frequent was the last recorded episode to use artificial laughter, with half the episodes here not featuring it.
Songs: "Goin' Down", "Daydream Believer"

25 The Monkees Race Again

The last episode to be filmed (although some bits of Some Like It Lukewarm were completed afterwards), The Monkees Race Again was a weak note to end on. There are various conflicting stories about why the TV series was cancelled, ranging from the band wanting out if they couldn't change the format, to the network losing interest. Certainly, the series was still popular: although the ratings dropped slightly during season two, the 9.53m average was only 850,000 less than that for season one. Sadly, it was clear that the TV show was supporting their music: they had four No.1 albums during the series, but their fifth album, released the month after the show ended, only reached the top three; by the time of their decent eighth album, "The Monkees Present", Peter had left the band and they had no TV show to speak of, causing the album to only just scrape into the top 100. (It should also perhaps be noted that, chart positions aside, their record sales declined after they took control of their own music; while their third to fifth albums receive justified critical respect, all three of them combined sold only as much as one of their two first LPs).
     Whatever the real reason the programme was cancelled, the series was a good vehicle to sell music, but maybe not a good vehicle to showcase it. Micky Dolenz shows himself in better interviews to be a sensitive individual, and many of the songs have unexpected depth, such as the jaunty "Last Train To Clarksville" being about Vietnam, for example. However, this jars with the "zany" Micky on screen, forced to mug helplessly for laughs. This particular episode sees Davy in a car race against Nazis, and features goosestepping and Hitler salutes. Ironically it's an episode that cries out for a laugh track.
Song: "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round"

24 Everywhere A Sheik, Sheik

What's interesting about the TV series as an historical relic is how much of the content wouldn't be aired today. The previous episode in the ranking features Nazis, and this episode has a family of Arabs wanting Davy to marry their (not really Arabic-looking) daughter. As a "Davy romance" plot, of which there are many, it's flimsy stuff, and there's a lack of discipline in these later episodes, Jones often looking off camera and messing around during takes. In one way it adds to the fun, but as a professional product it's not the equal of the more "straight" season one.
      Many of the episodes feature tagged-on interviews due to the episodes running short, and this one has a rapidly-edited mix of clips, including such revelations as Micky stating that he "really hates these interviews" and the story of the "chick" who mailed herself to the group.
Songs: "Love is Only Sleeping" (alternate mix), "Cuddly Toy"

23 Monkees Marooned

Real evidence of how times have changed occurs with an opening gag where Peter is called on by a man hiding in an alleyway, asking if he wants to see some pictures. The "joke", such as it is, is that Peter, being naïve, thinks he means movies, and the audience think he's a dirty old man about to show him some explicit photographs. The end reveal is that he turns out to be an innocent guy who just wanted to proudly show Peter some pictures his wife had taken of their baby. It's a sad indictment of the times we live in that this sequence has now taken on a far more sinister edge, and that the "relief" of the reveal is anything but.
     The rest of the episode sees the group on a desert island, with some gags that are tired and predictable even by the show's lowest standards, and others (such as a surreal one where Micky sprays a pterodactyl on obvious stock footage) that are amusing on some level. Another bonus is that the laugh track appears to be lower down in the mix for this one, and there are some postmodern bits, such as Davy commenting that it's all taking place on a small set. Generally, though, this is one of the weaker episodes.
Songs: "Daydream Believer", "What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round"

22 The Card Carrying Red Shoes

With many of the season two episodes, the songs aren't grafted into the narrative as a typical Monkees freak out, but instead put on the end as "tag ons". This does have the unfortunate effect that the stories then get to breathe on their own terms, which, as this is a light-weight TV show to sell records, does mean they can drag. A tale about spies and ballet from a fictitious Baltic country, The Card Carrying Red Shoes needs both a couple of songs and the presence of Mike Nesmith.
     Nesmith was largely absent from four season two episodes, with minimal input into I Was A 99lb Weakling, The Monkees Watch Their Feet and Hitting The High Seas. Unlike the other examples, The Card Carrying Red Shoes makes no direct attempt to explain his absence, his only appearance being as part of the song tag on "She Hangs Out".
Song: "She Hangs Out" (alternate mix)

1 Next