Every generation thinks that it invented irreverent humor. And, while those jokes may influence generations to come, it's rare for humor to stand the test of time. That's one of the things that makes The Monkees such a treasure. The insane humor displayed on their television program was groundbreaking at the time, and watching it today, it's very easy to see how it molded the world of satirical humor. Now, thanks to Rhino Home Video, the first season of The Monkees has come to DVD.
The Monkees was a television show which debuted in 1966, as America's answer to The Beatles and their film A Hard Day's Night. For this program, NBC hand-picked four young men, Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones, to play a struggling band which has wacky adventures. In the show, the four guys live together and are constantly working to get another gig. In the meantime, they are always getting into trouble, typically with girls or various bad guys.
From that description, The Monkees sounds like the kind of "manufactured" TV that we see so much of today. And it easily could have been. But with talent such as series creator Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces), director James Frawley (The Muppet Movie), and writer Paul Mazursky (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) behind the camera, the show became much more. The satirical humor displayed in The Monkees was quite unlike anything that had ever been on TV, and most of the jokes still hold up today. The Airplane!-like comedy of the show clearly paved the way for a more irreverent, and more importantly, non-sensical style of humor for television. While each episode has a clearly defined "plot", there are all sorts of cut-aways and side-gags that are extremely funny, but have nothing whatsoever to do with the "story".
Along with the originality of The Monkees, the most important part of the show was the music. While it can easily be argued that The Monkees' music was simply a rip-off of The Beatles, the songs are undeniably catchy and make the show even more enjoyable. (We won't go into the whole "Were The Monkees a real band?" debate here.) Along with this, the four guys themselves made the show great. Sure, they had stereotypical roles -- Michael, the calm intellectual; Peter, the naive one; Micky, the wild-man; and Davy, the ladies' man -- they played these role well and each had their own charm.
This six-disc box set contains all 32 episodes of the first season of The Monkees, presented in the order that they originally aired, which is not necessarily the order in which they were shot. The shows are offered in their original full-frame aspect ratio. I'm giving this transfer a 4 out of 5, not because it's almost perfect, but because the video quality is so good given the age of these programs. The episodes look very good, as the images are sharp and clear, showing a surprising lack of overt grain. Now, there are some very obvious defects from the source material, such as scratches and black & white spots, but these aren't very distracting. Artifacting and video noise crop up occasionally, but otherwise, the shows look good.
While the video is quite impressive, the audio is more questionable. The shows have been outfitted with newly created 5.1 digital audio tracks. But, these tracks sound incredibly hollow and artificial. Yes, the sound emanates from every speaker, but this very deliberate audio separation results in a very odd, and not very loud effect. The discs also contain a 2.0 track for each show, which while also very soft, has a fuller and more realistic sound.
Rhino has become very well known for the care that they put into their releases, and it definitely shows with this package, as it's overflowing with extra features. This six-disc package contains 12 separate audio commentaries from the likes of Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, series creator Bob Rafelson, director James Frawley, and songwriter Bobby Hart. (These commentaries appear on the episodes: "Royal Flush" (Frawley & Jones), "Monkee vs. Machine" (Tork & Rafelson), "Here Come the Monkees -- The Pilot" (Nesmith & Tork), "I've Got a Little Song Here" (Nesmith), "Dance, Monkee, Dance" (Frawley), "Too Many Girls" (Jones), and "Monkees on Tour" (Nesmith, Tork, & Hart).) For the most part, these commentaries are very good, as the men remember an amazing amount of details from the shows, most notably Nesmith. There are a few too many asides and a little too much inside info at times, but nevertheless, the chats are very informative. But, those of you hoping for a Monkees reunion will be disappointed, as each of these commentaries is a solo act. And the absence of Micky Dolenz from line-up of speakers is very noticeable. Along with these commentaries, each episode contains text-based trivia, which is incredibly in-depth and informative.
On each disc, the viewer can choose to watch the "romps" separately. The "romps" are essentially the music-video style musical montages which appear in each episode. The remainder of the extra features appear on Disc 6. The Pilot episode, which aired as episode 10, is presented in its original 16mm form. The image shows some defects and at times, appears to be in black & white. It is essentially the same show as episode 10, but there are some minor differences in the editing. Next, we have six minutes of Kellogs' commercial which feature the band. These spots are very reminiscent of the show, as the feature the trademark Monkees comedy. Songwriter Bobby Hart supplies a 24-minute interview in which he discusses his involvement with the show and the interaction with The Monkees themselves. Finally, there is a short still gallery which has publicity stills, studio documents, press releases, and some memorabilia.
Any discussion of this set would be incomplete without a mention of the box-set packaging itself. The box is a small and almost cube-like. It is made to resemble a portable record player from the 60s. Upon opening the box, one is treated to faux speakers on the lid's interior and a make-believe turntable below. The turntable is actually a separate box which holds the six discs, which are house in sleeves. Each sleeve is made to look like a single cover and contains a photo of the band. The set also includes a booklet. While the box is somewhat cumbersome and may have some trouble finding a home on your DVD shelf, I feel certain that the packaging design will win some sort of award.
While much of The Monkees may seem quite dated, the overall tone and comedy of the show has held up quite well, and this box-set is the perfect way to experience this classic show.