Back for more, wackier adventures with the pop primates
The Story So Far...
The first season had established a formula that worked, taking this gang of likable musicians, throwing hard luck in their path and watching how they got over it, while enjoying their music and the spoils of their labors (namely girls.) Each show would spotlight some of their catchy music and their distinct personalities, while giving flooding the thin storylines with enough industrial-strength comedy to keep audience of all ages smiling, if not laughing. It truly was a feel-good show, but apparently the good feelings stayed in front of the cameras, as talk of strife behind the scenes and a potential break-up led to changes, including a grab for more creative control on the part of the core four, all very artistic personalities who grew tired of being seen as props hired to perform like clowning karaoke singers.
Well, with that shift in creative control, the series changed gears dramatically. Occasionally, a star actor, hired for one particular talent, will feel the need to spread their wings and try something different, feeling the desire to take more control over their art and express their creativity more directly. Occasionally, that works and you end up with actors who successfully transition behind the camera. But the Monkees were not those actors (at least not at first, as they've all been rather successful in life, both artistically and personally.) The series went from a fun, silly sitcom with fun silly music, to something of a network-broadcast psychedelic freak-out, where all logic and reality were kicked to the curb, the characters/actors openly criticized the show and network on the show, and the series lost its reason for being, getting sidetracked by the group's desires to do something different, like the rather serious "The Devil and Peter Tork" or bringing in Frank Zappa for a sit-down chat. It was utterly different from a) the first season and b) anything else on television, but the guys had the popularity to pull off such a coup.
Nesmith in particular took on something of an anarchistic bent in how he approached the series, even going missing for several episodes, and the show reflected that tone, diving deeper into the bizarre, flipping the screen or cutting from a moment for no apparent good reason, or just simply acknowledging they were actors while maintaining the tenuous reality of the characters' world (reflecting what was going on off-screen if you believe the commentaries on this set.) It feels like the kind of thing you'd describe as the last act of four desperate men, who were willing to throw it all away, despite being almost as big as The Beatles. As a result, you've got episodes about the group randomly ending up in Mexico, a desert island, Texas and Paris or even battling space aliens and scary monsters. Meanwhile, if anyone would like to explain exactly what Rip Taylor was trying to do with his fey, audience-addressing roulette wheel-operator in "The Monkees on the Wheel", your humble reviewer will be able to sleep at night. Yes, it was a different time, but not this different.
Though this view of the second season is a bit harsh, there are some fun parts of this run. Some episodes even harkened back to the show's more innocent times, like "Some Like it Lukewarm" (where Davy dresses like a girl so the band can win a contest) or "The Monkees' Paw (pitting the group against a magician whose gig they took.) These episodes also showed the group's instincts weren't bad, as they eliminated the laugh track about halfway into the season. The music was still top-notch, with "Love is Only Sleeping" being among the best songs the group ever performed, while "Pleasant Valley Sunday," "Daydream Believer" and "Valleri" are undeniable hit songs. This season also features what's probably the best romp (proto-music videos featured in each episode) of the entire series, a trippy pop-art presentation of Dolenz' jazzy "Goin' Down." It's not the best performance on the show, but it's the best overall package, thanks to a simple concept, mixing instruments and Dolenz' soulful performance against a stark black background. Unfortunately, this kind of simplicity was rare as the show slid toward the finish line.
There's not really any difference between these tracks and those on the first set, as the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks remain a bit hollow, as an attempt to fill the room with sound results in each speaker creating more of an echo than a force. The straight-down-the middle 2.0 tracks focus the sound better, and replicate the original presentation more directly. The audio is good overall, with the songs are strong , and distortion-free dialogue.
Like last time, there's an option to play all the "romps" of that disc in one reel. The problem that plagued the first season romps is less of an issue this time, but there's still some repetition in the songs on each disc.
The gem of the extras has to be "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee" the group's 1969 NBC TV special, which is just loaded with nearly 53 minutes of psychedelic madness centered around the concept of evolution, but far less of the music goodness you'd expect from The Monkees, with just one of the band's hits, and that one, "I'm a Believer," is performed by Dolenz in an R&B duet with guest star Julie Driscoll. There's also none of the comedy that was the group's trademark, which makes it even more foreign to the show's fans. However, there are some great musical moments, thanks to a great performance by the quartet on a medley of '50s songs and appearances by Little Richard, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Clara Ward Singers, including a short but ambitious scene where four pianos are stacked on top of each other, played by British musician Brian Augen, Lewis, Richard and Domino. It's hardly a Monkees affair, but it's fascinating nonetheless.
In support of the special, you get another set of those informative trivia screens, as well as a pair of commentaries, one by Augen, and one by Dolenz. Despite some dead air and occasional repeats, Augen provides a ton of background info for the special, including stories of his first visit to America and his time with the Monkees off-set, while Dolenz watches along, throwing in random memories, but mainly goofing on the proceedings. At least he's honest about it.
The extras continue with an 18-minute chat with editor Jerry Shepard. Like the interview on the first set, this one is a bit dry, but if you have any interest in the art of editing, Shepard offers lots of thoughts on the topic and notes from his experiences. That's followed by a photo gallery (that pales in comparison with the first set's, as there's just one brief piece of studio correspondence.) The bonus material wraps with some archival footage, with a clip of the Monkees in New York City from NBC News (circa 1967) and two appearances on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, from 1969. This footage is disappointing for two reasons. First, the news footage, which includes them taking questions about a rumored break-up, is very short, while the Glen Campbell scenes just aren't very good.
Though the box lists "Vintage Monkees Kellogg's Commercials," they aren't here, and the listing seems to be a holdover from the first season's packaging.
The Bottom Line