In 2003, Rhino Home Video released DVDs of The Monkees. Those are long out-of-print, but now Eagle Rock has released The Monkees: Season 1 and The Monkees: Season 2 in all new packaging.
This would be a much more exciting event were it not for the fact that these are the exact same discs that Rhino put out. This means that all 58 episodes—32 for the first season and 26 for the second (though the packaging for Season 2 erroneously says 25)—are here. However, it also means that all of the footage, edits, and extras are the same. As are the frustrating menus and the annoying out-of-order episodes, but more on the negatives of the re-packaging later.
First, let’s explore the positives. The best thing about The Monkees: Season 1 and The Monkees: Season 2 is, of course, The Monkees. Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork were thrown together in the mid-’60s as an American answer to the Beatles. Originally intended to simply be four young guys playing a manufactured pop group on a musical comedy aimed at kids and teens, Nesmith, Jones, Dolenz and Tork instead became a real band.
The show itself was mostly wholesome, often silly, and sometimes slyly subversive in its social commentary. It employed all of the hallmarks of earlier forms of comedy like slapstick, wordplay and visual gags. It combined the sitcom (the situation being four boys in a band living in a house on the beach) with variety (guest stars, set pieces, musical performances), and even vaudeville (recycled sight gags, the “romps”, which are basically comic chases set to songs).
Each one of the Monkees was playing to a very basic archetype character that the show’s initial young audience could recognize and identify with: Mike was the intellectual, who often fulfilled the leadership role; Davy was the Romeo, many of the stories revolved around the trouble his romantic entanglements caused the group; Micky played the clown, and he was usually the wild card in any scenario; and Peter was the sensitive, sweet one, the most childlike of the four.
That the episodes, largely, still hold up almost 50 years later is a testament to those characters and to the timelessness of the comedy. Sure a lot of the humor is absurd and obvious, but I’ve been watching it with people of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens since I first began seeing re-runs in the ’80s, and everyone always enjoys a laugh or two during the show, sometimes despite themselves. So the characters are still easy to relate to, and the comedy is still working, but what really makes The Monkees last is, naturally, the music.
Though The Monkees were often derided for being a band assembled for television and assigned instruments, and although many of their biggest hits were written by others, they did write and play their own songs, as well. The music featured in the episodes is, as it was on broadcasts, mainly prerecorded, and occasionally, monotonously repeated (The band’s first hit, “Last Train To Clarksville”, is featured in Season 1 at least five times).
Indeed, it’s the songs that stick in the mind the most and make The Monkees more than just some comedy show, whether it’s the Neil Diamond-penned “I’m A Believer”, a Boyce/Hart number such as “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” or “She”, or one of Mike Nesmith’s originals like “You Just May Be the One” or “Mary Mary”. There are plenty of great, memorable songs scattered across these two sets, both as “performances”, and as accompaniment to the romps and other montages.
The songs might be what will help fans forgive the shortcomings of The Monkees: Season 1 and Season 2. Earlier, I mentioned negative aspects of the DVD reissues, but perhaps they are more missed opportunities. The seemingly random order of the episodes is a personal pet peeve of mine, one that could have easily been remedied as we have the episode’s individual air dates. However, it’s not necessary to watch The Monkees in any particular order. Still, it would have been nice to have the option, which we don’t because the menus are the same clunky menus from the previous releases.
Another annoying fact is that there is no “Play All” function from each disc’s main menu, viewers must select a title, and then the individual episode menu will appear. This is where the band/director/composer commentary tracks and the still frame trivia pages for each episode can be found, but they are also not well-organized and are a pain in the ass to use. There’s also the option to access some of the discs’ special features from the main menus, but this, too, is not necessarily an easy interface. (There’s an option to play all the romps in a row, which can be overwhelming, because the same song is often repeated several times, sometimes consecutively). These complaints may seem minor, but there are 11 discs and 58 episodes here. The menus could have been—should have been—very easily fixed.
On the subject of fixing things, it’s worth noting that because the discs are the same as the Rhino releases, the episodes are taken from the censored Saturday-morning versions rather than presented as they were originally broadcast. This means they include the same edits, such as the blurring of Fern’s neckline in the “Too Many Girls” episode.
As for the sound and picture quality, it’s doubtful that could have been improved much. The broadcasts were mono, so the choice between 5.1 Dolby and 2.0 Stereo is a bit pointless beyond personal balance preferences. Other than that, the audio is clean throughout, and clearer than you might expect. The picture quality is a little more uneven from episode to episode, and even within some episodes, but it’s not too bad, especially for its age. All the episodes are in their original full frame format
In addition to the commentaries, trivia pages and continuous romps features, The Monkees: Season 1 includes the 16mm version of the pilot, vintage Kelloggs commercials, and a discography. The Monkees: Season 2 has all of that, as well as a clip of The Monkees at a press conference in 1967 and on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour after Peter Tork left the group in 1969. It also features the 1969 television special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee (which also stars Brian Auger and includes a bit with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Fats Domino.) with commentary by Micky Dolenz and Brian Auger, a photo gallery and an interview with editor Gerry Sheppard.
The Monkees: Season 1 and The Monkees: Season 2 DVD sets don’t feature anything new beyond their packages, which are trifold digipaks with overlapping disc trays. However, if you’re a fan of The Monkees, and you don’t already own the earlier Rhino sets, these are well worth picking up.