Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recap: "Royal Flush" by The Monkees

The Monkee's first regular episode to hit the airwaves was Royal Flush back in September of 1966.  It was considered ground breaking at the time, and won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy.    This was one of Davy Jones' strongest episodes, and I recap it for him today in memoriam. 

It just stands to reason that the very shot of the very first Monkees episode would show Davy Jones, shirtless hearthrob, hanging out on the beach and watching a pretty girl go by.  She's blonde and perky and the first of a long line of romantic interests for him, and as he gazes at her, she slips into the ocean with her little floating raft and goes out into the waves.

But what's this?  The music suddenly turns sinister as two seriously overdressed middle-aged men also hit the beach with an enormous telescope, bent on watching the pretty little blonde from afar.  How do I know they are the bad guys?  Well, one in the full black tie tuxedo reminds me very much of Rush Limbaugh, and the lesser henchman is the spit and image of Sasha Baron Cohen in Hugo, so watch out for these two.  There's villainy afoot!  And who is going to foil them?  The Pre-Fab Four, of course!  If they had not been a fake band, they could have been a fake band of detectives out to stop the bad guys once a week because they did that.  A LOT. 

The two creepy peeping toms take turns cackling and ogling as the girl heads into the waves on a perfectly beautiful day with no sharks in sight.  Are they hoping she'll have a wardrobe malfunction?  Does she know how to swim?  Then we hear a popping sound and a scream as the raft, apparently, gets a sudden hole in it.   And we get the answer; she does NOT know how to swim, and she's about to drown approximately ten feet from shore.  That's... a pretty helpless girl to be out there all by herself.   The two murderously creepy peeping toms begin to congratulate each other until... Monkee to the rescue!  Davy dives into the water!  He reaches her in seconds, because she's only a few feet from shore!  He's got her!  He's walking with her back to shore, because the water they are standing in only comes up to about their waists!  Back in 1966, thousands of love-struck girls imagine themselves to be that blonde, clutching onto a bathing-suit clad Davy as he brings her safely to shore.  She's walking with such a stagger you'd think she'd been under water for three minutes.  The two evil guys smack each other in disgust, and the henchman tears his telescope in half as if it were directly responsible for Davy being around when a teenaged girl nearly drowns in water the depth of a kiddy pool.  

Back on shore, the girl gasps out a few crucial pieces of information as she tries to catch her breath.  She can't swim, she's clearly not very bright, since she was counting on the raft to save her, and Dear Uncle Otto gave her that faulty raft.  Davy thinks they need to get their money back.  No, Davy, they got exactly what they paid for.  Up comes Dear Uncle Otto, looking very cold and forbidding as the girl runs to somebody she's clearly mistaking for a loving family member, and Davy's already aware that something weird is going on.  Is that... the guy who gave her that leaky balloon that almost killed her in three feet of water?  Yes, but don't mention it to him!  He might get very upset about the raft try to kill you on the spot, and you'll be better off when you have backup.  Davy is very alarmed by the reception he gets from these two imposing men; the henchman makes himself a wall between Davy and the girl, Princess Bettina, the Duchess of Harmonica.  Bettina takes off with Davy's jacket so that the fangirls can gaze at his shirtlessness for a little bit longer, and Dear Uncle Otto offers, instead of thanks, a weird warning. A man who saves a drowing person risks drowing himself.     Well, you are welcome, you creepy overgrown penguin.  Do you swim in that outfit?

Next shot:  The beach house.  You  know, that always was an awfully nice house for a bunch of poverty-stricken musicians.  And right there on the shore, too, so that Davy could rescue visiting royalty.  Mike is trying to scrounge up a meal while Davy, still shirtless, is on the phone trying to locate Princess Bettina. Unfortunately, the operator appears determined to sell him a Princess Phone instead, and the laugh track finds this hysterically funny.  The operator, obviously not well-informed on Monkee World geography, refuses to help him find the country of Harmonica, and Davy hangs up.  Fortunately, Micky appears to be better informed about imaginary countries than the operator; according to his newspaper, Bettina and the Arch Duke Otto (with evil henchman Sigmund, not Igor) are staying at the Rich Swank Hotel, and that's all the information Davy needs.  He needs to get to her!  They are trying to kill her!  And he has an amazing ability to pick up imaginary languages really quickly!

Mike, ever the rational one, points out that Davy cannot barge in on visiting royalty at the Rich Swank Hotel based on suspicion.  At least, not without putting on a shirt.  Ah... wait.  Bettina's got his jacket.  Well, now, we have an emergency.  Priorities, people!

Micky's just the man to mastermind this monkee raid on the Rich Swank Hotel.  He's got this penniless group of hungry artists, armed and dressed in combat suits for a SWAT team raid, as he lays out the plan.  We can only hope that he has more luck with the raid than he does with the pointers he is using as sticks break and fly everywhere, and Peter asks how they are actually going to GET into Bettina's room.

"Very quietly!" whispers Micky.  What could go wrong?

They do not use the SWAT uniforms when they hit the hotel, however.  Instead, four penniless musicians in immaculate business suits completely terrify and intimidate the hapless maid, to whom Mike barks orders in his very best Leader of the Band voice.  He's W.H. Wool Hat!   THE Wool Hat!  He's very important!  He wants the sun in the window at precisely 10:30 in the morning!  He wants her to get enough roughage in her diet!  He thinks she should buy International Steel at 281/2 !  Certainly that's a better tip than, you know, money, of which he has none because it all goes to paying rent on that beach house and the SWAT team uniforms.  And the price of a suite that's right next to the room being rented by royalty from Harmonica. 

The moment's the maid is gone, Monkee manic movement ensues as they set up stethoscopes to eavesdrop and get to the bottom of the mystery about Dear Uncle Otto.  They are incredibly lucky to hear the evil duo plotting just as they set their ears to the wall.  Dear Uncle Otto is going to kill Princess Bettina right after the royal reception that very evening.  Then, they can seize power!  Sigmund will get to be a Prince!  That's some weird primogeniture, there.  In Harmonica, a lowly henchman can hope to become Prince by licking the right boots!  The country of opportunity!  And how will they kill her?  Five drops of poison will knock her out.

"See, I told you she was in trouble" says Mike, but Micky, whose plotting strategies really have been remarkably successful today, is already onto the next step as he calls up Dear Uncle Otto without even dialing the phone.   He's a telemarketer to the Rich and Infamous, offering sweet deals on thrones and royal supplies as his mind-reading friends scramble to set up the scam.  Gotta love these creative types.  They've got a throne made out of a chair and drapes ready to show before Micky's even off the throne.   And how good a salesman is Micky?  Well, his vocals sold millions of singles; maybe his sales pitch can make a heartless bad guy take time out of his busy day of evil plotting to look at a fake throne.  The first person to knock is the terrified maid, who is ready to go eat some bran cereal after Mr. Wool Hat scolds her about roughage for the second time, but moments later, they get Dear Uncle Otto, and Micky does his best to sell him the only throne in their makeshift display room as Davy slips out before he is recognized.

Obviously the Royal Family of Harmonica really is made up of very stupid people.  Davy barges in on the Princess, and she reacts with mild reproval,  as if he were an old friend who rudely dropped by without calling first, instead of a complete stranger who has just broken and entered while making odd accusations about her family. 

Back in the display room, Micky offers to sell Peter to Dear Uncle Otto as a footstool.  Well, that makes sense, in a way, as Peter has been little more than furniture in this episode so far, but they might want to remember that Dear Uncle Otto likes to kill people.  And since Peter is one of only two people in this band at the moment who can actually play the instrument he's got in his hands, (this will become less true later)  they might want to keep him on hand  if they ever get a gig. 

Bettina is getting impatient with Davy's baseless accusations about Dear Uncle Otto, and she's beginning to remember that she doesn't actually know this guy at all.  Davy's got the evidence, but he's also having technical difficulties.  Hey, he never said handling the equipment was his strong suit.  He specializes in gorgeous smiles.    Micky, unable to interest Otto in a Monkee footstool, brings out the 309:  a fakely fabulous throne called The Usurper that catches his ruthless cruelty so completely, it inspires Mike and Peter to play the royal trumpets in his honor.   It's perfect for a photo opportunity, and Peter's camera works even more poorly than Davy's tape recorder.  While they wait for the camera to go off, Davy finally manages to play the message for Bettina.

Bettina looks off into the distance in listless sorrow.  What are they going to do?  They can't call the cops.  Otto has diplomatic immunity.  He is her regent, and he controls everything until she turns eighteen - tomorrow.  Here's a suggestion, sweetie.  You know he's trying to poison you, and he does not know that you know.  Don't eat anything Otto gives you, or make Sigmund eat it first.  That should solve this.   However, Davy has figured out that the girl is not clever enough to play any active part in tricking her uncle, so he decides he'd better just hide her instead.  Micky, utilizing his wonderful sense of ESP, shuffles Otto out of the Monkee's hotel room.  We never learn if Otto actually bought the chair.  The Monkees shuffle Bettina out of the hotel, and Peter stops to steal a towel.  Hey, everybody does it.  And forty-five years later, it's still true.   Otto and Sigmund go back into the Royal Suite to find the Princess has flown the coop, and Otto realizes immediately that somebody has been monkeeing around with his plans.  Dear Uncle Otto sends Sigmund out to track down those four meddling boys, and the Man Who Would Be Prince showcases his fitness to rule by breaking down the unlocked door on the way out.

So, Bettina is in grave danger, and they only have one day to hide her.  What's the most effective way of doing that?  By taking a romantic stroll on the beach, of course!  In the open.  During the day.  Davy wants to know what's the matter, as if learning that Dear Uncle Otto wants to kill you was not an upsetting piece of news for the princess.   Bettina invites Davy to the coronation, but Davy explains that his life's work is here, with the guys and the music, creating great pop ditties and a  goofy little show that will end up being appealing for decades after Princess phones have been replaced by cell phones and every other pop band is manufactured, rendering all criticism against the Monkees kind of irrelevant and silly.  Hey, at least they were GOOD songs, and I swear all four of those men were able to sing live without autotune.  Bettina is not all that excited about going back home - given what's happened to her in the last 24 hours, I do not blame her - but she's the queen, and that's what she has to do, even if she's not smart enough to save herself from drowning in three feet of water.

If I were her, I'd probably just hire the Monkees to be Royal Band/Bodyguards and keep these guys handy, but the show might not have worked as well set in Harmonica.

And now it's time for the mapcap music video!  Sigmund is chasing after the Monkees!  This just doesn't seem to be their day.  Sigmund chases Micky.  Peter digs a hole.  Davy stares into Bettina's eyes.   They frolic, and it is oh, so romantic.  Sigmund chases Micky upside down (poor Micky - he's the genius who actually masterminded the successful attempt to catch Otto in his misdeeds.  Why is he running from a thug while Davy makes lovey dovey eyes at the Princess?  Because Davy is the Heartthrob, and Micky is the Clown!)    Peter digs.  Micky hides inside a pipe.  Davy and Bettina frolic.  They are so cute, they make Micky and Sigmund frolic, too.  Peter digs.  Where the hell is Mike? 

Damn.  I had forgotten how clever this show was.  It's been awhile.   At any rate, Peter, the Dumb One, has been working in cahoots with Micky, and as the hole is completed they take away the warning signs and allow Sigmund to fall in.  It does not seem to be his day. 

Despite his mishap with the hole, Sigmund is still tracking Bettina, and he stalks behind the cute couple at sunset.  He tries to call Otto with cryptic news of his progress, but he's called the wrong evil mastermind by mistake and must regroup.  The next time, he gets Otto, and starts wailing in gibberish over his mishaps at the hands of the Monkees.

The Monkees have set up a booby trap - a heavy safe, suspended by a rope -  for unwelcome visitors who try to crash their pad as they hide Bettina.  NOW they want to hide Bettina.  Maybe Davy should not have been running all over the beach in public with her all day.   Micky finds that the crash at the door is the sound of their enemies, and as they open the door to release the booby trap they find that Peter is almost as good at cutting rope as he is at taking pictures. He leaves it half cut, slowly unraveling.   Otto comes in, and admits freely that he intends to kill Bettina.  Sigmund is about to come forward and seize her - with four witnesses, that should go over well - as we find it is Davy's turn to play flim-flam man.  There's a sealed envelope!  It reveals his dastardly plans!  If she doesn't appear at the ball, everybody will know all about Otto's schemes!  So Otto suggests an alternative plan:  Bettina will go to the ball, but she will not tell what she knows because Otto and Sigmund will be holding the Monkees hostage.  Now,  it's five against two and the five feature young men in the prime of youth who have proven that even their dumbest member can easily outsmart Sigmund.  I somehow doubt this is a good plan for Otto.

Still, Bettina is willing to go to her likely death so that the four boys don't have to try to overpower two men twice their age, and that rope continues to unravel.   Peter, the Dumb One, immediately begins jumping up and down, and Micky soon joins him as it makes the rope unravel faster, and soon all four of them are doing it.  Sigmund is a born follower.  He just wants to belong.  He begins jumping as well - maybe they are teaching him a groovy new dance! - but the rope does not unravel completely.

Davy reads Sigmund a bedtime story as he makes himself comfortable in a chair right beneath the safe.  Boy, this guy is unobservant.  Manic Monkee Movement ensues as the boys tie him to his chair, but their wimpy ropes are no match for his brute strength.  Fortunately, it's another wimpy rope - the one holding up the safe - that finally is his undoing as it completely unravels and the safe falls on his head.  The Monkees are free to monkee with his evil plans.

And so they shall!  Otto and Bettina are at the Royal Party, making a good show of being civil to each other as their guests stuff their faces.  I am unsure of exactly how Otto thinks this is going to turn out, since he's toast at midnight, but he makes no attempt to murder her in public.  In the crowd, Ottos sees Her Majesty's Secret Service:  One little, two little, three little, four little Monkees, all ready to foil Otto once and for all.  As soon as Otto recognizes Davy, he abandons all pretense of good intention and tries to drag Bettina out the door - but to no avail!  Davy is waiting for him!  Hurray for Davy!  But look out!  Here comes tomorr... no, wait, that song does not appear in this episode.  Otto has a sword!   But that's OK, because Mickey just happens to be standing right next to a display with two even bigger swords, and he throws one to Davy!   And suddenly both men are wearing fabulous dueling outfits, and it's OK because this show does not even pretend to be realistic!    They Take a Giant Step, and with that, the Big Sword Fight begins, which is kind of hilarious because the guests calmly watch their Grand Duke fighting to the death against a youth they've never seen before.  Rather than call security and arrest the pint-sized assassin, they behave as if they are at a renaissance festival watching the fencers duel for their entertainment.  Clearly Otto has a reputation for providing very exciting stage fights at all his best parties.  One particular couple appears to be wonderfully intent on seducing each other with food as the duel continues on and a helpful vendor hands out popcorn to the audience.   Even though this is a life or death situation, the other Monkees do not rush Otto, trip him, or sabotage him in any way; obviously the director has explained to him that this is Davy's Big Scene and they need to let him shine by himself.  Ah, let us pause for a refreshing glass of bubbly - hey, Davy, are you allowed to drink that?  Oh, wait, you are attempting battle the Arch Duke to the death and you were breaking and entering earlier today, so I guess you don't really care what the legal drinking age is in 1966.    Sigmund arrives, still rubbing his head - boy, he's got a tough skull.  Although the Monkees do not feel they can interfere with Otto, they have no such scruples with Sigmund, and they trick him into running that incredibly tough skull of his into a brick wall.  If this is a typical day's work for Sigmund, it might explain why he's so stupid; his brains have been completely scrambled by repeated concussions.

As the amorously hungry couple gobbles their way towards orgasm,  the duel jumps onto the buffet table, and the fighters trample food underfoot until Otto finally disarms Davy.  Damn, kid, that was pretty good for your first try.  There's some talent there.  It appears to be the end for Our Hero, but he's stalled Otto for long enough, and guess who saves the day?

It's Peter.  The Dumb One knows what time it is, and since he apparently does not have a clock, he's dialed time and temperature.  Better yet, he's had the presence of mind to use a primitive speaker phone, which he triumphantly holds out to the entire room full of people.  The time is twelve o'clock midnight.

"Arrest that man!" cries Queen Bettina.  "I order it as your Queen."  Otto is escorted out in disgrace as his vacant former subjects boo him, and Sigmund babbles code language.  He has finally taken one hit too many on the noggin.   Mike and Micky congratulate each other and their director on a job well done. 

A little later, the Monkees are getting ready to vacate their hotel room - somehow Peter has been stuck hauling ALL the luggage - when the harried maid barges in dressed like a businesswoman.  They can't just leave - she's throwing them out!  She can't have Monkees in her hotel!  It appears that Mike gave her some excellent stock advice, and now she owns the place.

Hey, lady, while you are at it... here's another tip.  Buy stock in Liquid Paper.  It made Mike so rich, he didn't even have to participate in the reunion tours unless he just felt like it.

To view this episode on Youtube, go to

Royal Flush Part One

  Royal Flush Part Two


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