Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: “The Monkees Complete Series” Blu-ray Set

UPDATED 8/15/2016

The Show: I assume I don’t have to go into a long spiel about the quality of “The Monkees”, itself. If you’re considering dropping $200 (plus tax and shipping) on “The Complete Series”, you must already know whether or not you like the show enough to spring for it. In short, it still holds up as a radical, joyous, original, tuneful, subversive twist on the Network sitcom. Four hippies don’t merely reassure your parents that it’s OK to grow out that crew-cut; they also subtly voice their opinions about drugs, prejudice, teenager rights, war, and other topics in their improvisations, scripts, after-show interviews, and songs. And, boy, those songs! Some of the most glorious pop of their day. But again, you already knew that, and if you didn’t, spend an hour reading through every post tagged “Monkees” here on Psychobabble (I recommend starting here). That should hip you right up.

As for how those shows look on blu-ray, I’ve viewed more than half of the episodes at this point and they look utterly astonishing. Those grainy old reruns and DVDs barely hint at just how vivid this show is. The new hi-def remastering turns the whole series into one, big rainbow room. Episodes such as “Here Come The Monkees”, The Monkees on Tour”, and “The Monkees in Paris” looked atrocious on Rhino’s old DVD collection. They look like completely different shows on the new set, and I mean that in the most wonderful way imaginable. Psycho jello!

The Extras: The big reason to spring for this set and not wait for the more affordable but austere one that will apparently be coming out sometime in the future is the tenth disc of bonus material. There’s a lot of stuff on it, but most of the bonuses come in under five minutes (there are also several commentaries and at least one full alternate version of an episode on the first nine discs). Some of this stuff is negligible. You probably won’t be inspired to watch the cologne ads or even the romp outtakes scored with “Saturday’s Child”, “Gonna Buy Me a Dog”, and “I Can’t Get Her Off My Mind” more than once. The excerpts of Mike, Micky, and Davy on “Laugh-In” amount to little more than two-minutes, and Mike looks like he’s dying to get out of his contract throughout the whole thing. The “First Train to Clarksville” featurette about a promotional trip the boys made in 1966 consists of a lot of footage of screaming fans and only brief interviews with The Monkees. There’s footage of them performing but no music. The recently unearthed color version of a “Randy Scouse Git” promo film is similar. There’s some good quality footage of The Monkees and series creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider backstage at the Emmys, and it’s scored with a very cool acoustic guitars and drums rehearsal of “The Door Into Summer”, but it’s only a minute long.

More impressively, there’s an interesting promo film for “Oh My My” that features Davy and Micky riding horses and motorcycles and Davy’s appearance on a show called “Music Bag” to promote “Someday Man” by lip-synching the song while doing his little Davy dance. It’s shocking to see how much more he looks like a man than he did on the TV show he was making just a year earlier. There are also several romps from the series featuring the alternate song tracks that appeared in reruns. I assumed the viewer would have the choice to view these within the episodes, but most seem isolated to the bonus disc. The only exceptions I’m aware of so far are the debut episode “Royal Flush”-- the entire 1967 rerun version featuring alternate songs “You Told Me” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere” is a bonus feature on Disc One (the episode guide included with the set mistakenly indicates that the alternate songs are “Good Clean Fun” and “Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears”)-- and The Monkees on Tour”, which can be viewed with Steam Engine” from the 1969 rerun instead of Im a Believer” from the original 1967 airing.

The very best stuff on the bonus disc are the musical clips of The Monkees’ appearances on Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash’s shows, which are great opportunities to see the guys perform oddities such as “Nine Times Blue” and “Salesman” live (though an offstage musician is clearly subbing for Davy on bass on “Salesman”) and all of the recently discovered Head outtakes. Beautifully restored footage is cut into music videos for “Porpoise Song”, “Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again?”, and “Can You Dig It?” Thirteen minutes of additional scenes are less pristine, but they feature dialogue and flesh out the aftermath of the band’s doomed make-out session with Jack Nicholson’s girlfriend and their imprisonment in the Black Box. Nicholson, Rafelson, Frank Zappa, Annette Funicello, and Timothy Carey all appear in these outtakes. In total, you get a little under a half hour of Head outtakes.

What’s Missing: The most glaringly absent thing on this set is more of those alternate song selections that appeared in reruns. Several of these were the versions of the shows that those of us who discovered “The Monkees” in the eighties grew up watching on MTV and Nick-at-Nite. I was really hoping to hear “Forget That Girl” in “One Man Shy” and “Shades of Gray” in “Success Story” again. I understand they were not included because original film could not be located, but I would have been perfectly happy with recreations or even crappy footage ripped from someone’s old VHS tape of an MTV airing. 

The other thing this set could have used was a retrospective documentary. This was already a very expensive set to produce, so making a new doc would have been out of the question, but VH-1’s “Monkees: Behind the Music” or “Hey! Hey! We’re The Monkees” specials would have sufficed. As it stands, the most substantial extra features on Disc 10 are that 13-minute bundle of Head outtakes and an unaired version of the pilot that includes a couple of brief scenes with a manager character dropped from the series, totally different opening and closing credits sequences, and Boyce & Hart’s demos of (Theme from) The Monkees”, I Wanna Be Free” (fast and slow versions), and Lets Dance Onin place of the superior Monkees versions.

So, “The Monkees Complete Series” has its flaws, but once you get past them, you have a gorgeously restored version of one of the very best TV shows of the sixties. Get it from the official Monkees Store on Warner Music . com here.

As I reported in the first version of this review, there have been issues with boxes getting damaged during shipping. If you have such a problem, just write to Monkees customer service here. You'll need to provide images of the damage.

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