Taking its stylistic cues from the Richard Lester-directed Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, The Monkees offered good-natured musical anarchy like no situation comedy before or since. Producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider (Easy Rider), primary director James Frawley (The Muppet Movie, Grey’s Anatomy) and writers including Treva Silverman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Paul Mazursky (Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice) saw that the fast-paced, fictional adventures of The Monkees – named Davy, Micky, Peter and Michael as in reality – were never, ever boring. So successful was the series out of the gate that it picked up two 1967 Emmy Awards – for Outstanding Comedy Series and for Frawley’s inventive direction.
Over the course of just two seasons presented over the course of seven Blu-ray discs, the group found themselves thrust into various locales. The boys were placed smack in the middle of the Cold War thanks to a pair of “red” maracas (Episode 5: “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool”), faced off with mad scientists (Episode 18: “I Was a Teenage Monkee”, thieving gypsies (Episode 16: “Son of a Gypsy”) and a bandit (Episode 33: “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”), searched for pirate’s booty (Episode 40: “Monkees Marooned”) and fought an evil wizard played by confetti king Rip Taylor (Episode 58: “Mijacogeo – The Frodis Caper”). The Monkees established the personas of its lead actor/characters reflective of reality, albeit in exaggerated form: Davy the irresistible heartthrob, Micky the showbiz overachiever, Peter the loveable goofball, and Mike the amusingly sarcastic, wool hat-wearing wise-cracker.
The four lads weren’t alone. An eclectic “who’s who” of famous names popped up on the series, including Stan Freberg (Episode 3: “Monkee vs. Machine”), Alice‘s Vic Tayback (three appearances beginning with Episode 4: “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers”), Rose Marie (a pair of appearances including Episode 7: “Monkees in a Ghost Town”), future Company and Merrily We Roll Along author George Furth (two appearances beginning with Episode 13: “One Man Shy (Peter and the Debutante)”), Julie Newmar (Episode 29: “Monkees Get Out More Dirt”), teen idol Bobby Sherman (Episode 31: “Monkees at the Movies”), Hans Conried (Episode 51: “The Monkees’ Paw”) and Frank Zappa (Episode 57: “Monkees Blow Their Mind”).
Each zany episode naturally features musical sequences, beginning with the debut broadcast’s “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day” and “Take a Giant Step.” These were rendered as proto-music video style “romps” that often stood on their own outside of the individual episodes’ storylines. (Hence, some episodes had alternate songs edited into rerun broadcasts, a handful of which are included on this set.) “Monkees on Tour” (Episode 32) features actual concert excerpts, filmed primarily on January 21, 1967 in Arizona with additional footage possibly lensed in San Francisco the following evening. If Monkeemania seemed to be over as quickly as it began (the television show only survived two seasons), the group’s music never left the popular consciousness.
The 1080p 1:34:1 transfer of The Monkees for this new Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of excellent. The rich detail and vivid colors on display here far exceed the quality of any past home video presentation. Given the age of the elements, it’s unsurprising that there a few blemishes, but the few video issues are minor. This is a spectacular-looking release, through and through. Audio quality is equally strong on the original mono soundtracks for both dialogue and of course, the music – supplied by such legends as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Jeff Barry, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, David Gates, Tim Buckley and the Monkees themselves.
Numerous bonus features have been carried over from the prior DVD releases including commentary tracks; this means that even the late Davy Jones can be heard reminiscing on “Hitting the High Seas,” “Too Many Girls” and “Royal Flush.” (All four Monkees are heard across the various commentaries.) Each disc also has a helpful Song Index for quick navigation to one’s favorite “romps.” The counterculture cult classic Head is presented on Disc Eight seemingly in an identical 1080p transfer to that used on the Criterion Collection’s stellar 2010 release. Coveted Head outtakes can be found on Disc Ten, which is exclusive to this collection. 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee, a psychedelic extension of Head which first aired in April 1969, is included on Disc 9. Take note that the brief snippet of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” has been excised from the special due to issues with the song’s publisher.
Although certain items initially announced for inclusion on the set proved to be unavailable, there are countless treasures to be found on Disc Ten, the exclusive bonus disc. Screen tests of Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and would-be Monkee Dallas Williams are a fun treat, as are the camera tests featuring various permutations of actual and hopeful Monkees performing the same scene over and over. The disc is chockablock with commercials for Kool-Aid, Kellogg’s cereal and Yardley’s aftershave, television appearances from The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show, Laugh-In, and Music Bag (some of these are edited), “Rerun Versions” of songs, promotional films, NBC promos, outtakes, and oddities like the “(Theme From) Los Monkees” plus the original unaired pilot version of “Here Come the Monkees,” backstage footage from the 1967 Emmy Awards and an insert filmed for the U.K.’s Top of the Pops. In total, there’s a little under three hours’ worth of bonus material on this disc alone, making it the most comprehensive collection of Monkees ephemera currently – or likely to be – available, and all of it is presented in the best quality possible.
In a wonderful touch, The Monkees – The Complete Series has been designed by Rachel Gutek in the format of the ongoing series of Rhino Handmade Monkees albums box sets, so it can take a place on your shelf right next to the sets of The Monkees, The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees, Head, Instant Replay and The Monkees Present. (It’s just the tiniest bit taller than those aforementioned sets.) It boasts a lenticular cover, and each of the ten Blu-Ray discs is housed an in illustrated jacket with a protective inner sleeve. A colorful, full-size 38-page booklet contains a listing of the box set’s contents including credits and a complete Episode Guide with trivia and more for each episode. Rounding out the set is an exclusive 45 RPM vinyl disc of “Star Collector” and “Goin’ Down” decked out in a period sleeve. (Note that the interior cardboard tray within the sturdy exterior box has been prone to damage in shipping due to the weight of the discs. If you ordered a box set and received one with a damaged tray, please contact Rhino for information on obtaining a replacement. While orders are being accepted, all shipments are currently on hold until a solution is reached.)
Producers Andrew Sandoval, John Hughes and Dan Wingate have created a handsome, classy and happily wide-ranging, collector-oriented volume that’s unlikely to be bettered. The Good Times! of The Monkees’ hit 2016 album truly do just keep on coming!
The Monkees: The Complete Series is available exclusively at Monkees.com!