Sunday, 15 September 2019

I’M NOT YOUR STEPPING STONE [197]

Many short-lived TV shows are filed under, “it was a good idea at the time,” but “New Monkees,” broadcast in 1987, can also be found under, “needs more work… a LOT more work.” A very short-lived show, lasting for only thirteen episodes (reduced from the intended twenty-two), one album and one single, it was never, to my knowledge, shown in the UK… although we did get “The Munsters Today” and “California Dreams” instead, lucky us.


“New Monkees” was borne out of the wave of nostalgia for the original “The Monkees” TV series, which reached its twentieth anniversary in 1986: MTV’s marathon showing of “Monkees” episodes on 23rd February that year spurred a revival that kept the show on the air, drawing more attention to the band’s current 20th Anniversary tour. (Michael Nesmith was absent from the tour, but his media projects at the time, including a music video show for Nickelodeon in 1980, “PopClips,” gave him a claim to having invented MTV.)


Now that TV had caught up with the original show, with MTV, blue screen special effects, and a postmodernist mixing of styles, a remake of the show was begun, with a new band picked after auditioning over five thousand people. The group that appeared on screen were both actors and musicians from the start: Larry Saltis, Dino Kovas, Jared Chandler and Marty Ross, the last of which was already a musician with a band named The Wigs, before becoming a prolific composer for film and TV.


Having seen the first episode of “New Monkees” in a very soft-pictured, off-broadcast VHS copy posted to YouTube – the show has never been released on home video in any format – I can see it is as “Eighties” as “The Monkees” was “Sixties.” Bits of it play out like you are watching MTV, with the band name, song name and record company appearing in one corner of the screen when each song begins. There is an odd scene where the band talks about how they were inspired by The Monkees, but it feels like they were being interviewed for “Entertainment Tonight.” Old out-of-context black and white film clips are played for comic effect. The band lives in a giant pastel-coloured house that looks like a hi-fi system. They have a crusty English butler, and a computer that runs the house that is almost like Holly from “Red Dwarf,” but looks like the lips from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” then crossed with “Max Headroom.”


While the plot of the first episode was as inconsequential as the original show – it looked to be like they were trying to get rid of miniature clouds that were raining in the house (which is, by the way, a house they never seem to leave) – the main cause of the show feels like building a fanbase, then selling albums to it although, with only the first episode to go on, this may not have been how it eventually played out on screen. However, if the original Monkees borrowed from The Beatles, the New Monkees appeared to go with Mr. Mister and, even then, more like “Kyrie” than “Broken Wings.” You wonder why they used the name “Monkees,” except to achieve success through brand associated – it would be like S Club 7 calling themselves The New Bay City Rollers.


As it turned out, the “Monkees” name sunk the whole “New Monkees” project, as it resulted in a court case with the original band, but by the time that was settled out of court, the nostalgia train had moved on for both bands. With little media available for the band, their subsequent appearances have been in nostalgic meet-and-greets from those that still remember their short run – their first live performance would not be until 2007, with another ten years later. Their latest concert, in February 2019, was held the Pig ‘n Whistle restaurant in Los Angeles, alongside original Monkee Micky Dolenz, enough water having flowed under the bridge. However, if another episode of “New Monkees” appears online, it may only be of historical interest, just like the nostalgia that gave birth to it.

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