Sunday, 10 September 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: NEW MONKEES

43. “My name is Helen, and I live with these four rock stars in a house you’re just never gonna believe!”



10/09/2017




So many short-lived TV shows are found filed under the phrase, “it was a good idea at the time,” but “New Monkees” can also be found under, “needs more work… a LOT more work.” It was a very short-lived show, lasting for only thirteen episodes, plus one album and single, and was never, to my knowledge, shown in the UK… although we did get “The Musters 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. Now that TV had caught up with the original show, with MTV, green 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. 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.” Because of this, you wonder more and more why they bothered with the name “Monkees,” apart from brand recognition – 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 amicably settled, the nostalgia train had moved on for both bands. Like the first time I saw “The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer,” there was a sense of “what did I just watch?” after seeing “The Monkees,” but once you think that with “New Monkees,” there is nothing else memorable to keep the show, and the band, in your mind - for all the effort, they needed better songs.

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