Here is a fine example of how after the fact knowledge can affect a previously held opinion. I first saw “Here Come the Monkees' in 1985 or '86. It was long before I knew what a television pilot was. Even without knowing this was the series pilot, I could sense it felt different somehow. Not necessarily bad, but it was not like the rest of the episodes I enjoyed. Fast forward a decade or so when I discover, when first shown to test audiences, “here comes the Monkees” was the lowest scoring pilot up until that point. Producers subsequently added the screen tests for Mike and Davy as a prologue, and it made all the difference the series was picked up for 32 episodes. But knowing the pilot originally cored poorly altered my opinion of the episode from different than the rest to below average.
So what is different? The opening teaser features a reporter interviewing a man on the street about violence and whether he would intervene f he saw someone being beaten up in public. He says he would, but then runs away when Davy approaches while the other guys beat on hi and asks for help. The Monkees are not the focus of the scene or even the humor. In truth, they have very little to do I the episode at all beyond react to other characters with slapstick. Even the musical performances are bad lip synching jobs. The guys are clearly new to acting. Even ham like Micky acts subdued.
The guys are also driving a wooded wagon. They have a manager played Kurt Russel's father, no less Their house appears normal rather than the avant garde pad they will eventually live in. The cinematography is darker than usual. Oddest yet, Davy plays guitar. Or fakes it poorly, to be more honest.
Pretty much no of the usual tropes are present beyond Davy falling for a girl which causes problems the rest of the guys try to fix. In this case, Davy falls for the daughter of one of the country club set when the Monkees are hire to play her birthday party. She becomes so hung up on Davy she neglects her studies and fails a history exam. The guys sneak her out of the house to covertly teach her American history. Her father refuses to allow the Monkees to play until she becomes upset. His attempt to let the know they can perform leads to a romp that ends with them finally preforming—and Davy falling for another girl.
As a young fan, I thought “Here Come the Monkees” was different, but not bad. As an old critic, I am not as merciful. The opening screen tests might have sold the series, but they do not boost the episode itself. Coming in at a scant seventeen minutes with the majority of time focusing on guest stars, there is not much here period, much less material that reflects what the show would become. The chase scene even video silent film style piano playing rather than a Monkees' song. That says it all about why “Here Come the Monkees” is not that great.
I will concede watching two episodes back to back with essentially the same plot f Davy falling for a girl against her strict father's wishes with the guys helping him pursue the romance anyway reflects poorly on 'Here come the Monkees.” Davy is coning across as a real cad, too. We never see any of the girls he falls for more than once.
Rating: ** (out of 5)