Thursday, June 29, 2017

Monkees--"The Devil and Peter Tork"

    “The Devil and Peter Tork” is the second of back to back episodes to parody a famous short story. This one is a take on “The Devil and Daniel Webster” with mike—yes, Mike—supplanting he famed orator besting Old Scratch in a court room argument. There is a different feel to this episode. While it is still a comedy, there is an air of genuine fear throughout. No other episode is so eery in tone. Yet it is also beautiful if you can cast assie your modern cynicism for bit.
      Monte Landis makes his penultimate appearance in the series. He portrays the villain in every episode but one. He reaches he pinnacle of his villainous career here by playing the Devil. The Devil goes by the name Mr. Zero while coming across much like the figure in the Rolling Stone's “Sympathy for the Devil.” He is a mysterious man of wealth and taste who has been around a long time and stolen many a man' soul. He can give your your heart's desire, but it will cost you.
      Case in point—Peter. Peter wanders into Mr. Zero's music shop and falls in love with a harp. It is an instrument he has always loved but cannot afford one even if he knew how to play, which he does not. Mr. Zero convinces Peter to sign a buy now, pay later contract that grants him the ability to play. What poor Peter does not know is he has sold hi soul for his new talent. The irony of the deceased ascending to heaven as harp playing angels should be noted.
      With the addition of the harp to the band, the Monkees finally achieve their wealth and fame. But it all comes crashing down one night when Mr. Zero arrives to force Peter to keep his end of the bargain at the stroke of midnight. Mike notes there is still time left, so Mr. Zero promises the full extent of time. They use most of the time for a musical romp through hell.
      The vision of hell on display is a strange combination of horror and hedonism one would expect from a fictional story presenting general stereotypes of hell rather than a description from religious doctrine. The Monkees are surrounded by fire before being attacked with tridents by the skimpiestly clad women ever on the series. Peter is brought in to bow before Mr. Zero, but is pulling away by the guys. They all don devil costumes and dance around with the women. The misguided line from John Milton's Paradise Lost “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven” comes to mind, as does Mark Twain's “Heaven for climate, hell for company.”
      What I find interesting here is the rebellious counterculture gaining influence in Hollywood at the time, mostly driven by hippie culture, was heavily influenced by the establishment of the Church of Satan established in the late '60's by devout Satanist 9and accomplished musician in his own right) Anton LeVay. His influence on television, and especially music is abundantly clear from pop culture of the late '60's and early '70's. It is an interesting topic to explore in future blog posts, particularly how LeVay's influence on American pop culture parallels the similar Alestair Crowley's influence on British pp culture. It is a topic I am likely to dwell on across my blogs some time in the future.
      I also need to mention I was educated from elementary to high school in a strict Baptist school in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The people who ran the school saw Satanic imagery and influence in anything and everything largely out of Original Sin guilt combined with a paranoid obsession of the End Times. It has been a long time since I was immersed in such an environment, but I remain skittish at overt representations of anything hellish or demonic. I felt that wariness during “The Devil and Peter Tork,” too. It is strange how such emotions can stick with you even during such innocuous content. As if it was necessary to demonstrate how far couture has fallen, the word “hell” is bleeped out at every mention because it was not allowed on television in 1968.
      When Mr. Zero arrives near midnight, Mike challenges the validity of the contract. Mr. Zero obliges the challenge by establishing a kangaroo court presided over by Judge Roy Bean with a jury of condemned men from Devil's Island. He calls Billy the Kid, Blackbeard, and Attila the Hun to the stand at witnesses. They each serve as a for laugh foil to Mike, Davy, and Micky in cross-examination. The key point is Mike's awkwardly charming closing argument Peter's talent came from his love of music, not Mr. Zero. In response, Mr. Zero remove his influence from Peter, then challenges him t play the harp. Peter plays a beautiful and beautifully appropriate rendition of “I Wanna be Free.” It is an overly sentimental ending, but this is where I advise dropping modern cynicism and just going with the intent.
    Scoring “The Devil and Peter Tork' is tough. It is the most thought provoking this silly series ever gets. Yet I also suffer the uneasy feeling I gt from any bit of entertainment that take a dip into the subject of hell. Peter is presented as a naively innocent person rather than the usual idiot for making his mistake, which is refreshing. There re also some good laughs mixed in. Micky argues with Attila the Hun in his native language, but subsequently reveals he has no idea what was said by either Attila or himself. I am going to rate this one good, but not great. Letting my bias show here more than usual, probably.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)

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