Monday, November 24, 2014

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

The Monkees: "I Was a Teenage Monster"

As some of you might have guessed from reading my home page, my real-life last name is not Kruger but Mendoza -- a name inherited from my Mexican-born father. Like most Spanish surnames, that name does not often appear on American movies and TV shows -- a fact that can either be blamed on the scarcity of Hispanic characters on American movies and TV shows or else on the lack of imagination on the part of those few American screenwriters who see fit to include Hispanic characters in their scripts.

So imagine my surprise when I finally saw my real-life surname appear on a popular television show. Granted, it was a television show from the 1960s, but it was still a popular television show. Then imagine my dismay when I realized that the character with my last name was a mad scientist! To add insult to injury, the character in question was not even played by a Hispanic actor. Instead the makers of this episode chose to cast non-Hispanic white actor John Hoyt, who was previously best known by me for playing an industrialist in the 1951 movie When World Collide and a -- ahem -- mad scientist in the 1958 movie Attack of the Puppet People. (Which, of course, raises the question of why the writers chose to give the character a Spanish surname in the first place. I'm guessing that it was because they were starting to get bored with the usual Germanic and Slavic surnames that were usually given to mad scientists in the TV shows of the 1960s.)

Of course, it might be argued that no one in the 1960s ever watched The Monkees expecting realistic storytelling, much less realistic representations of various minority groups. After all, this was an era when white actors still routinely portrayed Asian characters in movies and TV shows and almost any dark-skinned ethnic group -- apart from African-Americans, of course -- was considered interchangeable with any other dark-skinned ethnic group -- and African-Americans were generally rewarded for their distinctiveness by having few chances to appear on popular TV shows.

Indeed, even if you bypass the ethnic angle, a lot of this particular episode comes across as mediocre, even by 1960s standards. (And judging from my memories of past Monkees episodes, that was unfortunately the norm for this series.)

Anyway, the gimmick of the episode involved the various members of the Monkees being hired by a Dr. Mendoza -- the above-mentioned mad scientist -- to teach his monster (played by Richard Kiel) how to become a rock and roll singer. No, seriously, that was the plot. For what it is worth, Richard Kiel did a good job playing the Frankensteinish monster that the Monkees were teaching -- though I must admit that as much as I liked seeing Kiel doing something different than his usual big dumb thug routine, the humor of seeing him imitate a typical rock singer of the 1960s got old really fast.

As you might guess, the Monkees had a falling-out with the mad scientist when they found out that he planned to eliminate them after their work is finished -- and as if that was not enough, the scientist's equally insane daughter (played by blonde non-Hispanic actress Bonnie Dewberry) made a couple of appearances partway through the episode with news of a future episode. (Of course, said episode never happened.) Toss in the mixture of scenes that happened while a Monkees song played in the background and you got a brief description of the entire episode. Of course, Dr. Mendoza was brought to justice at the very end and the Monkees survived to play any day.

It would be nice to say that the next few episodes were better but I have not seen those yet so you are welcome to come to your own conclusions. However, it should be noted that neither Hoyt nor Kiel ever made another appearance on this show so if you really feel the need to see the two of them together -- or for that matter, to see what Richard Kiel looked like in green makeup -- then this is the episode for you. Personally, I prefer to consider this episode a reminder of why I don't watch The Monkees more often.

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