VH1 certainly appears to be succeeding in its campaign to make virtually every recording artist since Al Jolson the subject of a “Behind the Music” docu or a helium-light telepic. Who knew we needed a made-for-TV movie based on the rise and fall of popular ’60s made-for-TV group the Monkees?
Viewers who have sampled similar biopics about Sonny and Cher and the Partridge Family will recognize the format instantly. Watch the dreamy-eyed lads audition for young TV producer Van Foreman, a composite character, and the real hitmaker Don Kirshner. See the show and the band become overnight sensations. Cut to the requisite shots of screaming teens and happy execs. Find out how fame and the media machine take their toll on the disillusioned band members. The story is too familiar at this point, no matter how good the production values.
Pic’s plot starts to roll with Foreman and Kirshner (Colin Ferguson, Wallace Langham) discussing the raison d’etre of “The Monkees”: creating a TV show featuring an American version of the Beatles, a merchandising machine that will hit big with younger demos. After a disastrous first test screening of the pilot, Foreman includes an intro to the series, so that the audience gets to know the boys.
The show wins the night for the Peacock web and becomes an instant success. Before long, Monkees songs such as “Last Train to Clarksville” and “I’m a Believer” soar to the top of the charts and the likable foursome are having a hard time showing their faces in public without hordes of adoring fans screaming and chasing after them.
But the boys want to play their own instruments and make “music with integrity,” and that’s when the bubble bursts. Kirshner doesn’t like Mike Nesmith’s lofty ideas, while Foreman doesn’t care to repeat the same sitcom formulas for the Emmy-winning show’s third season. And that, as the cliche goes, is the beginning of the end.
Credit the production for discovering four actors who are close replicas of the original Davy, Mike, Micky and Peter. Newcomer George Stanchev’s uncanny version of a sweet-natured Davy Jones is especially on target. (VH1 has programmed an all-day marathon of the old “Monkees” episodes, as well as a “Behind the Music” seg about the band at 8 p.m., so fans will have plenty of opportunities to compare the film’s thesps with the original versions.)
While “Daydream Believers” does not offer any deep insights or shape three-dimensional characters, it is successful in re-creating the goofy look and charms of the original NBC show. Another plus is the inclusion of sequences featuring the group performing the original hits.
Kitch aficionados will also get a kick out of a scene in which the Monkees meet the Beatles at a free-love-and-drugs kind of an evening, and John Lennon reveals to Nesmith, “I’ve never missed one of your programs.” There’s also a scene in which a bad replica of the young Jack Nicholson suggests to the boys that they star as dandruff in his wacky film “Head.”
In the end, it’s Paul McCartney who offers the wisest words to the boys: “You can’t take it too seriously,” and the same can be said of this little confection.