In writing about the death of Davy Jones last week, I made reference to "Big Time Rush," the Nickelodeon boy-band series that takes most of its formal cues, and many informal ones, from "The Monkees." Saturday coincidentally brings a feature-ish-length film (the series' fifth), "Big Time Movie," which takes the group, also called Big Time Rush, to London into what used to be called a spy spoof, a welter of Beatles references and a pocketful of Beatles covers.
In the least generous terms, Big Time Rush -- or BTR, which takes just as long to say though is quicker to text -- is an imitation of an imitation, but the models (which were temporally coexistent) are both solid, and the imitation is sincere. Those were different times, to be sure. There are too many avenues now, too many insular niches, too much possibility to create even a roughly cohesive counterculture that might find room for Beatles and Monkees under the same umbrella.
In the smaller world into which "The Monkees" was born, any music you could call "pop" was driven through the same narrow funnel of Top 40 radio; at its best, this system created an energetic mix of the ridiculous and the sublime, the avant-garde and the rear-guard, the carefully crafted commercial and unexpected left-field weirdness. (The Beatles, to whose songs "Big Time Movie" applies modern dance beats and the sanitizing filter of Auto-Tune, in a not totally bad way, were all those things by turn -- as were the Monkees, as they walked in their booted footsteps.)
"Big Time Rush" belongs to a new age of industrial kid-pop, when the circular formula the Monkees exploited -- the show sells the band that sells the songs that sell the show -- is just established good business practice. It's the engine that drives or drove "High School Musical" and "Hannah Montana," "American Idol" and "Glee" and all their many variations. What's different about "Big Time Rush" within this context is that it's smarter and weirder than it needs to be, and creator Scott Fellows, who also thought up "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide," remains fiercely protective of its profound goofiness.