While writing this review, Appellate Judge Erick Harper counted each keystroke. The backspace counted as -1. Mouse clicks went into a separate tally, as did any usage of the scroll wheel.
Our reviews of Monk: Season Three (published August 24th, 2005), Monk: Season Five (published August 22nd, 2007), Monk: Season Six (published July 16th, 2008), Monk: Season Seven (published July 27th, 2009), and Monk: Season Eight (published March 16th, 2010) are also available.
Something odd has happened over at the USA Network in the past few years. The network that used to be a repository for endless reruns of Silk Stalkings and cheesy made-for-cable movies has recently made a stab at creating some worthwhile original programming. Chief among their new lineup of flagship shows is Monk, an original and offbeat crime comedy/drama starring the much under-appreciated Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Stark Raving Mad, Galaxy Quest).
Facts of the Case
Adrian Monk (Shalhoub) suffers from an acute case of obsessive/compulsive disorder along with a plethora of other various and sundry phobias and neuroses. His various psychological anomalies cause him to behave strangely and seriously cramp his social skills but also prove remarkably useful in discovering evidence and solving crimes. Monk, a private investigator, used to be a homicide detective with the San Francisco PD, but lost his badge for reasons not fully explained. Still, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, Heat,The Fast and the Furious) and Lieutenant Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford, A Beautiful Mind) grudgingly admit that they often need Monk's preternatural abilities to crack the big ones and call him in on the toughest, most bizarre cases.
In the background is Monk's ongoing sense of loss, both of his badge and of his beloved wife, Trudy. Trudy was killed under suspicious circumstances over seven years ago; Adrian has never gotten over her death. Periodically he comes across people who give him cryptic clues about her death and why it happened; it's a lingering mystery that promises to play out more fully over the course of upcoming seasons.
The facts of Adrian Monk's cases, interesting and quirky though they are, aren't really what keep viewers coming back to the show. The real charm of the show is its characters and their interactions. Monk's quirks are the central hook of the show, but the characters surrounding him are also new twists on old types. Ted Levine's Capt. Stottlemeyer is the quintessential gruff, no-nonsense cop, but with a surprisingly warm and human side, as well as being clearly subordinate to his new-agey documentary filmmaker wife. (As an aside, it must be noted that Ted Levine has the most extraordinary voice I've ever heard on television. It rumbles so deeply that you are likely not to be able to hear it without the aid of a subwoofer. He sounds like a 78 RPM record slowed down to 33 1/3. If you don't know what that means, ask an adult.) Jason Gray-Stanford is a typical young, gung-ho cop, sort of a sane version of Judge Reinhold's character from the Beverly Hills Cop flicks, but with more hidden insecurities. The pair of cops reminds me of the old Warner Brothers cartoons with the big laconic bulldog named Spike and his yappy, enthusiastic sidekick who was always eager to please his bigger buddy.
Keeping Monk in line (and helping him survive the dirty, disorderly world outside his own apartment) is his lovely assistant, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram, The Sure Hand of God, Cleopatra's Second Husband), a tough blond single mom originally from New Jersey. Sharona was originally Monk's nurse when he was hospitalized (due to his various psychological complications, perhaps?) and later became his assistant. The two of them bicker and banter back and forth in a comic love-hate relationship. Sharona also has a love-hate relationship with Lt. Disher which sometimes hints at romance, or at least Disher dealing with a major crush.
The other facet of the show that explains its appeal is its old-fashioned take on the television mystery story. In a world full of CSI and its clones and wannabes, it is refreshing to see a low-tech show about a guy who solves crimes based on old-fashioned detective work, intuition, and his uncanny perception. The other nice thing about this more traditional mystery format is that it allows the audience to play along, to try to catch the clues and come up with the answer before Monk does. The cases are definitely on the weird side, as befits Monk's offbeat personality, and reflect some very enjoyable creativity that obviously goes into each episode.
Monk plays host to some pretty impressive guest stars over the course of Season Two. Tim Curry (Clue, Legend, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) appears as Dale the Whale, a supersized convict with powerful underworld connections. The Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce shows up in an episode alongside Gary Cole (Office Space). John Turturro (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Quiz Show, Secret Window) checks in as Adrian Monk's estranged brother Ambrose, the only person possibly more neurotic than Adrian himself, in what turns out to be the most touching and dramatic episode of the season.
In another favorite episode, Monk takes a none-too-subtle friendly dig at the whole CSI-flavored crime genre, complete with Star Trek-like bogus devices and technobabble. Billy Burke (Ladder 49) does a nice turn here as a low-rent David Caruso who uses his actor's knowledge of forensic science to try to commit the perfect crime.
Monk airs in widescreen, and the sixteen episodes of Season Two are presented in anamorphic transfers in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There is little to complain about with the video; the transfers are generally sharp and clear, with a minimum of digital hobgoblins to fret over. The audio is a pleasing Dolby 2.0 mix that will fill your living room nicely with atmospheric sounds and clear dialogue. The sound mix is perhaps not as aggressive as most feature film releases, but this is a TV series, after all.
Extra content is limited to four mini-featurettes, one on each disc of the collection. There are character profiles of Stottlemeyer and Disher, with the respective actors speaking on camera about their characters. There is a brief bit entitled "The Minds Behind Monk," which gives some background on the show's creation, including the very intentional resemblance of the major characters' interactions to the Sherlock Holmes characters. The featurettes are interesting but quite short, clocking in at about 5 minutes apiece.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The only potential gripe against Monk is that it may simultaneously play on occasion to stereotypes and paint too rosy a picture of what can be debilitating psychological disorders. Monk sometimes displays a few OCD characteristics that seem clichéd, like avoiding the cracks in a sidewalk. On the other hand, if having these disorders really gives one such godlike powers of perception, perhaps they might be a so terrible after all.
Monk is a delightful, fresh, funny, and even poignant show that breathes new life into the traditional mystery genre. It may take a few episodes to warm up to the show and its quirks, but it's well worth the effort.
Not guilty! While a few more substantive extras would have been nice, overall this is a very good show and a decent DVD release from Universal.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Minds Behind Monk" Featurette
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