Judge Erich Asperschlager was once arrested for obsessive-compulsive disorderly conduct.
Our reviews of Monk: Season Two (published August 24th, 2005), Monk: Season Three (published August 24th, 2005), Monk: Season Five (published August 22nd, 2007), Monk: Season Six (published July 16th, 2008), and Monk: Season Seven (published July 27th, 2009) are also available.
"Here's what happened."
Adrian Monk very neatly closes up shop with the release of Monk: Season Eight on DVD, a set packed with guest stars, familiar faces, happy endings, and the epic two-parter that answers the question that kicked off the series: Who killed Trudy Monk?
Facts of the Case
Sixteen episodes, across four discs:
When Monk began back in 2002, it was a TV oddity—a police procedural more funny than scary, with an infuriatingly flawed lead character, on an unlikely network. I doubt many people thought it would last. But it did last, for eight seasons, and along the way it encouraged the USA Network to expand its original offerings to include shows like Psych and Burn Notice. These days, USA is a bona fide hit-maker, churning out quality shows people like me are willing to watch sight unseen. It's an inspiring turnaround for the former home for bike-cop series Pacific Blue, and Andy Breckman's quirky little detective show deserves at least some of the credit.
In some ways, Monk has changed a lot over the years. Original nurse Sharona left in season three and was replaced by no-nonsense assistant Natalie Teeger. Stanley Kamel, the actor who played Adrian's long-time psychiatrist Dr. Kroger, died between seasons six and seven, leaving a void filled, as much as it could be, by Hector Elizondo as Monk's new therapist, Dr. Bell. San Francisco police captain Leland Stottlemeyer went from unhappily married to divorced, entering into a series of doomed relationships, including one with a woman who tried to use him to cover up a murder. Lieutenant Randy Disher went from bumbling buffoon to a respected cop who says dumb things occasionally. Still, as much as things changed around him, Tony Shalhoub's obsessive-compulsive detective stayed the same. Same phobias, same anxieties, same suit. The stagnation of a title character would be a weakness in any other series. Not for Monk. It's a big reason the show is just as good in the final season as it was in the first.
Much of the credit for Monk's longevity goes to Tony Shalhoub, whose characterization of Adrian Monk is so fully realized that I'm not sure how he'd return to TV in another role. As good as he was in past seasons of Monk, Shalhoub is at his best in Season Eight, especially in the two-part series finale. In "Mr. Monk and the End," we see Adrian not only solve his wife's murder, but suffer an attack that threatens to take his life before he can bring Trudy's killer to justice. Shalhoub spends every emotional credit earned over the course of the series in those last two episodes, taking the audience to a darker place than the show has ever gone before. Whatever complaints I may have about the pacing of the Trudy storyline over the years, the fact that we still care is due in large part to Shalhoub's performance. On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, Shalhoub gets to have a little fun this season as well, playing opposite his character's worst nightmare—a pet—in "Mr. Monk and the Dog," and as Monk's hitman doppelganger in "Mr. Monk is Someone Else."
Of course, Monk isn't the only great character on the show, and Shalhoub isn't the only great actor. Adrian Monk's phobia-filled existence would be near unbearable to watch without the supporting characters. They not only give the audience a way into Monk's weird world, their reactions provide much of the show's humor. The first line of defense in any episode is Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), Monk's long-suffering assistant. Although she often takes the tough love approach with her boss, she is fiercely loyal, and, with her daughter Julie, gives Monk the closest thing to a family he has. Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), who started the series in a more combative role, now fills the position of Monk's best friend. He goes to bat for Monk, especially in this final season when he helps get Monk reinstated. Although Randy Disher is often played for comic relief, Jason Gray-Stanford's performance keeps him from being a joke. I can guarantee Disher fans will be satisfied with where he ends up by the end of season eight (and who he ends up with).
Characters aside, Monk wouldn't be Monk without the mysteries. It takes a lot to stump the world's greatest detective, and though none of the show's mysteries have actually done that, they are no less satisfying to watch. Whether proving that a theater critic was responsible for a murder that took place during a play he reviewed, or figuring out who's killing off the people in his therapy group, it's just fun to watch Monk work. That said, after eight seasons it seems like the writers were starting to run out of ideas. Monk mysteries have always followed a pretty clear formula, and by the end I got pretty good at solving the murders well before the final act (the "who" anyway, if not always the "how"). This season also suffers from a few mysteries whose solutions push believability, even for a lighthearted detective show. "Mr. Monk and the UFO," for example, falls apart at the end when the culprit's plan is revealed to require a piece of technology I'm not sure exists.
Even a subpar mystery can be salvaged by great performances. Though the solution to "Mr. Monk Takes the Stand" relies more on coincidence than keen detective work, it's thoroughly entertaining thanks to a cameo by Jay Mohr as a hotshot lawyer who tears Monk apart on the stand. Other guest stars this season include Lost's Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as a Nigerian man Monk befriends after finding out they are both widowers, Elizabeth Perkins as a grown-up child star who Monk finds out is completely different than the squeaky clean character she played on his favorite show, Daniel Stern as a small-town sheriff, Meat Loaf as a voodoo shop owner, and Virginia Madsen as Captain Stottlemeyer's new love interest. The biggest guest star of the year, though, is Bitty Schram, who makes her reappearance as Sharona for the first time since she left the show. "Mr. Monk and Sharona" is a stand-out episode, not only because we get to see Sharona and Natalie butting heads and driving their ex/current boss crazy, but because it subtly introduces a storyline that pays off in the final episode of the series.
Besides the stand-alone episodes, the eighth season also wraps up ongoing storylines. In "Mr. Monk and the Badge," Monk is finally reinstated to the police force, only to find that things have changed since he left. In "Mr. Monk is the Best Man," Captain Stottlemeyer's search for true love comes to a happy end—after Monk figures out who is trying to sabotage his wedding, of course. The two-part finale, though, is the real reason to watch this set. In "Mr. Monk and the End (Parts 1 & 2)" Monk solves his wife's murder. The interesting thing about the episode is that he solves it about halfway through. The audience, in fact, only has to wait 15 minutes into the first part to find out the killer's identity. Monk spends the rest of the two hours trying to bring the villain to justice, and dealing with his own attempted murder. It's a thrilling ride marred only by a plot point midway through that suggests Monk could have solved Trudy's murder a decade earlier if only he'd been a little more observant (or curious). Also, I'm sure some fans will be taken aback by the "big twist" that I won't say any more about, but I thought it worked well—as a way to bring Trudy's story into the present, as well as to give Monk a reason to carry on after solving his only unsolved case.
Monk: Season Eight's bonus features are a step up from the lackluster extras of sets past. For the final season of a well-loved show, you'd think the show's creators would throw in everything they could to reward DVD purchasers. Still, the included features all do a nice job of wrapping things up. The 20-minute tour of the set with co-producer Doug Nabors is lo-fi, and drags in some places, but I'm glad it's here; a lot of people worked on the show and they deserve the recognition. The "Mr. Monk Says Goodbye" featurette, which lasts about ten minutes, has cast and crew interviews and footage from the last day of shooting. There are also a collection of interviews with creator Andy Breckman, Tony Shalhoub, Traylor Howard, and Jason Gray-Stanford.
The longest feature is a video commentary for "Mr. Monk and the End (Parts 1 & 2)." Unlike the "video commentaries" from seasons past, which were just five minute interviews with the show's writers, this runs the full 90 minutes of the finale, with the episode running on the left side of the screen and video of Shalhoub, Breckman, and director Randy Zisk watching it on the right. It's fun and informative, though it makes me wish there were more commentaries on the set, even if they were just of the audio variety. I'm also slightly disappointed that this set doesn't include the 10 Little Monk shorts that USA aired alongside the final season. I hate to think of them falling into TV limbo.
Occasional mystery hiccups aside, Monk: Season Eight is a fitting close to a fantastic series from the first minute to the all-new Randy Newman song that ends the final episode. All of the major characters get the happy endings they deserve—especially Monk, who finishes the show with more than just the answer to who killed his wife. Fans have been left with a lot more as well. Thank you, Mr. Monk.
Tonight's episode: "Mr. Monk and the Not Guilty Verdict"
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