Friday, December 4, 2009

Mr. Monk Says Goodbye



About seven years ago I saw a review in a local paper about a new detective show, it's hook being the protagonist was an obsessive-compulsive (with multiple phobias) ex-cop who's wife was murdered, leading to his mental breakdown.


Sounds like a lot of laughs, so I thought. That's a gimmick that should last about six weeks.

I never realized from reading the review that Monk was really a comedy disguised as a murder mystery. Consequently I never watched the first season at all. It wasn't until early in its second season that I got hooked on Adrian Monk...it was the episode titled Mr. Monk Goes To The Theater, which aired on August 1, 2003. Like all of the plot lines on MONK, it was incredible and unbelievable....but part of MONK's charm was you never cared about resolutions because it was always such a comedic hoot. It was an hour of pure escapist entertainment.

In a way MONK was a direct descendant of COLUMBO- the quirky cop who was always the smartest guy in the room. But while COLUMBO was procedural drama with comic undertones, MONK was done for laughs, with the occasional veer to drama, particularly when dealing with Adrian Monk's efforts to find wife Trudy's murderer, or looking at his attachment to her years after her demise in a parking garage. 


I don't think I missed an episode since 2003, and managed to catch up on all episodes from Season One. Adrian Monk was a true classic TV character, and MONK, the series, was a show that may have opened the door for DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, a comedy masquerading as a soap opera in much the same way MONK did as a crime drama.

We all rooted for Adrian Monk to make it back to some semblance of wellness, even though Monk could even grate on the nerves of even his biggest fans with his quirkiness- spending three hours to write a check because the writing wasn't even, not taking his shoes off in a Buddhist sanctuary (which drove a man who took a vow a silence to start screaming at him in frustration), or his taking out and polishing each one of his lightbulbs just because they needed polishing.

And we stood by him in his quest for the past eight seasons to find the individuals involved in the murderer of his beloved wife Trudy. Last week we found out that Trudy's murder was ordered by a judge (played by Craig T. Nelson). Tonight (Friday December 4) we'll find out the motive for the murder. We were left hanging in last week's two part episode when Adrian finally opened a Christmas present from the month of Trudy's death. In it was a video tape from Trudy- she was about to reveal a terrible secret to Adrian and his assistant Natalie Teeger  12 years after her death. What was the connection to the missing midwife at the birthing center 12 years before? Or was there any connection at all? Why was the doctor who ran the birthing center (played by Ed Begley, Jr) murdered? Did "the Judge" work in cahoots to have Adrian framed for killing Frank Nunn, the man with six fingers who was the man who set off the bomb that killed Trudy? And will Adrian, who had ingested a toxin and was told he only had two days to live, survive?


It was a wild and fun ride for the past eight seasons, and many thanks to stars Tony Shalhoub (Monk),  Traylor Howard (Natalie),  Jason Gray-Stanford (Randy Disher), and Ted Levine (Leland Stottlemeyer). And we will not forget original cast member Bitty Schram and the late Stanley Kamel (who's Dr. Charles Kroger character died of a sudden heart attack, as did the actor). Most recently the great character actor  Hector Elizondo joined the cast as as Dr. Neven Bell, Monk's newest therapist.

The list of guest stars  over the eight year run is long; it includes Willie Nelson (as himself), Gena Rowlands, James Brolin, Adam Arkin,  Laurie Metcalf, Malcom McDowell, Howie Mandell, Jason Alexander, Sharon Lawrence, Glenne Headley,  and David Strathairn.

My two favorite guest stars of the series were John Turturro and Stanley Tucci.  Turturro first played Adrian's agoraphobic brother Ambrose in the episode Mr. Monk and The Three Pies. Adrian and Ambrose hadn't spoken in years, and Adrian holds a grudge because Ambrose wouldn't leave the house to attend Trudy's funeral. The homebound Ambrose spoke seven and a half languages (he was teaching himself Mandarin), and made a living writing instruction manuals for household appliances from his cluttered mess of a home. He was also saving the mail sent to the house for the brother's missing father- he went out for Chinese food when they were kids and never came back. Ambrose was a good hearted nerd who first took a shine to Monk's assistant #1 Sharona, and later with assistant #2 Natalie. Ambrose appeared in several other episodes over the span of the series- another memorable episode with Ambrose was Mr. Monk Goes Home. There was a memorable exchange in this Halloween episode in which Ambrose tells Leland Stottlemeyer that the suspect he is looking for was dressed like Frankenstein's monster. When the Leland puts out an APB for FRANKENSTEIN, Ambrose stops him to tell him that technically he is wrong; Frankenstein is the maker of the monster, not the creature he made and that the cops in the squad cars would be confused by this faulty information.

Stanley Tucci played actor David Ruskin in Mr. Monk and the Actor. Ruskin is a method actor who follows Adrian around for a film based on the lives of the show's characters. But he becomes too good in his research- he starts dressing like Monk, feeling his many phobias, and even dons a dark curly wig to look like Adrian. And of course he has to become involved in the solving of a crime, which puts the lives of both Adrian and Ruskin in jeopardy.

So many episodes, and so little time....but here are a few more favorites; Mr. Monk and the Garbage Strike, Mr. Monk and the Birds and the Bees, Mr. Monk Takes Manhattan, Mr. Monk vs. The Cobra, and Mr. Monk and the Genius. I could go on and give a dozen more.

I'm sad to see the show end, but happy to see its ending on a high note. Nothing is worse than watching a series continue years after it has "jumped the shark" (think the last three or four years of DREW CAREY, HAPPY DAYS, ALL IN THE FAMILY). The cast and crew are leaving us wanting more....and that's a testament to the show's enduring entertainment value.

To all involved....thanks. I feel a tear coming on.

Give me a wipe, please.

I'll be back after the final episode to discuss the finale later this evening.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

My only regret is that I go onto Monk so late in the series. Not having full cable service I began to watch Monk on reruns about a year ago.....and boy! I got hooked.
He's a great actor, I know, because I saw him in an off-Broadway show in NYC and he was wonderful...a different character from Monk, which only revealed his talent as an actor. I certainly will miss him.

BB

Anonymous said...

I still cry watching this show, I watched it when I was little and it had just come out. I have all the seasons on DVD, exept season 5 I cried becsue my sister through it into a fire. She got in trouble, and I got revenge, she still hates me for burning her cardboard cut out of Harry Styles. Mwhahahahhahahahaha.

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