Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's a Jungle Out There

When Monk premiered on USA Network in July 2002, no one, least of all the network themselves, could have predicted its runaway success. But Monk, almost instantly, became a hugely popular show, going on to run for eight seasons and ushering in a whole new type of television programming -- not just for USA Network, but for all basic cable channels.

The show starred Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk, a detective whose obsession with order and detail put him on par with Sherlock Holmes when it comes to solving crimes. Unfortunately, Monk's skills come with a price: he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as a massive list of phobias, that make day-to-day life almost unbearable. Previously, he'd been able to master his tics and quirks well enough to become a detective on the San Francisco police force -- at least, until the murder of his wife, Trudy. Unable to cope, Monk loses his badge, haunted by the unsolved murder of his wife ... the one case even Monk can't solve.

When the show starts, it's been four years since Trudy's murder. Monk isn't ready to rejoin the force, but he is serving as an official consultant to Captain Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Disher of the SFPD -- with the help of Sharona Fleming, a registered nurse, who remains at his side with an arsenal of emotional support -- and handwipes. (Sharona would eventually leave midway through season three, with a new assistant for Monk, Natalie Teeger, joining the cast.)

Monk, Stottlemeyer, Disher, and Natalie

The show was loved by its fans for the quirky, hilarious, and endearing antics of Monk himself, whose obsession with cleanliness and constant phobias (he's scared of snakes, mushrooms, heights, crowds, elevators, and milk -- just to name a few) are a constant source of frustration to everyone around him. But the show wasn't all laughs. At its heart, we had a main character who was desperate to bring his wife's killer to justice -- and who, as the series went on, became increasingly determined to overcome his fears. With its combination of hilarious and heartfelt, Monk was a show unlike any other. It aired its last episode in 2009, but to this day, it remains my absolute favorite show.

So, in honor of series star Tony Shalhoub's October 9th birthday, let's take a look at ten of my favorite episodes of Monk (because ten is a nice, even number):

-- Mr. Monk and the Candidate (Parts One and Two)

This two-part pilot movie -- which plays more like a film than an episode of a television series -- remains one of the best pilot episodes I've ever seen. We meet the characters, established through countless little scenes that are both hilarious and heartfelt, and by the end of the episode, you know you've found a truly special story. Plus, the mystery Monk's confronted with (the attempted assassination of Warren St. Claire, who is running for mayor) is possibly the best in the show's entire run.

-- Mr. Monk and the Airplane

"It's just not possible, is it, when you really think about it." I don't like flying much more than Adrian Monk does, and I love this episode in which Monk finds himself trapped on a cross-country plane trip. Luckily, there's a murder in midair to distract him!  Keep your eyes peeled for the flight attendant, being played by Brooke Adams -- Tony Shalhoub's real-life wife.

-- Mr. Monk and the Three Pies

Like Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk has an older brother who's actually smarter than him: Ambrose Monk. The only reason Ambrose isn't a greater detective than Adrian?  Ambrose suffers from agoraphobia, a fear of going too far outside of one's comfort zone -- which, in this case, keeps Ambrose from ever leaving the house. The two brothers haven't spoken in years, but when Ambrose becomes convinced he's witnessed a murder, he brings his little brother in on the case. Guest star John Turturro won an Emmy for his role as Ambrose.

-- Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra

"The light is your weapon, Mr. Monk. Be the light." This was only the second episode featuring Monk's new assistant, Natalie -- but it says something to how quickly they were able to integrate a new character into the cast that this episode works as well as it does. Natalie's aghast at Monk's refusal to reimburse her for her work expenses; Disher's obsessed with proving that his favorite actor, Sonny Chow, is still alive (and apparently a prime suspect for a murder) -- and Monk's simply trying to find his way through the dark. We even get a very sweet window into Monk's life with his wife, Trudy, before her murder. This one is one of my all-time favorites.

-- Mr. Monk Stays in Bed

Nobody likes getting sick. But for a hypochondriac, it's the worst. Monk's come down with a bad flu, but that can hardly be expected to stop him from solving a murder or two. Unless he drives everyone crazy first.

-- Mr. Monk Meets His Dad

Any episode exploring more about Monk's family is not to be missed. This Season Five Christmas special ushers in the long-awaited appearance of Monk's father, Jack.

-- Mr. Monk Is Up All Night

After glimpsing a strange woman in a crowd, Monk is haunted by her face. He knows he's never seen her before -- but there's something about her he can't let go. Unable to sleep -- for three days -- he takes a walk through the streets of San Francisco, where, of course, he witnesses a murder. Only trouble is, all trace of a struggle (and a body!) is gone by the time the police arrive. This is a good one to watch if you're struggling through your own case of insomnia.

-- Mr. Monk Buys a House

After the real-life death of Stanley Kamel (who played Monk's psychiatrist, Dr. Kroger), this lovely little episode was written about Monk coping with the loss of Dr. Kroger. Not to be missed -- just keep a box of tissues handy!

-- Mr. Monk on Wheels

Monk gets shot -- and it's all Natalie's fault!  (Or so Monk insists, anyway.) With Monk recuperating in a wheelchair, he's more than happy to order Natalie around on his every whim ... until he finally starts to realize their friendship trumps his anger and frustration. It's a heartfelt lesson -- but I love this episode for its comedy, with one of the funniest scene in the entire series taking place with the whole cast helping Monk out of the car and into his chair.

-- Mr. Monk and the End (Parts One and Two)

It was never any doubt that Monk would not solve the mystery of his wife's murder until the series finale. The only real question -- beside whodunnit (and why) -- was whether the wait would be worth the pay-off. Some fans quibbled over the way the end of the story was written, but I found this series-closing two-parter to be a perfect ending to an unforgettable show. Watch and judge for yourself!

-- Post by Ms. B

1 comment:

  1. ...because ten is a nice, even number :)
    Nice post.