The hilarious return of "Monk"

Jan. 23, 2005, midnight | By Katherine Zhang | 19 years, 4 months ago

USA Network's detective show is as funny and pleasing as ever

His list of phobias is a mile long. He drives everyone around him up the wall, makes even his therapist crazy and doesn't do well in the social department. But he just happens to be a brilliant detective with a knack for solving the most puzzling homicides. His name is Adrian Monk, and he's returning for an all-new season on the USA Network.

Monk (Emmy winner Tony Shaloub), a former detective in the San Francisco Police Department, was let go when his disorder began interfering with his ability to perform independently and to work with others. Nonetheless, the San Francisco PD can't do without him, which is why, armed with the calming influence and help from his nurse and assistant Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), Monk more often than not finds himself wrapped up in the most puzzling homicides, all the while trying to avoid germs, snakes, heights, crowds and whatever else can be found on his mile-long phobias list.

Unfortunately for the San Francisco Police Department, Monk refused to look at any more cases when Sharona moved to New Jersey to remarry her ex-husband. In the beginning of the latest season, it took widow and break-in victim Natalie Teeger's (Traylor Howard) desperate plea to convince the reluctant Monk to return and help her uncover why two men would burglarize her house at two different times in the same week. Exasperated by Sharona's leaving but somehow assured by Natalie's understanding and thoughtfulness for him, Monk agrees to help. So begins another Monk-style adventure, complete with the detective's quirky case-solving skills, maddening obsessions and claustrophobia.

Tony Shaloub has never failed to deliver remarkable performances in the past, and this season is no different. Monk is the guy who fails utterly as an umpire because he cleans every speck of dirt off home base after every run but who can figure out how a comatose man sends his siblings mail bombs, the guy who jumps on a kitchen counter upon learning that a snake is nearby but who can solve two murders in a matter of hours just by reading the newspaper. Shaloub deftly balances Monk's obsessive-compulsive eccentricity with the detective's amazing mind. He presents a stressed and disgusted expression whenever Monk is confronted with one of his phobias, adding a panicked reaction that presents Monk's troubles in an amusing light. At the same time, there's that pensive, contemplative look as Monk ponders over a clue and the excited, impatient exclamation as he pieces together the puzzle and declares case-closed. With Shaloub's hilarious and gifted portrayal of Adrian Monk, it's impossible not to love this strange and peculiar detective as he embarks on one adventure after another.

While "Monk" without Sharona Fleming, the detective's levelheaded, fun-loving assistant, might take away a certain element from the show, Natalie Teeger, played by actress Traylor Howard, fills in whatever gap Sharona left behind. Natalie, whose Navy pilot husband died in a plane accident, empathizes with Monk's longing for his late wife, Trudy. She sees past Monk's obsessive-compulsive behavior to recognize the kindness and compassion hidden behind his peculiarities and develops a genuine respect for him. Additionally, her calm reactions to his obsessive-compulsiveness foil Monk's odd phobias and weird issues to add more humor and wit to every situation. Not long into the season premiere, it becomes evident that Natalie has formed a special bond with Adrian Monk, and it's hardly surprising when she agrees to become his newest assistant. The chemistry between Monk and Natalie guarantees that the show will only improve from here on out.

Admittedly, the idea behind the plotlines in "Monk" never changes. The San Francisco PD gets stumped on a case, they bring in Monk, and after the gathering of a few random clues and a bit of contemplation, Monk saves the day. What makes up for the unchanging plots are the cases themselves. It's impossible not to watch "Monk" because the cases have a way of drawing audiences in. A skydiver drowns in midair. A record producer gets shot by his pet monkey (or was it really his pet monkey?) in a locked "panic room." A man kills a woman to rob her of a cherry pie. In every situation, it's a thrill to watch how Monk cracks open these bizarre cases using the mismatched puzzle-pieces that policemen call leads. Combined with the touch of comedy that Monk's quirkiness contributes, these twisting, unpredictable cases make up a detective show that's unique, funny and exciting.

After all, he is the great Adrian Monk. Phobias, obsessions, talent and all, detective Adrian Monk is one of a kind. His show is original and witty, clever and fun, and it's a pure joy to watch.

"Monk" airs on Friday nights at 10 p.m. on USA Network.

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Katherine Zhang. Katherine Zhang likes French baguettes, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, bookmarks, fresh boxes of rosin, Brad Meltzer novels, and of course, "JAG." In her free time, Katherine enjoys knitting, playing the violin, and reading - especially legal thrillers and books about people in faraway places and long-ago times. … More »

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