what i'm watching: mr. monk and the loyal viewer

It's a rare television show that gets me so engrossed in the characters that I actually begin to care about them. It takes great writing, great acting, and probably more than anything, great characters.

I've just finished the entire series of "Monk," which I've been watching end-to-end on Netflix. The last network TV show I remember liking in the same can't-put-it-down way was "Veronica Mars," which I had never heard of until a friend lent me the series on DVD. (Thank you!!) I'd watch one episode after the next until I would finally force myself to go to sleep.

I read about "Monk" when it first aired; critics loved it and lobbied for it to stay on the air, but it was never broadcast in our area. A few years ago I started catching episodes on late-night cable, and really liked it. Netflix (and Roku) gave me the chance to watch the entire series.

"Monk" follows a well-worn path: a brilliant but damaged detective (they always have a "thing") sees what no one else does, and solves cases that no one else can. What makes this show stand out is the amazing acting of Tony Shalhoub, and the mix of humour and pathos that surrounds the main character, Adrian Monk.

Turns out it's a good thing I saw random episodes before watching it on Netflix. When I went back to the beginning, I discovered - as is so often the case - that the first season was not quite there yet. The show hits its stride towards the end of Season 1, and really takes off in Season 3. (For you Monk fans out there, I think the show really gelled with the introduction of Traylor Howard, who played Natalie.)

Excellent TV shows are also distinguished by if and how characters grow and change. In Monk, our hero has been devastated by the murder of his wife, his one and only true love. As years pass, you would expect to see some change in that condition. At the same time, detective Adrian Monk struggled with phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder long before the traumatic event, so in order to be believable, change can't come too quickly or look too conventional.

This is really where the show excelled. In the seventh (penultimate) season, there are ever-so-subtle signs that Adrian Monk is making progress. Nothing hits you over the head; the show trusts the viewer to understand. By the eighth and final season, it's clear that Mr. Monk is actually changing, yet the changes are always in character, and still small enough to be believable.

The two-part series finale, which I just finished, was brilliant - suspenseful, emotional, both joyful and sad.

You know when you love a book so much that you're sorry when you read the final page? I think the highest compliment I can pay this show is to say I'll miss it.


laura k said...

Obligatory New York theatre reference: I believe I met Tony Shalhoub (although I didn't know who he was) when Brooke Adams had a role in the theatre where I worked. Shalhoub and Adams are now married; she made a few guest appearances on Monk.

That theatre also had connections to Glenne Headley, who played Karen Stottlemyre, the captain's first wife.

That's about it.

GK said...

I have been watching Monk re-runs for the past 2-3 years. Two episodes air every Friday on one of the Boston area channels. I think I caught most of the episodes, in order. Although I am occasionally surprised in finding some episodes I missed.

I have also watched "Psych" re-runs . The lead characters are a little younger . It is a different show from Monk. It is enjoyable, funny, and devoid of gore and extreme violence.

laura k said...

Two episodes air every Friday on one of the Boston area channels.

This is what I used to get. I discovered I was still missing many episodes, but that could be because I watching baseball or wasn't around that Friday night.

I don't know Psych. I'll look for it, thanks.

Jim Parrett said...

Thanks for the recommendation. Myself, just finished a marathon viewing of the second season of Swedish program Wallander on US Netflix. The lead actor, Krister Henricksson, is phenomenal and the episodes are gripping and human. The Kenneth Branagh Brit version of Wallander is available on Canada's Netflix but he's no Henricksson.

laura k said...

Hey, thanks for that. I have wondered about Wallander. I assumed I'd prefer Branagh, but perhaps that is mistaken! I have access to both, so I'll check out the Swedish version first.

I also love Inspector Lewis, which is part of the same Masterpiece Mystery series as Wallander. Monk is nowhere near as complex. For one thing, Lewis episodes are 90 minutes (Monk is an 45 - an hour on conventional TV).

Monk is more of a straightforward TV detective show, but with much better writing and better acting than is typical.

Jere said...

First of all, this is so weird because I was walking up the stairs just now having a conversation in my head about how the dish-towel hand-drying method is essentially using a paper towel that everyone else has already used. I got to the computer, decided to come to your blog first, and here's a Monk post!

I was a huge fan when it was originally airing. But I'm the opposite of you--I remember loving it for 2 seasons, and then not liking the new female pal as much as the old one. It's not like I stopped watching because of that, I mean I still liked it a little, I just kind of drifted away from it. But overall I consider myself a Monk fan and a Shaloub fan. (I loved Antonio Scarpacci too.) I had no idea it ran so long! I think of it as "that show from 10 years ago" so it's weird that it was still on in 2009 and I probably missed out on a lot of great Monkitude.

laura k said...

Ha, very cool. You might want to give the later seasons more of a chance. The show became more nuanced. Also there are Andy Richter and Sarah Silverman guest appearances that you would probably dig. Silverman plays a recurring character.

Jere said...

Cool. I don't remember Silverman or Richter on there so I must have stopped before they started, will have to see those later eps, I do love both of those people.

laura k said...

Hey, maybe Wallander can fill the void left by the end of Monk and the impending end of Inspector Lewis.