The Guardian, 28 May 2012

Detectives Blog

Regular readers of this column will have realized that it is not in any particular order, except for this week. Making Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) the tenth detective in the series was only fair to him, and his round-number loving fans. He is, after all, the only detective who, when framed for murder and given a $900,000 bail, asked if it could be rounded up to an even million (Mr Monk is on the Run). I love Monk for innumerable reasons, but I will keep it to ten, so he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.

  1. He is the Obsessive Compulsive Detective. Monk can outsmart any crook, even a chess grandmaster (Mr Monk and the Genius) but he will still have to straighten anything crooked, arrange things in height order, and only eat foods which don’t touch each other. This makes him a winning combination of brilliant yet vulnerable. His condition is lifelong, but was infinitely worsened by the murder of his wife, Trudy. This is the only crime he can’t solve (until the final episode, of course).
  2. His assistants. Firstly, Sharona, the nurse with a dodgy past in Atlantic City, but a heart of gold, who disappeared midway through season 3, after contract negotiations allegedly went sour. She returns for a cameo in the final season, however, so everyone must have kissed and made up. And secondly, sweet-natured Natalie Teeger, mother of Julie and honorary mother to Monk.
  3. The theme tunes. Jeff Beal’s lovely theme from season 1 was swiftly relegated to incidental music once Randy Newman had recorded It’s a Jungle Out There for the opening and closing credits. Lucky Monk fans don’t fear change. No wait. We really fear change. Anyway, I’ve now had time to adjust, and it’s fine.
  4. Captain Stottlemeyer, played by Ted Levine. How could a man who wanted to turn ladies into a skin suit in Silence of the Lambs be rehabilitated as the gruff but devoted police captain hero? I’ll tell you how: his lovely moustache, and the fact that he could say ‘Don’t break my heart’, to Monk, and still sound manly.
  5. The catchphrases: ‘You’ll thank me later,’ says Mr Monk, as he straightens someone’s clothes. ‘It’s a gift and a curse,’ is how he describes his unique observational skills. ‘He’s the guy,’ he hisses, when he comes upon the murderer. Even when the murderer couldn’t have done it. Even when the murderer was in space while the murder was committed on earth (Mr Monk and the Astronaut). And, when explaining the murder to an amazed audience, he always begins, ‘Here’s what happened...’.
  6. The phobias. Put frogs on the list, he yells at Natalie, when he first sees a frog up close (Mr Monk is at Your Service). After a brief negotiation, they decide that frogs belong after possums and soccer riots, but before hailstones. The list numbers well over a hundred items, including lepers, rabbits and crowds. He is wisely also afraid of mushrooms, as all right-minded people should be.
  7. The tribute to Stanley Kamel. Kamel played Monk’s impossibly kind therapist, Dr Kroger. He died after filming season 6, so the opening episode of season 7, Mr Monk Buys a House, is dedicated to his memory. It’s about Monk not being able to concentrate because of piano playing next door, which no-one else can hear. Turns out, the neighbour is playing Chopin, Dr Kroger’s favourite composer. Hector Elizondo diagnoses the problem, and becomes Monk’s new therapist, and Monk learns, a little, to cope with change. There isn’t a dry eye in the house.
  8. The locked room mysteries. No-one does an impossible crime like the writers of Monk. Who could forget Mr Monk and the Panic Room, where the only suspect is a monkey with a gun? Or Mr Monk Goes to Jail, where a death-row inmate is poisoned with his final meal (so his organs can’t be donated to save the life of an evil billionaire suing the author of a book about him, who happens to be the son of the prison literacy teacher)? Or, my personal favourite, Mr Monk Meets the Playboy, where a man is crushed to death by a bar-bell, which he has apparently dropped on his neck while exercising. The cops think it’s an accident, because they don’t notice that everything metal in the room is pointing to the centre of the floor. Yes, the murderer has rented the apartment downstairs, built a massive electro-magnet, waited till the victim was lifting weights and then switched the magnet on. Truly, one of the greatest TV murders of all time.
  9. Dale The Whale. Dale Biederbeck is Mr Monk’s nemesis: a super-fat criminal mastermind who can’t leave his bed, yet still manages to murder a judge (by blackmailing a shonky doctor into wearing a fat-suit and doing it for him). He’s played by Adam Arkin in season 1, then Tim Curry in season 2 and Ray Porter in season 6. This prompted Monk fans around the world to stare in perplexity at the same fat-suit with a different face.
  10. The guest stars. Tony Shalhoub can call in anyone he likes: John Turturro as his brother, Stanley Tucci to play his fictional counterpart, Dan Hedaya as his dad, Sarah Silverman as his obsessive fan. Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg also appeared, the latter recording a hip-hop version of the theme tune. Nice.

Iconic? Of course. Monk delighted fans for 8 seasons, with the most unfathomable murders around. And there will be a TV movie later this year, which is the best news I’ve heard in ages.

Duffers? Sharona could have been written out rather more elegantly, contract issues or no. One minute she’s there, and then suddenly she left months ago to make a go of it with her ex. It verges on Chuck Cunningham syndrome.