Amidst the slew of CSI and Law & Order spin offs there is Monk. A show about a highly flawed yet brilliant man who solves crime, and does so in the strangest of ways. This show ran for 8 seasons and was a huge factor in the success of the first US network that ran it. Here we’re looking at the first season, where we begin our journey into the maddening world of Monk.
What Is Monk About?
Monk is a crime-based drama series that focuses on its namesake, Adrian Monk. He’s a brilliant ex-detective who is able to solve the most impossible cases, partly due to his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But of course, things aren’t simple. His OCD not only aids him in cases but also hinders him in everyday life, and coupled with his extensive list of phobias it is no wonder that the only way he can function is with the help of an assistant. His assistant/nurse Sharona pushes him to do things he would otherwise have run from and helps him live a vaguely normal life (well as normal as it could be for him). Though no longer a cop, Monk and Sharona frequently work with the San Francisco police department with his former Captain Stottlemeyer and colleague Disher. Each episode focuses on a different case except for the occasional two-parter episodes, but the case that runs through all the episodes – and in fact all the seasons – is the unsolved case of Adrian’s wife Trudy’s murder.
Who Is In It?
There are four main characters in the series and over time the viewer will get to know them in great depth.
Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub): Monk used to be a detective for the San Francisco Police Department, where he became known for solving tricky cases with ease due to his OCD. In his first two weeks on the job he got through several partners because they couldn’t deal with his “eccentricities”. But after the death by car bomb of his beloved wife Trudy, which Monk believes was meant for him and therefore it was his fault, he had a complete nervous breakdown. He was dismissed from the police force at this stage and became a recluse; unable to leave the home he and his wife had shared together. It was only with the help of Sharona that he became able to leave the house and decided to fight to get reinstated and get his badge back, even though his OCD has become worse since being widowed. With Sharona at his side with wipes at the ready, he now works as a private detective occasionally doing consultancy work for the SFPD.
Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schramm): Monk’s nurse and assistant. Sharona is also a single mother with a deadbeat ex-husband who is always letting down their son Benjy. She pushes Monk to attempt things he wouldn’t ordinarily do and if it wasn’t for her influence and support he would probably still be locked in his house. She often gets infuriated with Monk, especially as she is expected to carry 4-5 packs of cleansing wipes with her at all times to satisfy his need for cleanliness. Sharona is the calming influence that Monk’s busy brain needs, though you shouldn’t let her behind the wheel of a sports car – ever!
Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine): Captain of the SFPD and former partner of Monk. He also gets irritated by Monk’s problem but rarely pulls him on it because they are not only former colleagues, they are friends too. He has immense respect for his friend Monk and is always amazed by the tiny details he observes and the way he solves cases. He is married to a woman who makes independent films, they are complete opposites and that is most noticeable when they argue.
Lieutenant Randall Disher (Jason Gray-Standford): Always referred to as Randy rather than Randall. Randy is a young lieutenant who is very eager to solve crimes, but his willingness to jump in head first tends to get him into trouble – and mocked. On more than one occasion he has been talking about a possible suspect only for Stottlemeyer to have to tell him that that person cannot be a suspect because they have been dead for several years…he seems to always miss that line in the notes bless him.
The first season of Monk ran for 13 episodes, each being approx 45 minutes long.
Mr. Monk And The Candidate: Part 1 – In this first episode the viewer is introduced to Monk and his strange ways as he is called in to help the police investigate an attempted assassination involving a mayoral candidate and the death of one of his bodyguards. Mr. Monk believes there is something more to it and goes out of his way to figure out what is going on.
Mr. Monk And The Candidate: Part 2 – In the concluding part of the season and show-opener, Monk continues to hound certain people in his investigation of the attempted assassination before coming to a surprising conclusion as to what really happened.
Mr. Monk And The Psychic – When a woman comes off the road in the middle of a stormy night and a psychic known to the cops as a fraud finds her body seemingly by the power of mystical forces, Monk is drafted in to prove the psychic wrong. He has his own suspicions about the accident that caused the driver to die, and stages a psychic event to lure the culprit into confessing.
Mr. Monk Meets Dale The Whale – A female judge calls 911 telling them that Dale Biederbeck is about to kill her. Case closed? Well no, seeing as he couldn’t possibly have moved due to morbid obesity…but a witness places him at the scene. Monk has his own axe to grind and is determined to prove Dale guilty to get payback for events from his past.
Mr. Monk Goes To The Carnival – When a cop is arrested for murder on a Ferris wheel at the travelling carnival, Stottlemeyer enlists Monk to prove that his colleague and friend didn’t do it. Cue several trips to the carnival for Monk, accompanied by Sharona and Benjy. His compulsions almost stop him from investigating the case but his desperation to get reinstated to the police force drives him on.
Mr. Monk Goes To The Asylum – After committing a rather strange act Monk is sectioned in the local psychiatric hospital where he encounters many weird and wonderful people, including a man who claims he sees Santa Claus. But after learning of the recent history of the hospital he turns detective once more and tries to solve a case that was closed years ago.
Mr. Monk And The Billionaire Mugger – Sharona ignores Monk after another cheque from him bounces. Until he pays her wages she refuses to help. A suspicious crime involving a mugger who turns out to be a billionaire is on the cards but with Sharona refusing to help Monk he panics and goes back to trying to solve his wife’s murder. Meanwhile Sharona finds that though her new job actually pays, it just isn’t the same.
Mr. Monk And The Other Woman – After a lawyer and his assistant are murdered, and the prime suspect winds up dead too, the finger of blame points at beautiful neighbour Monica who had been fighting with one of the victims for several years. Monk is called in but the case becomes far from simple when they develop a mutual attraction. She seems perfect for him, but is she?
Mr. Monk And The Marathon Man – Monk is excited to meet his hero, a Nigerian runner who is taking part in the San Francisco marathon. But after some issues with a buttoned shirt things don’t go to plan. But he gets another chance when during the marathon a woman is murdered and the lead suspect has been tracked by electronic chip running the race and never missed a checkpoint.
Mr. Monk Takes A Vacation – Monk goes to the beach with Sharona and Benjy, but it turns into work when Benjy witnesses a murder. But when no body is found and no trace of foul play, people believe that Benjy was mistaken whilst he and Monk try to solve the crime. During the stay Monk also finds out exactly how many bodily fluids are in his room and a team of cleaners get a lot of work to do.
Mr. Monk And The Earthquake – An earthquake hits San Francisco leaving Monk in a state of shock and panic. But there isn’t time to waste as the police find a body after the quake, but it wasn’t the quake that killed them. The murderer has used the quake to cover the killing up, but with Monk on the case will that work for long?
Mr. Monk And The Red-Headed Stranger – Guest-starring Willie Nelson, Monk investigates when Willie’s manager is murdered. The only witness to the shooting is a blind woman who claims that she knows Willie did it because she heard him. But Monk is both unsure of the witness and determined to prove that he isn’t guilty because Trudy was a dedicated fan.
Mr. Monk And The Airplane – Monk is tricked into taking a cross-country flight by Sharona who is going to visit family. After managing to get onto the plane he drives everyone crazy with his questions and worries. Worse still Monk has become absolutely convinced that one of his fellow passengers who is sitting a few rows away has murdered his wife and is travelling with a look-alike. He gets little help from Sharona who is busy trying to talk to Tim Daly, and when a flight attendant destroys what he sees to be key evidence all looks lost. Will he solve the crime no-one knows has been committed?
Why Should You Watch Monk?
You should watch Monk if you are bored of the other crime-based shows on offer. Monk is different because the main character is so heavily flawed it makes it a lot more interesting, and his flaws aren’t self-induced like the sex-obsessed alcoholic cops that have previously been seen on TV.
This is great family viewing as it has a lot of comedic elements to it to stop it from becoming too dark a show. Though the cases are all homicides most of the gore is left to the imagination – rarely do you see a dead body or large amounts of blood. Kids will like this because they’ll find Adrian funny; adults will like this for the murder mysteries and the development of the eternally flawed man.
If you enjoy House there is a good chance that you will enjoy Monk because there are similar elements in the two. The unsolvable puzzle, the humour that breaks through the darkness and the breaking of the rules by the flawed main character.
I first caught this show airing in the early hours on BBC2 during a bout of insomnia and this show didn’t help that one bit! The reason was because the show is so interesting and funny that I was no longer trying to get to sleep and was instead eagerly awaiting Monk’s immortal line “Here’s what happened”.
And this is why I would recommend Monk, it is compulsive viewing (though pardon the pun there!). The cases are interesting because at the start of every episode they seem unsolvable because there doesn’t appear to be any evidence. In some cases the viewer is shown at the start who did what which makes you watch for clues even more thoroughly. But the tiny details that Monk picks up on are surprising and things that you’d never notice normally.
Which is another part of the appeal, Adrian Monk is not normal by any definition of the word. But it is all of his flaws that make him hugely lovable and endearing. Seeing the pain in his face when he has to touch someone, knowing as soon as someone moves something he’ll have to move it back – well it’s just saddening and sweet all at once. His past is told to the viewers because he hasn’t moved forward from it, and his wife Trudy’s death is very important to who Monk is at the point the series begins.
The death of Monk’s wife is an interesting thread that runs through the entirety of the show, he is always trying to crack the case and solve her murder when he can. His devotion to finding out why she was killed makes you want to know what happened, was it really all his fault because the car bomb was meant for him or was it something else. And there is always the question of whether his OCD symptoms will ease when he does finally put the case to rest.
The rest of the cast is fantastic, Stottlemeyer is like a father figure to Randy and that shows through much of the time. He’s also like family to Monk, having seen him at his best and worst and the actor playing him conveys the difficulties in their relationship well. Randy is a funny character, clearly meant as the butt of many a joke he is a good guy, just one that gets things wrong a lot. But as the season goes on (and the show itself) he does mature and rely less on his Captain for support. Sharona is a great character to watch, she balances the madness of her employer Monk with not only sanity but with bravery and courage. She is a very strong female character who seems to be able to cope with anything most of the time, though she does have her bad moments too so the writers have realised to balance it out so she doesn’t seem to be Wonder Woman.
All in all, if you enjoy crime shows but would like to see one that focuses more on the crime-fighters rather than the crimes, this may be the show for you. The characters change and grow because it is important to the story that they do so, otherwise it would be a stale procedural crime show. You’ll be able to watch this with both grandparents and kids without too much trouble or offence caused and perhaps judging by the questions that can be found online relating to the show, you or those you watch with may have some questions about Monk’s various problems and seek enlightenment into mental issues. It is a funny and clever show that highlights OCD in a new way, with Monk’s oft-repeated line “It’s a gift…and a curse” showing that there are both good and bad sides to his condition.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Excellent opening season to what became a well-loved and long-running show. It’s smart, sweet and engaging to watch. Tony Shahloub as ever is a joy to watch.