Now entering its fourth season, Monk finds itself in a precarious position. The quirks of the obsessive-compulsive master detective Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) are well known, the supporting cast is established after a mid-run switch in Monk’s assistant, and the show isn’t likely to develop a significant number of new fans.
The first three seasons made money for USA and brought Shalhoub two Emmys. But each had a story arc: Season One introduced Monk’s peculiar habits; Season Two focused on his relationship with assistant Sharona (Bitty Schram), and his quest to find his wife Trudy’s (Stellina Rusich) killer; and Season Three introduced Sharona’s replacement, Natalie (Traylor Howard). According to producers, episodes aired last fall sought to make Natalie more appealing by sharing her background.
In all seasons, though, the humor derived from Monk’s eccentricities, his compulsion to organize (crime scenes as well as his apartment), his disgust at human contact, and his fixation with Trudy’s death. With no prevalent arc in view for the fourth season, these eccentricities become the sole draw.
To accentuate the sleuth’s psychological disorder, writers place him in a variety of situations that make him squirm: interacting with circus show geeks, hiding in a secluded cabin in the woods, babysitting an orphaned child, and so on. But it’s clear they’re running short on situations. The first episode of the new season finds Monk concerned about his favorite shirt inspector, Number Eight. When he notices that Number Eight has been letting substandard shirts slip through, he resolves to find out why, so, dragging the reluctant Natalie along, he sets out to meet Number Eight, to whom he has actually written a fan letter. Naturally, the meeting leads to a murder investigation (like Murder, She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher, Monk can’t go anywhere without a dead body or falsely accused person turning up).
Number Eight, also known as Maria (Anne Betancourt), is distraught because her son Pablo (Alejandro Chaban) has been convicted of murdering a top fashion model. In order to get Maria back on track at work, Monk takes the case. This leads him to the world of high couture, in particular the latest fashion show of legendary designer Julian Hodge (Malcolm McDowell). It is quickly apparent that Hodge is the killer, in part because of his arrogant swagger and in part because the big name guest star is almost always the killer on Monk. Still, Monk is not a who-done-it type of detective show; the action centers on how Monk unravels the clues and nails the culprit, all the while fidgeting over the human interaction he is forced to endure.
Monk would no doubt be annoyed by the episode, as it contains numerous logical flaws. Hodge is able to frame Pablo with the assistance of the forensic pathologist who handled the DNA evidence, but it’s unclear why Monk grows suspicious of the pathologist’s work. Fixated with symmetry, he is bothered by the fact that one of Hodge’s models has a mole on her right shoulder, but no matching mole on her left. When the young woman is found dead, Monk rectifies the imbalance by drawing a mole on her left shoulder. Surely a seasoned detective knows that tampering with the body will call into question any evidence found on it. Additionally, the action is inconsistent with his own behavior. Why this mole and not the one he has on his own left cheek? While at the circus in a previous episode, why was he not bothered that a character had one leg in a cast but not the other?
Also inconsistent is Natalie’s concern for her teenage daughter Julie (Emmy Clarke). Hodge believes Julie has the makings of the next great supermodel and convinces her to appear in his show, against her mother’s wishes. Natalie is so concerned about her daughter’s safety that she follows her onto the runway to yank her from the show; moments later, still at the fashion show, Julie is nowhere to be seen and no explanation is offered as to where she is. What happened to Natalie’s concern for her daughter’s whereabouts?
While these are minor gripes, they indicate a lack of logical thinking in a show where logic is the primary means of solving crimes. Previews for the next episode show Monk getting amnesia following a bump on the head. A tired ploy frequently used by soap operas, this angle is also illogical, as one’s memory is not like a set of keys, easily lost and quickly recovered.
Nevertheless, Monk is still enjoyable and often funny. Natalie’s sarcasm provides some laughs: while shopping for new shirts, Monk is informed that his favorite salesclerk has quit because one of his customers was driving him crazy, to which Natalie replies, “Now we’re going to be up all night wondering who that was.” And police captain Leland Stottlemeyer’s (Ted Levine) reactions to Monk remain dead-on droll, and Shalhoub’s penchant for physical comedy is exceptional. Just imagine how much more enjoyable they would all be with strong scripts.