Monk: Season Six

[3 August 2008]

By Andrew Winistorfer

At this point, people who have no interest in ever watching Tony Shalhoub’s obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk, know exactly what the show is about: Monk is afraid of germs (and nearly everything else) and also happens to be a brilliant detective. Thanks to tons of ads showing Shalhoub straightening out lamps and the like, and a smattering of Emmy’s (he’s won three officially, but judging by how many times I’ve heard “Emmy Award Winner, Tony Shalhoub” I’d assume that figure was 437), the character of Monk (and his idiosyncrasies) are probably more well-known than the show where the character exists.

Which is exactly why, in its sixth season, Monk seems tired and stagnant. Much of the sixth season, 16 episodes collected in this DVD set (augmented with a handful of mostly self-congratulatory commentaries), is devoted to Monk’s quirks and the reaction of people around him to said quirks. Luckily, the one formula the producers changed is rotating in a guest-star for nearly every episode in order to keep things (relatively) exciting.

As always, the episodes here revolve around Monk and his near-super ability to solve complex crimes with minute amounts of evidence.  He’s almost like adult Encyclopedia Brown, but instead of solving who stole the football player’s letter jacket, Monk is figuring out who used a set of dog’s teeth and a brick to kill a woman. Monk’s foibles are often prominent—in one episode he has to figure out who killed a woman on a nude beach, and apparently harbors a prejudice towards nudists.

Monk: Season Six finds the introduction of nearly a guest star an episode (ranging from the cool: Snoop Dogg, Sarah Silverman and Alfred Molina to the annoying: David Koechner, Diedrich Bader and Howie Mandel) and increasingly ridiculous plotlines. Snoop pops up in an episode that takes its inspiration from the Tupac and Biggie murders (about eight years too late to be relevant), Monk has to invade a San Francisco cult lead by Mandel, Monk has a fight with his long time friend, Leland Stottlemeyer (played by “Put the lotion in the basket” Ted Levine) over Stottlemeyer’s girlfriend probably being a murderer, Monk’s arch nemesis may be a real-life superhero, and Monk tries to find a killer who is targeting women named Julie Teeger, which happens to be the name of his assistant’s daughter (played by Traylor Howard).

It’s not like Monk has always been a highly plausible show (would the police department for a large American city really allow a guy who has to touch car antennas obsessively still attend murder investigations?), but the storylines here remove Monk further and further from a reality it needs to be grounded in to make the show seem somewhat likely.

But in the end, the only thing that grounds these episodes is in the 867th telling of Monk’s various oddities (hey, did you remember he was afraid of drinking milk? Here’s another reminder). This repeated focus on Monk is stretched pretty thin during the sixth season, but it’s mostly because the writers have written themselves into a corner.

They refuse to develop Monk’s character outside of being obsessive-compulsive, they already dried up the “Monk can’t find good help” storyline (in season three), and he refuses to move on emotionally from his wife Trudy’s death. The investigation of her death is a frequently recurring topic in Monk, and is trotted out whenever things get slow, in this season’s case, a two-part season finale that has more bang than any of the previous 14 episodes.

In the finale, Monk is framed for a murder and goes on the run. Although there are some close calls that nearly reveal who killed Monk’s wife (including the return of Monk’s on-again, off-again enemy “Dale the Whale”, previously played by Tim Curry, but Ray Porter, who plays the dad in Suite Life of Zack and Cody, plays him here), but nothing is really exposed. A romance (maybe involving his assistant, as is briefly flirted with in this season when Natalie hits on Monk a handful of times), a curing process for Monk’s problems, or finally killing off the “Who killed Trudy” storyline would be a welcome twist as the show passes the 100 episode mark.   

There’s no denying that Monk is a “different” TV show, one that turns a typical format (the cop procedural) on its ear. But what once served to make Monk different from other shows, now makes it too similar to its own past. If season seven (now airing on USA on Fridays) doesn’t prove more interesting, I’m ready to wash my hands (repeatedly) of Monk.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/monk-season-six/