Having already exhausted the Christmas spirit with its special episode in November, Monk will instead give this holiday season a taste of yesteryear with its black and white "film noir" episode (airing Dec. 22). Hey, the color scheme worked for George Clooney with Fail Safe and Good Night, and Good Luck (but the jury’s still out on The Good German).
While the term film noir encompasses numerous types of films, the first type that comes to mind is the crime thrillers brought to us by the likes of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. In a brief intro to "Mr. Monk and the Leper," Tony Shalhoub promises that the episode will deliver it all: "murder, mystery, intrigue and a femme fatale."
As the title implies, Adrian Monk (Shalhoub) meets with possibly his worst nightmare: a man who has leprosy (Paul Blackthorne). The problem for our germophobic gumshoe is that this man is his latest client, Derek Bronson, a millionaire who was lost at sea seven years ago and contracted leprosy. Because of this, he’s been in hiding … until now.
Witnessing Monk’s various neuroses is always good fun, and this episode has moments of pure gold, especially after Monk has realized that he shook Mr. Bronson’s hand. Constantly referring to his client as "the leper" doesn’t help either. His assistant Natalie (Traylor Howard) tries to make her boss more tolerant, but she’s distracted by her budding romance with a doctor they consult.
While on the case, Monk encounters Mandy (Emmy winner Sarah Brown) the millionaire’s loving wife. Naturally, a mystery has to fit in somewhere, which leads to an investigation involving murder and betrayal. In an odd twist, the episode shows us who did the killing, but keeps you confused about the victim.
All in all, the show does a good job visually of mimicking the noir style for its mystery scenes. Shots of Monk entering a bar and then taking his first careful steps inside before sitting down at a shadowy booth are reminiscent of the classic ’40s films. They got the sound right too, with a light, jazzy score featuring plenty of tinkling piano.
Naturally, Monk doesn’t conform to other people’s standards, and he breaks this noirish mood at times with his comments such as "There’s more light over there" when he sits down at the dark booth.
In the everyday scenes, however, the B&W seems a little out of place. These segments would probably be more at home in color, and in fact, USA is giving viewers the opportunity to make their own judgment. Directly after the B&W episode airs, it will play once again, only this time in glorious color. Viewers can then vote online at usanetwork.com for their preference, which is all a big ploy leading up to the new, guest-filled season kicking off on Jan. 19.
So did you like the B&W or color version better? How well did the show’s tribute to film noir work out?