“Monk” was never an especially challenging show, which was one of its charms. You knew going into an episode that Shalhoub’s character would likely be grossed out by some unpleasant aspect of a crime scene, that his keenly honed observational powers would help him see things no one else could and that by the end of the hour, those things would come together to catch the perpetrator.
What has kept the show entertaining for so long is its strong investment in character. Creator Andy Breckman and the show’s writers have kept an admirably light hand on things over the years — further adding to the show’s comfort-food vibe — but they’ve also given supporting actors Traylor Howard, Ted Levine and Jason Gray-Stanford enough material to push their characters beyond the standard-issue bosses and sidekicks.
And Shalhoub, of course, has taken what could have been a completely hammy role and made Adrian Monk one of the more memorable (and sympathetic) TV characters of this decade. I might have quibbled with one or two of his Emmy wins, but there was never a question that he deserved to be in the running.
“Monk” can trace its roots as far back as Sherlock Holmes, whose powers of observation were just as keen. But I would argue that the show’s success has helped spawn a number of other series on the air today that feature quirky or unorthodox protagonists who succeed both in spite of and because of their oddities. Shows like:
“The Mentalist”: Maybe the most obvious “Monk” descendant, the CBS hit features a lead character (Simon Baker’s Patrick Jane) who uses similarly extraordinary perceptive skills to see details we mere mortals can’t. Jane may not be as neurotic as Monk, but the two characters are peas in a pod.
“Psych”: “Monk’s” long-time USA companion is in many respects a sunnier, younger version of the show. Shawn Spencer (James Roday) may be a touch more annoying than Monk, but the outsider-conquers-skeptics theme is very similar.
“The Closer”: Brenda Leigh Johnson’s (Kyra Sedgwick) gift lies less in spotting hidden physical evidence than in reading people. She’s a master at getting suspects to confess — in addition to being a junk food-addicted mess outside the office.
“House”: Greg House (Hugh Laurie) is a doctor, not a cop, but the show is often plotted and paced like a police procedural, with mysteries, red herrings and last-minute revelations aplenty. The good doctor himself is pretty much a jerk, but he’s also the best at making connections between seemingly unconnected symptoms.
“Lie to Me”: Deception expert Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) is among the more high-functioning members of this group of eccentrics, but he’s still got a ton of baggage he’s carrying around.
Have a favorite “Monk” memory? Are you sad to see the show go?
Photo credit: USA