Once a detective with the San Francisco Police Department, Adrian Monk lost his position on the force when the tragic murder of his wife caused him to develop a psychological disorder that began to interfere with his ability to interact with his fellow officers. That was when he became an obsessive-compulsive detective.
The USA Network’s new original series, “Monk,” stars Tony Shalhoub as a private investigator who is a keen observer of minute detail. Although Monk is no longer a policeman, he continues to use his powers of observation to investigate cases on behalf of the department.
Monk’s former boss, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, played by Ted Levine, still occasionally calls on Monk to help solve cases that baffle the cops. Stottlemeyer, a top-notch detective in his own right, knows he will never be as good as the legendary Monk — and it drives him crazy. “I see everything he sees. Why don’t I see what he sees?” Stottlemeyer puzzles in the series premiere.
But, as brilliant as Monk is, he is also quite disturbed — by virtually everything. Miranda St. Claire, a key character in the series opener, sums up Monk’s fears when she turns to him and says, “I’m told you’re germophobic, afraid of the dark, heights, crowds and milk.” “We’re working on the milk,” replies Sharona Fleming, Monk’s personal nurse.
Much like Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, Fleming, played by Bitty Schram, is more than a medical assistant, she’s there to help Monk with all the little things that make life so difficult – such as organizing his socks and putting away his groceries. Sharona also serves as a sort of liaison to the world for Monk, providing him with Handi-wipes every time he must shake someone’s hand and reminding him to focus on the task at hand when his OCD begins to unnerve his delicate sensibilities.
In a TV landscape populated by cop shows set in the harsh reality of the gritty streets, “Monk” is a refreshing exercise in puzzle solving that harkens back to such legendary productions as “Banacek” and “Columbo.”
One by one, each clue is discovered and revealed, leading the viewer to the same conclusion as the detective, until, finally, the perpetrator is caught. But unlike the vast majority of crime dramas broadcast over the last few decades, “Monk” isn’t a weekly series in the traditional sense. Though the shows airs each week, subtle hints in each episode reveal that months, and even years, pass between the highly unusual crimes Monk is called on to investigate. Viewers are occasionally treated to insights into the private consultant’s therapy for his condition, and, though Monk shows signs of improvement, progress in overcoming his psychological disorder is, for him, painfully slow.
Whether he can solve the crime at hand is never in doubt; the only real question is whether Monk can overcome the unique challenges that plague his daily life and pull himself together enough to get back to solving crimes full time as one of San Francisco’s Finest.
“Monk” airs on the USA Network on Fridays at 8 p.m. but also began airing Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC for four weeks, starting Aug. 13, in place of “The Mole 2: The Next Betrayal” and “NYPD Blue.”