When Tony Shalhoub and company took a bow after eight seasons of “Monk”, the saga effectively came to an end. The award-winning mystery series that ran on USA Network from 2002 to 2009 combined humor, murder mysteries, and at times a serious look at the nature of loss to make it one of the most popular series on the NBC subsidiary. But fans and Netflix subscribers were pleasantly surprised this week when the “defective detective’s” entire series became available to watch instantly at home. Other NBC Universal series added to the Netflix catalog include “Saturday Night Live”, “Friday Night Lights”, and “Battlestar Galactica”, according to Techshout.com.
The show starred Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk, an obsessive compulsive former San Francisco police detective. Though exhibiting a fear of a wide range of ordinary situations and things such as heights, milk, spiders, and harmonicas, Monk was constantly challenged to function in the ordinary world, but used his extraordinary powers of observation to solve unsolvable cases as a consulting detective for his friends Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lieutenant Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford).
Shalhoub, Levine, and Gray-Stanford were with the series for its entire run. Assisting Mr. Monk with his phobias and sometimes in solving the case, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram, seasons 1-3) and Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard, seasons 3-8) often played the Dr. Watson to his Sherlock Holmes derived character.
Scenes often returned to his therapy sessions with Dr. Charles Kroger (Stanley Kamel), until Kamel’s untimely heart attack between seasons 6 and 7. Héctor Elizondo was ably cast to round out the show as Dr. Neven Bell for the final seasons.
The series sagged towards the middle under the heavy weight of popular side-kick Sharona Fleming’s exit and the bumpy entry of Natalie Teeger- the exact reasons for actress Bitty Schram’s exit were never confirmed, though a contract dispute was rumored, as reported by MSNBC. Far too often around this time the mysteries were a little too easy to solve for the viewer at home, but to be entirely fair, solving the case always played second fiddle to Shalhoub’s brilliantly neurotic performances. Helping things out, the show never took itself too seriously. When the series changed its theme music, “Mr. Monk and the T.V. Star” ended with a crazed fan berating the concept of TV shows changing their theme music, then faded into the original “Monk Main Title Theme” by Jeff Beal that had been displaced by Randy Newman’s “It’s a Jungle Out There”.
Other self-aware jokes included recurring references to the awful “Randy Disher Project”, a band project best left in the discount dust bins, and Monk’s frequent assurances while moving people’s personal items around to suit his tastes that they would thank him later- a prediction that almost never came to fruition. The show featured an array of memorable, similarly unbalanced guests, including Sarah Silverman as a deranged megafan, Tim Bagley as Monk’s overly competitive nemesis and fellow sufferer, and Monk’s brother agoraphobic and brother Ambrose (John Turturro), who helped complete the Holmes’ reference as something of a Mycroft character.
Humor aside, it was always the heart of the show that kept viewers fixated on the series; Adrian’s unflinching devotion to his dead wife, Trudy. Finding his wife’s killers helped get him out of bed each day, regardless of how bad things might be, and we were reminded time and again that coping with tremendous loss was the focal point of the show. The best episodes were shows that revisited that theme, such as “Mr. Monk and the Kid” in which we saw how badly Monk wanted to be a father or “Mr. Monk and the Captain’s Marriage” when Stottlemeyer was forced to face some difficult facts about his future.
Now that the series is on Netflix, subscribers can enjoy the entire six seasons sitting on my shelves plus the final two I don’t own for as little as $8.99 a month. Not a bad deal for on demand viewing, a market that continues to grow and adds value for TV junkies looking for other viewing options.
Techshout.com, “Netflix signs agreement with NBC Universal for prior season cable streaming”
Andrew Wallenstein, “No Sharona – Bitty Schram leaves ‘Monk'” MSNBC