“ Actors: Tony Shallhoub / Number of discs: 34 / Classification: 15 / Studio: Universal Pictures UK / DVD Release Date: 29 Aug 2011 „
I recently bought the boxed set complete collection of Monk because I'd watched so many of the earlier episodes over and over that they either didn't work anymore or had gotten really tatty. I very rarely buy DVDs without having seen the main content first and Monk was one series that caught my attention with a mere glance. I happened to watch an episode or part of an episode on tv years ago and that was it, I immediately bought the box set of seasons 1-4 and never regretted it - it became my favourite show.
Monk was a popular, funny and moving US detective series/sitcom starring Tony Shalhoub (Wings, Paulie, Galaxy Quest) as character Adrian Monk the well-known 'defective detective' (the show's tagline), a private investigator who worked mainly as a police consultant and set in San Francisco. It ran from 2002 to 2009 and was largely true to its premise and genre style without any major changes except characters and what I call 'directional experimentation' in seasons 5 and 6 which was rectified in the final seasons.
The box set was released in 2011 and has 34 DVDs and unlike the previous box sets (seasons 1-4 and 1-6) it contains the individual seasons in their own cases with the discs held firmly in place whereas in the older box sets they were loosely held in fabric sleeves which were easily ripped and didn't really add any protection from dirt or damage. This box was also better thought out because it has a lid and opens from the top rather than having to slide open from the side or fully open at the side so that when you tilt the box all the sleeves fall out and you can't see the numerical order either.
The show is based on a former detective who was released on discharge from the police force due to severe mental upset who then became a private investigator with the hope of one day being reinstated. Adrian had always been plagued by phobias and compulsions but the cause of his breakdown was the tragic and violent death of his wife Trudy who was murdered in a car bomb and in the many years following he attempted to solve the case with slow and painful progress.
Trudy was ever present in his life (not in the style of Randall and Hopkirk) which was highlighted in heart tugging cameos that were either memories or dreams/visions or when he is seen talking to 'her' as if she were there.
As a former homicide detective, the crime element of the show revolves around murder and killing but sometimes he and his former colleagues investigated other crimes such as abduction.
Adrian is weighed down and constantly trying to live with and overcome the sheer multitude of his phobias, compulsions and worries. His 'list' of phobias started off at 38 (snakes, germs, needles, heights, crowd, milk etc) and somehow reached over 300 by the end. The show revolved around Adrian's day-to-day life and uncanny ability to see what others couldn't but the people and reasons behind the murder of his beloved wife Trudy (a journalist) still remained elusive and crippling to him. Adrian felt his two main objectives in life were solving crime and cleaning, the latter he could even do in his sleep.
There were four additional main characters other than Monk and Trudy. The first two were his first Nurse and later Assistant, Sharona Fleming (along with her son Benji) who was a hands-on, no nonsense but sympathetic and motherly character. She and Adrian made a conflicting yet lovable and workable pairing and the sacking of the actress came to a shock to Monk fans. She was simply there in one episode and gone in the next without any formal character send off or announcement and very unconvincing excuse, one that contradicted her storyline. She and Benji were replaced by Natalie Teeger and her daughter Julie. Natalie was very different but still very well suited to assisting and looking after Mr. Monk. Like Adrian, she was a widow and sympathised from that perspective. Being an Assistant to Adrian Monk meant being on call 24/7 and almost completely involved in his day-to-day life, but each one had a different relationship with him with Natalie's being slightly more formal. One example of this was shown in the way Sharona called him Adrian and was always having a go at him whereas Natalie called him Mr. Monk and was always pleading with him even though she was more free-spirited and idealistic than Sharona. However, both characters were very complimentary and great in their roles. In both cases Sharona and Natalie nurtured, assisted and looked out for Adrian and at the same time he played a central role in their lives like an awkward, eccentric and selfish uncle or step-dad. (One thing I particularly liked was that in this day and age of 'sex sells' and adding romance for the sake of it, there was no romantic connection between Adrian and his Assistants and yet their loyalty and need for each other were convincingly shown.)
The other two main characters were the 'usual' official police characters, Captain Leyland Stottlemeyer and Lieutenant Randy Disher; they fulfil the somewhat bumbling and assuming roles in traditional whodunits. They were however fleshed out into more likable, competent (to an extent) and supportive characters who are very much like father and son or begrudging uncle and nephew; the Captain being a solid fellow who you could picture in a Western and the Lieutenant with wildly unrealistic theories but buckets of enthusiasm and a love for his job.
The additional, re-occurring side characters included Dr. Charles Kroger and Dr. Neven Bell, Adrian's consecutive long-term psychiatrists who Adrian adored and was able to bounce his personal thoughts and worries off of. We often saw Adrian trying to work through his thoughts of the day or at loggerheads with the doctors. Then there are the purely comical characters Harold (Adrian's nemesis) and Kevin (Adrian's neighbour) and the more sedate/sombre Ambrose (Adrian's brother). Those three characters in particular were very cleverly written because they were almost reflections of Adrian but with different neurosis and habits or the same ones but exhibited to varying degrees - and it was the interaction between them and Adrian which was hilarious because he didn't like them, was impatient and didn't recognise his own characteristics! They are just as difficult to get along with and hence the combinations made for a lot of verbal and some physical slapstick.
There were many famous guest characters (actors/actresses and music artists) with actual parts and storylines including Willie Nelson, Sarah Silverman, Glenne Headley, Carmen Electra, Korn, Snoop Dog (who also re-did the opening theme) and even Tony Shalhoub's wife and well known actress, Brooke Adams. She featured in five of the episodes and it was hilarious to watch them together in roles that were usually conflicting.
It was a detective show as opposed to a crime drama so even though there were stunts and effects there weren't any graphic crime scenes or huge displays of dramatic action, it was very character driven and not gritty.
Akin to Nero Wolfe and to an extent Poirot with a hint of Colombo, Adrian Monk had his foibles, obsessive compulsions, fears, habits and worries. He had a list of his phobias which constantly increased, re-shuffled throughout the series', phobias including but not in order: a fear of the wind (ancraophobia or anemophobia), vertigo/acrophobia which was linked to his fear of flying (aviophobia or aviatophobia), claustrophobia, frogs and so on. His compulsions included having to touch the tips/tops of things like lamps, poles and car aerials and everything having to even, or in groups of multiples of 10 or symmetrical. His habits included separating the different foods on his plate so that they were not touching, never using the same umbrella twice and labeling/compartmentalising the food in his fridge. He worried a lot about spending yet spent on frivolous 'necessities' (like buffing his wallet when wages needed to be paid), about other people's perception of him and was an annoying backseat (well front seat since he couldn't sit in the back) driver. Also akin and in tribute to another famous detective series, Sherlock Holmes, Ambrose was even more talented and had more encyclopedic knowledge but was not a detective.
The style was generally episodic with each episode having a self contained plot but with running themes and gags. In some cases (particularly in seasons 5 and 6) the plot was secondary to the character idiosyncrasies and antics.
There is one main problem with the DVD's in my opinion and that is the sub-titles or lack thereof; the previous editions that I had had the same issue. In this set only the first two seasons having sub-titles and then only in English and French, after that there are none. Thankfully I don't need them but I have gotten used to watching shows with sub-titles at night with the sound off so not having any is an inconvenience (and as a bit of a geek I've watched these shows enough to be well acquainted with the lines) but it's a real inconsideration for those with hearing impairments or who are fluent in other languages. This is a Region 2 set but a few more European languages would have been helpful.
On the plus side the extras improved i.e. before the feature focus was on the writers and producers with some character/actor commentary and obviously the aforementioned are an intrinsic part but as a fan of the show as a final product and of the characters I appreciated their features the most. There is also some behind the scenes action and episode commentaries. I think a couple of things they could have included (unless I missed them whilst half asleep at that point) was a reference to the books that are penned by the same writer and hence read in very much the same style of the filmed episodes, and secondly the webisodes (though granted there were only two - an avenue they could have continued with outtakes from the actual show).
The box sets are classified with Age 15+ certification but the separate season DVD sets are certified as 12+. So if parental concern is an issue perhaps watch a few episodes first and decide if you want to let children watch. It's not gory or sexually explicit in general but it has some rare moments and of course the theme involves many and varied cruel intentions and actions.
Overall the show is very formulaic but it doesn't get stale - each episode plot was different and recurring characters were different enough from each other to keep the interaction relevant. Humour and sadness went hand in hand in the show with witty dialogue, theatrics in body language and clearly acted emotional depth. Personally I think that in regards to humour it is in the same or similar league as Fraiser, another show that I loved, but with crime and grief. The episodes themselves weren't too slow or fast paced and the overall plot (Trudy's murder) was usually addressed at well timed intervals.
I thought it had the right balance of unfair and 'fair clues' in contrast to many detective shows and book series. An unfair clue being where the audience has little to no chance of figuring out who the culprit(s) is, how the crime was done or what the motives were. The plots weren't too far fetched or twisted at the end, they were a mix of the audience having a general picture and Adrian (or sometimes one of the other characters) filling in the details. There was a lot of circumstantial evidence that wouldn't hold in reality but for the purposes of moving the plot along and time constraints they were 'permissible'.
When the show came to an end I was very sad but I have to say that in comparison to other shows I've watched it wrapped up the loose ends extremely well, all the possible character and plot issues were addressed and the end was satisfying, sad, happy and beautiful. The sad part was a 'stickler' i.e. both Adrian and the audience learned that the information they most needed had been available all along and so much time and suffering could have been prevented. Though as on film as in 'real life' clues/hints can be kept in plain sight and are only obvious to those who know about them or in hindsight and that irony was incredibly poignant.
This set is currently selling for just over £40 on Amazon and at £50+ on eBay.
There is a newer box set released in 2012 which has the design, a slide box design and the DVD's are contained in sleeves. The bonus features are on 35th disc. Either way you get almost 90 hours of an excellent show.
By playing Adrian Monk, Tony Shalhoub won three Emmy Awards, one Golden Globe and two Screen Actor Guild Awards for Best Actor in this series and a host of nominations. There were also nominations and wins aplenty for the crew and guest stars on the show. Even the former and present theme songs, by Jeff Beal and Randy Newman respectively, have won Emmy Awards.
There was controversy when the instrumental theme song was changed to the 'Toy Story' style song by Randy Newman with the issue even being satirically addressed in an episode. I personally think the lyrics to the second theme described the show perfectly and its rhythm provided a somewhat upbeat feel to the gravity of the content - very fitting to the handling of the show in general. Below are the lyrics so you can see for yourself:
'It's a Jungle Out There'
It's a jungle out there,
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care,
Well I do.
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
Poison in the very air we breathe
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing.
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so
It's a jungle out there...
For those who miss the show there was a short spin off called 'Little Monk' which featured a young Adrian and Ambrose! http://www.usanetwork.com/series/littlemonk
*I posted this under my old name on Ciao: ladyofsorrow. I have re-organized and updated it before posting here.