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Here’s What Happened

Posted by Mr. Feeny on December 17, 2009

USA decided to dive feet first into the world of original cable programming. They wanted something a little off-beat, something to distinguish itself from the rest of television’s offering. So they came up with a quirky detective show.

But they knew this unique character couldn’t be lovable unless they found the perfect actor. That’s where the odd Italian cabdriver from Wings came in. Tony Shalhoub had only gotten small parts since that comedy ended, with bit parts in the Men in Black movies and a starring role in the failed Odd Couple-esque sitcom, Stark Raving Mad. But something about Shalhoub attracted the producers and they hired him. That’s when everything started to change. (I hope you realize I tried to do one of Monk’s patented explanatory monologues)

Monk proceeded to dominate the cable landscape for 8 years, becoming one of the decade’s iconic television characters (see my list here). The detective comedy consistently beat most of its cable competition, not just on Fridays but on all days. Even with its shortened and sporadic seasons, Monk became must-watch viewing for millions of Americans. And it earned Shalhoub three Emmys.

The beauty of Monk is that, unlike the serial dramas on network TV, we the viewer usually had the pieces we needed to solve the mystery ourselves. We got to be armchair sleuths. Even if we knew who the killer was, we could guess the motive, or how it happened. Mixed in with a ton of humor and unique awkward situations every week to put Monk in, it was the perfect Friday night show.

Monk holds an interesting place in my television repertoire. It’s like mashed potatoes. I would never think to call mashed potatotes one of my favorite foods. I have many more dishes I’d mention first. But I always enjoy mashed potatoes. And more often than not, I want them on my plate. It’s just not the type of stand-out food you think of when putting together your cravings list. But it’s always reliable. There are other comparisons that would work. Like a friend you always have fun with, but don’t consider one of your best. Or a movie you can watch over and over on TV but don’t actually own (Die Hard, for me).

Monk probably won’t end up on my Top 10 shows of all-time. I haven’t seen every episode. I don’t obsess over what happens in each episode like I do with LOST or 24. But I never am disappointed. I can always sit down and enjoy an hour of Monk before moving on to do something else. It’s been one of the most reliably entertaining shows on television since its 2002 debut.

That’s why I was incredibly surprised how much Monk‘s series finale affected me. I’d been putting off watching the last two-part episode because I didn’t want the show to be over. But I finally watched it yesterday…and was blown away. Although the series itself won’t land on my top 10 list, its finale would. One of the most perfect series finales I’ve ever seen (once our decade lists are done, I’ll definitely do one of those).

First of all, the show ended on Episode 125. How perfect is that? A sublimely balanced number. While not even, I’m sure Monk would have liked it. 125 just has an even feel.

Next, the finale — AND SPOILERS BEGIN NOW — actually answered the series long question: who killed Monk’s wife Trudy? When Monk gets closure at the end, so does the audience. Now we know. He can move on with his life off camera and we can try — and fail — to find as purely entertaining a show.

Third, it had some big guest stars. Craig T. Nelson as the villain. DB Woodside as Monk’s doctor. Even Ed Begley Jr. as the dead body (he literally had one scene in the two-parter).

Fourth, the finale allowed the actors to reach new heights in acting. Primarily Shalhoub, who not only was able to play “poisoned, dying Monk” to perfection, but then mixed it seamlessly with all-encompassing rage. We got to see Monk lose it, as he attacked and beat senseless Nelson’s character. Never before had Monk shown that much true emotion. And really, only this could have brought it out.

That’s the next part that made this great. They stayed true to the characters. We knew Monk wouldn’t kill Nelson. He wanted to. We could see that. But there’s a line he won’t cross, as much as he longed to avenge Trudy’s death. It harkened back to a previous season premiere, when Monk found the man who was hired to plant the car bomb. He was dying, and Monk was alone in the hospital room. He cut off the killer’s medicine and said “this is me making you suffer.” The patient was in excrutiating pain, and you could see Monk’s pleasure at hurting the person who hurt him. But then he let go and said “and this is Trudy letting you live.” He is always in control, even with a gun pointed at his wife’s killer.

Lastly, the writers left us in a good, sensible place. There was some development. Randy became a police chief and moved in with Sharona. Captain Stottlemyre found his new wife (another Trudy, introduced previously in this excellent final season). And Adrian changed. Back to the slightly OCD Monk of before. Twelve years earlier, when he was able to cope with Trudy. He no longer cared as much about everything being straight and in place. He wore a new outfit. Monk is still obsessive, but not the way we saw him. That was Monk with something weighing him down. Now Monk’s happier, connecting with Trudy’s daughter, and he’s able to live his life again. We took a journey over the past 8 years, and the ending couldn’t have been more satisfying.


One Response to “Here’s What Happened”

  1. […] Tony Shalhoub (Monk) – My comparison of Monk to mashed potatoes is becoming more and more accurate. Not only did both my colleagues […]

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