USA Network's new dramatic series Monk — its next stab at an original series following the successful June premiere of Dead Zone — is a refreshingly funny and intriguing alternative to the slew of gritty and hard-edged detective dramas currently offered on cable and broadcast television.
The series stars Tony Shalhoub (The Man Who Wasn't There, Galaxy Quest) as Adrian Monk, a detective whose wife's murder sends him into an obsessive-compulsive frenzy that eventually gets him kicked off San Francisco's police force.
Still retaining his sharp detective instincts despite his debilitating phobias, Monk is begrudgingly called in by his former boss, Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) to help solve a young woman's death and the attempted murder of the city's mayor. A decorated detective in his own right, Stottlemeyer is torn between his need for — and envy of — Monk's brilliant detective mind, and his contempt for the man's neurotic behavior.
Stottlemeyer's dilemma surfaces during his first encounter with Monk. Belligerent after the germ-obsessive Monk uses an anti-bacterial wipe after they shake hands, Stottlemeyer changes his attitude minutes after Monk perceptively gathers from a slightly imperfectly knotted necktie and a Ramada Inn coffee cup that the captain's having marital problems.
Actually, the two-hour pilot does a very good job at painting a complete picture of Monk's extremely complex, bipolar character.
At one point Monk brilliantly deduces that a car-accident victim was really bumped off at the exact corner where squeegee men reign, after noticing that the driver's windshield was partly clean. On the flip side, Monk's character lets a potential suspect climb right by him on a fire escape ladder after being paralyzed by his fear of heights.
Shalhoub's character mixes the wit of Colombo and the clumsiness of James Rockford, with a touch of Quincy-esque intuitiveness and foresight, to create the perfect recipe for a very unorthodox detective who perseveres despite his many fears.
Bitty Schram (A League of Their Own) co-stars as Monk's unfailing nurse Sharona, who begrudgingly but effectively plays Monk's indispensable sidekick.
While some of Monk's ultra-compulsive actions are a bit far-fetched — such as placing a tissue on each rung of a sewer ladder before climbing down in pursuit of a killer — the series' pilot is nevertheless very entertaining and worthy of a look.
Monk debuts on USA Network July 12 at 9 p.m.