Final episode of ‘Monk’ marks the end of an era
10:26 AM CST on Friday, December 4, 2009
By TOM MAURSTAD Media Critic firstname.lastname@example.org
With Monk‘s final episode tonight on USA Network, the little cable show that changed the TV world ends its eight-year run.
While it technically shares that honor with FX’s critically acclaimed series The Shield, which started four months earlier, Monk was the show that broke through to a broad audience of viewers and introduced them to a new kind of basic cable television.
Before Monk debuted in 2002, nobody really thought of basic cable as a source for original scripted programming. There were reruns and syndicated shows and plenty of nature and history documentaries. But original dramas or comedies? That was the province of broadcast networks and premier cable such as HBO.
And then along came a quirky, neurotic, easily agitated, endlessly fussy detective named Adrian Monk. On the one hand, the show was instantly familiar. Creators Andy Breckman and David Hoberman built the show on the time-tested template of a detective show centered on a character with a signature trait – Ironside had his wheelchair, Rockford had his trailer, McCloud had his cowboy hat. And Monk had his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
That brings us to the other hand as Monk introduced cable TV’s new way of performing old tricks. With USA’s first dip into the original programming pool, viewers were given a show that transcended its formula. That achievement began with casting Tony Shalhoub in the lead role. The talented actor who had graduated from broadcast television (did someone say Wings?) to feature film work, he returned to television to devote himself to building a character that is a marvel of details and nuance.
The show surrounded him with an ensemble of talented actors playing sharply written roles. How much fun has it been to watch Ted Levine shed his Silence of the Lambs skin (“It puts the lotion on”) and become the tough but tender police captain enduring Monk’s idiosyncrasies?
And it was an early innovator in what has become a hallmark of cable TV’s original offerings: a sophisticated blend of humor and drama. Monk can be silly and slapstick, but it can also be deeply but quietly funny or sad, sometimes in the same moment.
With Monk’s mourning his murdered wife, Trudy, and the mystery of who killed her and why, Monk provided a model for melding episodic and serialized storytelling that both cable and now broadcast networks are trying to build on.
In the present-day proliferation of high-quality programs on basic cable, it’s nice to have a moment to look back on those pioneer days when the first settlers looked out across the vast, unclaimed landscape and began the work of building a new world. And it was just our luck that they picked an odd, phobia-plagued detective who hates getting his hands dirty for the job.
A nice take on a great show. If you haven’t caught the final two episodes, they are well worth the time.