Sunday, June 3, 2012

In Its Second Season, Monk Begins To Sway Me!

The Good: Funny, Engaging mysteries, Decent acting
The Bad: Repetitive feel to the plots, I’m still not wild about Sharona.
The Basics: As former detective Adrian Monk continues to work to get back on the San Francisco police force, he helps the detectives there solve murder mysteries.

When my wife and I began watching Monk together, I think I got spoiled. I started with the later seasons and I enjoyed the interactions between Monk and his assistant, Natalie. So, when we went back to watch Monk from the beginning (season 1 is reviewed here!), I found the show to be much rougher and more formulaic than I usually like. Fortunately, with the second season of Monk the show starts heading in the right direction.

While many of the mysteries in the second season of Monk are performed by an obvious villain in the teaser – and the episode details how Monk figures it out, as opposed to leaving the audience wondering who the culprit is – the show still has some of its original form. That also means that Monk continues to get into situations that are awkward that could easily be mitigated if only he – or especially his assistant Sharona – would say, “Monk is obsessive compulsive!” While this might not be a generally satisfactory thing, when Monk begins to freak out at the germs in prison in the season finale, his life is actually in jeopardy and one might think that is a good moment to say something more than “it’s nothing personal” or the like!

In the second season of Monk the cases get a bit more esoteric, but they are often more enjoyable for their cleverness. The season two DVD set features all sixteen episodes and some of them are absolutely fascinating. Monk returns to his late wife’s high school when a teacher’s suicide there makes him suspicious. A completely baffling mystery of how a skydiver drowned midair sends Monk to Mexico as part of an odd revenge story. And a murder at a carnival has an unlikely suspect when Monk’s best suspect for the murderer who was seen fleeing the scene of the crime, has a broken leg!

Stottlemeyer’s relationship with his wife continues to deteriorate and a documentary on the world’s oldest man may be the clue Monk needs when the old man turns up dead. Stottlemeyer proves his love, though, by setting Monk on the case when his wife is in a car accident from a sniper’s shot. A serial killer will strike again if Monk cannot find the connection between the killer’s disparate victims. And Monk must resist the lures of television, when all his other friends give in, when he suspects a popular television actor is a killer.

It is in the second season that Monk’s reclusive brother, Ambrose, is introduced in “Mr. Monk And The Three Pies.” Murder hits home for Monk when Monk’s paperboy is killed and Monk and his friends believe the murder is to keep Monk himself from reading something in the paper. Monk gets a little derivative of The X-Files when Monk and Sharona must impersonate a married couple in “Mr. Monk Gets Married.”

Even in its second season, Monk is very plot-based. The episodes are much more about the cases than any serialization involving the characters. In fact, more than Monk’s occasional quest to get reinstated with the police force, the second season of Monk is dominated, in terms of recurring motifs, by Stottlemeyer’s problems in keeping his marriage together. Stottlemeyer’s wife begins to become more demanding and less appreciative, even when Stottlemeyer bends over backward to try to please her.

The greatest evidence of character development in the second season comes from Sharona. Sharona is much less acerbic toward Monk. While she does not entirely tolerate his eccentricities, in the second season, she seems kinder toward him. Also, Sharona is shown spending more time with her son, Benjy in this season. This allows Bitty Schram to play off someone other than Tony Shaloub and she and her young co-star, Kane Ritchotte seem very organically like family in this season.

All around, the acting in the second season of Monk is pretty wonderful. Tony Shaloub has the role of Adrian Monk down pat by this point and his ability to portray uncomfortable at every little thing truly makes the character work. Ted Levine is also noteworthy as Captain Leland Stottlemeyer. In the second season, he is able to bring more emotional depth to the role than the character had in the first season. Levine plays emotive very well, often with a muted performance that makes it seem like Stottlemeyer is a tortured character who is just waiting to burst. I may have come to tolerate Sharona more in the second season, but watching Levine perform was often what made the show special.

Also, it is worth noting that in the second season of Monk the show and its situations are often more overtly funny than in the first season. While some of the humor is still based on situations that are more painfully awkward, the second season of Monk features much more overt humor in its lines and in the situations. The introduction of Ambrose is memorable for many laugh-out-loud lines.

While “Mr. Monk And The T.V. Star” is highly-self referential, as it involves a devoted fan of a popular television series who loathes changes made to the series, the episode works (just as the second season does) because this is when Monk was, rightly, becoming a phenomenon. While the DVD set is light on bonus features, this is still one that is worth picking up.

For other mysteries, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Psych - Season 4
Veronica Mars


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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