Friday, July 20, 2012

With Sixteen Episodes, Monk Season Three Transforms Into A Show Very Much Worth Watching!

The Good: Natalie!, Interesting cases, Decent character work
The Bad: Somewhat formulaic in the plots.
The Basics: After nine episodes, Monk Season Three transforms when Natalie replaces Sharona and the show gets more overtly funny.

For those who have not read my reviews of Monk Seasons 1 and 2 (reviewed here and here, respectively!), when I started watching Monk in syndication, I came in during the Natalie years. As I have restarted the show on DVD at the beginning, that has led to much kvetching on my part about the role of Sharona in the early seasons of Monk. Fortunately, with Monk Season Three, that abruptly changes as Sharona makes an impromptu departure from the series and is replaced by Natalie.

And the series just gets better! Right around the time of the character switch, the show settled into a more consistent pattern of leaving the killer for the reveal (in the early episodes, viewers see the murder and the murderer and the shows were about how Monk figures out their plans and machinations). With the change from Sharona to Natalie, Monk’s life is effectively shaken up and the series commits to more overt comedy, at least for the remainder of this season.

In the third season of Monk, Monk solves murders in San Francisco related to a series of power outages and a mob boss. He is fired from working in tandem with the police force by a new commissioner (but solves three cases at once anyway) and he tries to exonerate what appears to be a murderous monkey. Monk discovers that Sharona might have given a murderer their inspiration when she takes a creative writing class and after Natalie arrives, he has to solve a murder that appears to have been committed by a dead martial arts star. And when Natalie runs for the school board, Monk must figure out who is shooting at her and why!

In this season, Monk travels a bit more than the prior seasons. Starting with a trip to New York City to get more clues about Trudy’s death, Monk finds himself in Hollywood working on a game show. He is also sent to a cabin in the woods as the subject of a protection detail, which makes him feel less protected when he comes to believe a neighbor is a murderer! And when Stottlemeyer goes to Las Vegas and becomes convinced that he has solved the murder of a wealthy socialite (then forgotten it), he calls Monk to help him prove he is right!

The third season of Monk more effectively integrates actual character changes and elements into it than prior seasons. In the third season, the principle characters are:

Adrian Monk – Still obsessive compulsive and suffering from numerous phobias as a result of his wife’s murder, Monk begins to travel more. He is deeply upset and betrayed when Sharona abruptly remarries her ex- and moves away, leaving him in a lurch. After several early encounters where he has difficulty adapting to the differences between her and Sharona, Monk begins to accept Natalie,

Sharona Flemming – She tries to distance herself from Monk for her own mental health, in the process taking a writing class that drives her into the grips of a very real sense of being crazy. She falls for a mob thug and encourages Monk to use medication (though she does not like the jerk he becomes when he does) before she abruptly departs,

Natalie Teeger – A single mother whose husband was a soldier, she is now raising her daughter, Julie, alone. She tries to teach Julie to be fearless by setting a positive example and running for school board, despite getting threats against her life. She quickly adapts to Monk’s eccentricities, if not his cheapness,

Captain Leland Stottlemeyer – Relying upon Monk more than ever, he is deeply dismayed to learn that he is as smart as Monk when he is blackout drunk (and only then). His relationship with his wife continues to deteriorate, though he tries very hard to placate her by doing things like allowing her to shoot a documentary on how he runs the department. He actually enjoys taking Monk out of the city when Monk has to be secluded,

and Lieutenant Disher – who is little more than a sidekick this season. In fact, outside strengthening his relationship with Sharona shortly before her departure by believing in her when she thinks she is going crazy, he is a nonentity this season. He survives the changeover between Monk’s assistant to live to headline episodes in subsequent seasons.

Because the show has such a formula to it, by the third season, the actors all know their marks. It is in the third season, though, that Tony Shaloub begins to truly shine and the writers and directors seem to open up to making the show a more overt comedy. In “Mr. Monk And The Election,” for example, Monk hilariously saves Natalie from a grenade, which he throws in the refrigerator, then returns to straighten. Between the physical comedy and the comedic recap, scenes like that stand out as laugh-out-loud funny and Tony Shaloub is rightly given praise for bringing his amazing comic sensibility to the role.

Traylor Howard, who plays Natalie, seems to instantly adapt to the ensemble. She has great on-screen chemistry with Shaloub for witty back and forths and in the few moments the two share where they discuss deeply personal issues, Howard holds her own dramatically with Shaoulb (who plays upset and disturbed extraordinarily well!). Howard plays “nice” very well and after how insensitive Sharona could be, Natalie comes in as a breath of fresh air in many ways.

On DVD, the sixteen episodes of Monk Season Three come with limited featurettes. There is a featurette on Monk and his quirks and another on Natalie, as well as a “Life Before Monk” featurette. These are not extraordinary features, but they are better than nothing. Fortunately, this is a season that is easy enough to recommend based on the strength of the primary programming!

For reviews of other works featuring Ted Levine, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Shutter Island
Memoirs Of A Geisha
The Silence Of The Lambs


For other television reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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