Looking Back - Monk
I’m calling it. There are far, far too many TV detective dramas in existence. Miss Marple. Midsomer Murders. Rookie Blue. Columbo. Frost. Rosemary & Thyme. Morse. Poirot. Foyle’s War. Sherlock Holmes. Ashes to Ashes. Life on Mars. The Avengers. Cold Case. New Tricks. CSI. Dalziel and Pascoe. Dexter. Lewis. Inspector George Gently. The Last Detective. Murdoch Mysteries. Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Taggart. The Sweeney. Waking the Dead. Above Suspicion. A Touch of Frost. Case Histories. And those are just the ones we watch in our house; there are countless more.
Frankly, I am bored of detective dramas. I’m starting to feel like I’ve seen it all. No bad guy scares me anymore. No brutal murder makes me squirm. No dramatic revelation of the murderer’s identity surprises me now; in fact, it’s getting to the point where I can guess the bad guy within the first twenty minutes. If my career plans ever go down the toilet, I’m going to join the police; I’m clearly a world class sleuth and should put my amazing powers of deduction to good use.
I’m sick of them detective dramas. I’m fed up of the predictable patterns they follow, I’m weary of the cliched characters, I’m bored to tears by their whole existence. All of them.
Well. Except one. And that’s probably because it’s not predictable, it’s not cliched, and it’s certainly not boring.
Monk is about former homicide detective Adrian Monk, who now works as a private homicide consultant. Adrian is basically a neurotic Sherlock Holmes; he picks up on teeny-tiny details that no-one else would notice, and these teeny-tiny details help him solve cases.
Take him into an apparent suicide by overdose and he’ll point out that there is no water to take the pills with. Walk him into a garden and he’ll figure out that there’s a body buried underneath the sundial, because no one would put a sundial underneath a tree unless it was to mark something there. Monk is a genius, and can solve the cases no one else can.
So far, so so. While the episodes are never, ever dull, that’s not why I love Monk so much. The thing that makes Monk work — and not just work, but it's one of the most delightful shows I have ever had the pleasure to watch — is the characters themselves.
Monk himself is one of the most tragic people I have ever come across. Monk has always suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and multiple phobias. He was never accepted by anyone until he met his wife, Trudy. For years he was happy, a fantastic homicide detective with friends and what was almost a normal life.
Then, Trudy died.
She was killed in a car bombing that Monk (incorrectly, as it turns out) presumed was for him. This led Monk to have a breakdown. His OCD intensified and his phobias multiplied to 312; including death, snakes, crowds, mushrooms, dentists and milk. He lives a shadow of a life, seeing a therapist five times a week to try and help his various neuroses and working as a private homicide consultant, trying to solve as many murders as he can because he wasn’t able to solve Trudy’s.
This sounds like it would make an incredibly depressing TV show. It doesn’t, I promise; Monk is as warm-hearted and funny as you could hope for. Monk’s history and condition just allows for a unique way of looking at cases, matched with absolutely astounding writing, and a beautiful dynamic between Monk and his eternally-frustrated but still caring friends — the two police officers he works with and his assistant.
And you, the viewer, care for Monk too, in a way you can never care about Inspector Barnaby or the eternally bulletproof Poirot. He is an incredibly, incredibly good man. All of the main characters are. You like the main characters of Monk. They make you feel more human. You'd like to go for a drink with them. When they’re in trouble, you want to help them. When good things happen to them, you feel happy. When bad things happen, you feel sad.
The characters develop over the eight series of Monk,. Adrian becomes more able to live a normal life; his assistant’s daughter grows up and moves away; the police captain gets divorced and falls in love again. As a background to the cases that Monk solves, there are the lives of the entourage, these people that you care about. That’s what makes Monk so good. These completely wonderful, completely human characters.
But like I said, the show itself is never dull. Monk’s powers allow for cases to be complex, to only be unravelled by things that we mere mortals would never figure out. When a main character is restricted by so many phobias, it’s amazing how much more tense a chase scene becomes — if someone goes up a ladder or into somewhere dirty, Monk will almost certainly not be able to follow. As a foil to the inherent goodness of the main characters, the bad guys are almost always a complex hotbed of the bad, greedy and petty aspects of human nature. Plus it’s very funny, it’s set in the beautiful city of San Francisco, and the theme tune is sung by Randy Newman. ‘mazing.
Still not convinced? Just watch it. Find it (It’s repeated on Universal quite a lot) and watch it. I defy you to not be charmed by Monk. Even if at first you sneer and switch over, you’ll come back. Why? Because you’ll want to watch more of this sweet, broken man and his struggle to keep going. You’ll want Monk to get his happy ending. And — I’m sure you won’t mind me spoiling it for you — in the end he does, in the most beautiful and wonderful way possible. But to fully appreciate it, you’ve got eight series to get through first.
Trust me. You’re going to enjoy it.