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Posted to Teevee at 07:48 PM on Mar 23, 2005

It's embarrassing, the way I feel about this show.

Matlock used to make me scratch my head. The mysteries were sometimes so lame and were acted out by third-rate seventies tv stars. There was seemingly nothing redeeming about that show at all, yet a significant number of senior citizens in my acquaintance were hooked on it. For instance, my next-door neighbor, rest his soul, spent evenings with us for several weeks in a row. His wife was visiting family, so my mom got suckered into helping him out by preparing his dinner and he often stuck around long enough to watch Matlock and I hated every damned minute of it.

My mother-in-law became a big fan of Monk two years ago. She watched the reruns whenever she could; a few of them more than once. And whatever she watched, I would watch too, since it was on, and much to my shock, it was kind of interesting. The titular character, Adrian Monk, is a great anti-hero. He's a cross between Woody Allen (well, you know, without the way-too-young Korean stepdaughter/wife) and Charlie Chaplin. I really fell in love with Adrian, and I loved the way he interacted with the other central characters. I started to watch it, too. In fact, I soon realized I was planning my Friday evenings around it even though I have a TiVo. It hit me: Monk is my Matlock.

Yes, it's predictable. Sure, the plots are occasionally holey. I don't care. I love this show. I think Tony Shalhoub, who plays the phobia-plagued detective, is so, so great. He won an Emmy™ for the show and I can't think of a single actor in the last five years who deserves it like he does. In one episode, he has to interview candidates to be his new assistant. One interviewee asks him what her hours would be and he says "'til one". She asks "Til one p.m.?" and he says "'til one of us dies". I swear, that cracked me up for hours. Yeah, it's not funny on paper, I know. It's all in the delivery. Shalhoub has comic timing, as they say, up the wazoo.

Many of Monk's problems stem from the murder of his wife. Since then, he's been an obsessive compulsive germaphobe. He needs pretty regular care. Until this season, that care was provided by Sharona, (Bitty Schram) a loud, big-haired nurse from New Jersey. Sharona cared for Monk; she put up with a lot that someone in her position doesn't necessarily have to. Some of their conversations were so priceless. That's really what's so great about Monk. The dialogue. It's real, yet so smart.

Schram left the show and has been replaced by Traylor Howard, who plays another single mom who has become Monk's new assistant, Natalie. Natalie's not as warm and funny as Sharona, but, then, we're still getting used to her. I miss Schram, but I like Howard, too.

Hands down, the cutest thing I've seen all year is the episode this season in which Monk takes in a toddler. This is the perfect example of how much this show has the power to surprise: a situation like that is a great opportunity to take advantage of Monk's illness. There could be lots of jokes about poop and snot and chaos, but apart from one scene, there's none of that. Instead, Adrian is forced to confront his own lack of progress in a very honest and un-sappy way.

Monk airs on the USA network


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