Summer viewers get fresh look at quirky ex-cop
By Judith S. Gillies
Wipe those germs off the TV screen. How about a cotton swab to clean around the buttons on the remote? Now you're ready to watch the new episodes of "Monk."
The mystery-comedy-drama series focusing on an unusual hero starts its second season at 10 tonight on cable's USA Network. The first of the 16 new episodes will be "Mr. Monk Goes Back to School."
The series will begin when there is less competition from other networks, offering viewers "something for the summer that is fresh and new," said David Hoberman, creator and executive producer of the series.
Also new and fresh will be the series' guest stars, Betty Buckley and Glenne Headly, plus theme music from Randy Newman.
"Monk" began to take shape four or five years ago, Hoberman said, when he learned that an ABC executive was looking for an Inspector Clouseau-type show. Hoberman who has been president of the motion picture group of Walt Disney Studios, founded Mandeville Films and has been involved with making more than 100 movies came up with the idea of "a detective who was brilliant but with all of these personal problems" and is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
After more than two years of looking for just the right person to play the part of Adrian Monk, ABC passed on the idea, Hoberman said. Jackie Lyons, senior vice president of original series at USA Network who had been at ABC, expressed interest in the pilot script, and the casting process began again, Hoberman said.
Tony Shalhoub was cast as Monk, and filming began in the fall of 2001. The 13-episode series premiered on July 12 last year on USA and later also aired on ABC.
"I wasn't really sure how to make it work," Shalhoub said. "In some ways, it was exactly what I was looking for because it allows me to do both comedy and drama but I was saying I'm not sure I relate to this character. My manager said you're probably more like him than you would admit."
Shalhoub, who won a Golden Globe for the role, said his own Monk-like behaviors often are related to avoidance.
"It's been my experience that if I have to do something I don't want to do, I can spend an hour-and-a-half cleaning the kitchen faucet with a toothbrush. ... Someone can fixate on straightening a bookshelf for two hours because there's something they don't want to face.
"Part of the appeal of Monk is that so many people have these tendencies but they can skip over them, repress them or at least hide them from other people.
"But Monk doesn't have that filter, that cork that allows people to bottle up these tendencies.
"If I had to put a number on it and how Monk-like is that? I'd say I'm 35 to 39 percent like Monk."
But it is the detective's focus on "the little, little details" that helps him solve crimes, Shalhoub said. "The most important thing is his work and that's related to solving cases and finding the truth. In some cosmic way, there is an order to things and order and truth go hand in hand. When he goes into a crime scene, he's always of the belief that there is something there that will reveal the truth. Something is not as it should be.
"We all see order and truth on different levels. Some see the obvious first layer. But Monk sees the 120th layer. And part of his obsessive-compulsiveness is finding that truth in the details."
For the uninitiated: Adrian Monk was a rising star in the San Francisco police department and very much in love with his wife, Trudy, who was his anchor. When Trudy was murdered, Monk developed abnormal fears of such things as germs, heights and crowds. His condition eventually cost him his job and affects his everyday life. The series has a psychologist consultant but may take dramatic license in portraying Monk's condition.
"In every show, whether we point to it or it's simply there, there are two things on his mind," Hoberman said. "Monk still can't get back on the police force and is unable to solve the murder of his wife."