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DVD Review - Monk - The Complete Second Season

January 28th, 2005

Tony Shalhoub returns as Adrian Monk, a brilliant police detective whose myriad of phobias and obsessive compulsive ticks forced him to leave his job after his wife was killed in a car bomb. Now he works as a consultant with his practical nurse / assistant, Sharona Flemming played by Bitty Schram, while hoping to one day return to the force. The Second Season sees Monk travel to Mexico, go undercover in Jail, go to a Playboy's Mansion and even visits his estranged brother.

This is one of those shows that has an near perfect mix of quirky humor and engaging story lines. Tony Shalhoub's performance as Adrian Monk is excellent, which is especially important because with a lesser actor in the role Adrian Monk could easily been reduced to a caricature. And the rest of the cast is equally strong with Bitty Schram playing Sharona Fleming with the right mix of anger and understanding, the chemistry between Capt. Stottlemeyer and Lt. Disher, (played by Ted Levine and Jason Gray-Stanford respectively) is still great and Stanley Kamel has a smaller, but no less important role as Monk's overworked Psychiatrist, Dr. Charles Kroger.

This show is essentially a murder mystery show and given that genre there is a tendency for episodes to follow a very similar format. For instance, in Columbo we usually saw the crime being committed and Columbo figures it out right way as well, so for the whole show we just watch Peter Falk badger the guilty party until they confessed. (OK, that's an oversimplification of the general plot, but you get the idea.) With this show, on the other hand, that is not the case. Sometimes we do see who committed the murder and how and it's just a matter of Monk trying to prove it. But sometimes we don't find out who did it till later in the show and other times we don't find out till the very end. The lack of a formula keeps the show fresh because sometimes we're given more information that Monk knows, and sometimes we're not.

Season two is an improvement on season one as the writers and actors are more comfortable in their roles and the show has a better flow because of this. The season, which is only 16 episodes long, is strong from start to finish without only a couple of secondary complaints in a few of the episodes. It would be very difficult to pick just one episode as the best, but Mr. Monk and the Three Pies is definitely in the top three, along with Mr. Monk and the TV Star and Mr. Monk and the Captain's Wife.

Mr. Monk and the Three Pies has perhaps the best guest shot of any episode from any season so far with John Turturro playing Ambrose Monk, the even less functional brother of Adrian Monk. (He went on to win Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series, one of four Emmys the show has won during its first two seasons.) The murder mystery in this case takes a back seat to the emotional performances of these two fine actors. Also, we learn a bit more about the death of Monk's wife Trudy, which is a very important to the overall story line of the series.

Ironically, my second favorite episode, Mr. Monk and the TV Star, also contains one of the biggest flaws of the season. But first the strong points. The show features a guest shot by Sarah Silverman, who is perfect as a deranged fan, Marci Maven. Also, the show contains an inside joke pertaining to the changing of the theme song, but more on that later. The big flaw with the show revolves around two pieces of crime fighting technology. While trying to solve the case, Monk and Sharona are on the set of a CSI-like TV show. During the scene being film the CSI team uses a machine called the Spectrocope to help solve their case; the Spectroscope is an obvious piece of fictional TV Land technology and Monk rightful laughs at its use. But then, in the very next scene, Monk agrees to the use of a lie detector. Lie detectors detect heart rates, perspiration and respiration; the theory is when someone lies they get nervous, and when they get nervous, their heart rate increases, etc. However, in practice this is not the case, as not only do people tend to get nervous when they are asked incriminating questions regardless if they are lying, but many people don't get nervous when they do lie. People like professional spies, people with sociopathic tendencies … actors. Now not everybody would know this, but Adrian Monk surely should have. In the grand scheme of things, it's a minor complaint, but it's frustrating that the writers got it wrong.

A bigger complaint I have comes from the season finale, Mr. Monk goes to Jail. This episode features the return of Dale 'The Whale' Biederbeck, who made an appearance early in season one. In that episode he was played by Alan Arkin but this time around the role was taken over by Tim Curry. And while I like Tim Curry as an actor and enjoyed a lot of his work, his performance as Dale the Whale wasn't as good as it seemed forced. In comparison, Alan Arkin's performance seemed much more natural and smooth.

One more complaint, and this may seem petty, but I really hate the new theme song. The original won an Emmy, so I'm shocked they would change it. However, my opinion on the subject must be in the minority since the new song, which was done by Randy Newman, also won an Emmy.

The special features on the four-disc set are a little light with just four featurettes, one on each disc, with a total running time of about 15 minutes. The first featurette, The Minds Behind Monk, consists of clips from the show and interviews with creator Andy Breckman and Tony Shalhoub where they talk about the genesis of the character and the show. The next two are interviews with Jason Gray-Stanford and Ted Levine talking about their characters. These three featurettes are entertaining and insightful as you could expect a 4-minute clip to be. The final special feature is a walk though of the police station set, unfortunately, this one was too short and lacked any real insight making it the weakest of the four features. But overall the special features are strong enough to meet the minimum level expected for a TV on DVD release.

Lastly I want to talk about the Big Three. Three features that are so important when it comes to TV on DVD because of how minor that are. I know that sounds contradictory, but let me explain - these features are so minor, so miniscule that messing them up is like scoring 1600 on you SATs but spelling your name wrong. There's just no reason not to get them done right.

Captioning / Subtitles: When a TV show is aired it must be captioned for the hearing impaired; it's the law. However, there is no such law for DVD releases of said TV shows, at least not yet; so some studios decide to cut corners and leave it out. This is not the case for this DVD release as it has not only English captions, but also French and Spanish subtitles as well.

The Play All Button: Many people who are fans of TV on DVD enjoy watching whole discs at a time, in fact, I once watch 16 hours of Seinfeld in a row. (My DVD player stopped working after that, but I assume that was a coincidence.) When watching several episodes in a row it is nice to be able to click just one button to do this and not have to go to the episode menu every single time. Not only does this DVD have such a feature, when done the DVD automatically takes you to the special features menu. A nice added bonus.

Proper Chapter Placement: Speaking of watching an entire season in one sitting, when I do so I don't want to have to listen to the theme song every single time. In order to allow the view to easily skip over that part, all the makers need to do is put a chapter break at the end of the opening credits. That's it. However, the makers of this DVD set failed to this simple task. Of course, this is a minor complaint and even if I used a scale of 1 to 100 this is such a minor infraction it hardly rates a point or two on the overall score, but it's a rant I had to get off my chest.

Monk continued to be one of the best shows on TV through its second season, and I recommend not only picking up Season Two on DVD, but also watching the third season on the USA Network. (The second half of which began this past week and earned an increase in viewership from its summer run.

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