Monk: Premiere Episode (review)

Fans of offbeat actors have known the appealingly quirky Tony Shalhoub for years, and now he’s finally garnering well-deserved widespread acclaim (a Golden Globe win, an Emmy nomination) for his portrayal of “defective detective” Adrian Monk, a former San Francisco cop turned private eye in USA Network’s hit show. The crime of the moment in the premiere episode, a series of murders surrounding a local political candidate and his ambitious wife, is fairly conventional — it’s Shalhoub and Monk who make this highly entertaining. Adrian, thrown far off balance by the still-unsolved murder of his wife four years earlier, is driven to straighten pillows and arrange his sock drawer and count parking meters as he walks down the street, and it’s this obsessive-compulsiveness that gives him the insight he needs to see the clues and solve the crimes no one else can, like his former boss, Captain Stottlemeyer (the indispensable Ted Levine). A splendid updating of Sherlock Holmes — of course a modern consulting detective of Holmes’s acumen would suffer from OCD, and of course his Watson would be someone like his nurse, Sharona Fleming (the wonderfully acrid Bitty Schram) — Monk is intelligent and witty and just a little bit wicked without ever descending into mean-spiritedness. Shalhoub walks a precise line between pathos and buffoonery, his Adrian evoking both sympathy and exasperation. It’s a perfectly balanced performance, one Monk himself would appreciate.

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