Bright Lights Film Journal

Monk After Five Years: Still funny, still no queers

“Well, you know, we only go round once in this life.”
“If only I could be sure of that.”

And so it goes with Adrian Monk, some-time detective and full-time obsessive-compulsive, prince of the hand-washers and king of the hypochondriacs. Because what hope do we have in this germ-laden, four-dimensional ball (or is it a torus?) of agony, entropy, and unnamable waste and decay that we call the universe other than the reasonably firm conviction that we will someday be done with it? Take away the prospect of quietus and exasperation turns to nightmare, frustration turns to despair, and irritation slides to madness.

Yet somehow Monk (Tony Shalhoub) soldiers on, sustained by his adorable, wise-cracking assistant, Natalie (Traylor Howard),[1] who is surely better than he deserves, and Dr. Kroger (Stanley Kamel), the soft, even tiny, voice of reason patiently contending with the relentless cacophony of unreason that forever roars from the depths of the human soul.

I still miss the acoustic guitar theme that opened Monk for the first season, which occasionally reappears on the soundtrack, and I also miss Adrian’s first assistant, Sharona (Bitty Schram),[2] unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the third season when she had the temerity to demand a raise. But life, after all, goes on, and Natalie is pretty cute, after all, and she is here, while Sharona isn’t.

I wrote a rave of the first three years of Monk here, noting with some amusement that, though the show is set in San Francisco,[3] not a single gay character had appeared on the show. Remarkably, that record is still intact. Even more striking, there is a “special” episode, “Mr. Monk and the Leper,” where Adrian has to take the hand of a leper not to save the leper’s life, but his own. Big step! It’s not too hard to imagine that the script was originally written as involving AIDS. But I guess some things are still just too controversial, even for cable. Well, never mind. It’s still a damn funny show!

[1] Sample dialogue, whilst Adrian and Natalie are investigating a murder that took place in a girls’ locker room:
Natalie: What’s the matter, afraid of cooties?
Monk: The cootie theory has never been disproven.
[2] Natalie’s a bit more verbal than Sharona, who tended to rely pretty heavily on her bust and her short skirts to make an impression.
[3] As a matter of fact, the last time I was in San Francisco I didn’t see any gays, at least none that were obvious. However, Bloomingdale’s has a huge, six-floor store entirely dedicated to “men’s furnishings” just off Union Square, which I regard as a dead giveaway. I don’t think there are six floors of “men’s furnishings” in all of DC.