The Twitching Detective 

Adrian Monk and his worst-case scenarios

Wednesday, Jul 24 2002

In one of the early episodes of The Shield, FX‘s seething, testosterone-fueled cop show, there’s a bit in which stodgy Lieutenant Wagenbach is taken off a serial-killer case he‘s been obsessing over and ordered to go question a psychic charged with embezzlement. The idea is to give him something lightweight to do to take his mind off the serious stuff. I like The Shield, but after sitting through three or four episodes filled with thugs, pedophiles and brutal interrogations, a scene in which a pair of polite police officers interview a mildly crooked female medium is a much-needed change of pace. Suddenly we’re back in the nice, cozy realm of ordinary human criminality, which doesn‘t necessarily involve shaving your head, owning an attack dog or keeping jars filled with your own sperm in the fridge, though it might, in certain cases, mean knocking off a spouse or poisoning the upstairs neighbor. (Let’s face it: He deserves to die.) It‘s like moving from a blood-and-guts-spattered True Crime story of inner-city mayhem to one of Georges Simenon’s novels with the cerebral Inspector Maigret.

Monk, the new series on USA (Friday, 10 p.m.) about a brilliant sleuth with a bad case of obsessive-compulsive disorder and a taste for fussy checked shirts, is a goofy variation on the traditional Maigret--Sherlock Holmes--Hercule Poirot mode of detection. (The second episode was actually titled Mr. Monk and the Psychic.) If you‘re tired of cops who shoot first and think later, this could be the show for you. Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a detective so clever he can tease a minibiography from a poorly knotted tie, so compulsive he counts parking meters when he walks down the street, so finicky he’ll pause to straighten a ”DANGER KEEP OUT“ sign while shadowing a perp. Germs terrify him, as do heights, darkness, milk and the thought that he might have left the oven on. Once an idea has lodged in his brain, it‘s there for good. This can be useful for detective work (he notices and remembers everything), but in all other senses it turns daily life into an angst-strewn obstacle course.

It’s also pretty tough on his clients. In the two-hour pilot that launched the show, Monk is brought in to solve the attempted assassination of a San Francisco politician. After watching him fiddle neurotically for a few minutes, the politician‘s missus isn’t too impressed. ”Someone tries to kill my husband, and you send in Rain Man?“ she demands of Monk‘s superior. But what really bothers her is the fact that he’s making her nervous. As did his obvious model, Columbo, Monk makes a lot of people nervous, even those with little to hide. He can make a cliche like ”You can tell a lot about people from their taste in art“ sound utterly menacing, particularly when he‘s looking at one of your paintings.

Related Stories

  • Creative Town

    Forbes magazine this month put its stamp of approval on on L.A.'s role as one of the world's foremost providers of popular culture. The problem is that the publication didn't give us nearly enough credit.  Forbes ranked the 50 largest American metropolitan areas based on how well locals did with...
  • No. 1 Rental Ripoff 15

    Los Angeles is one of the expensive places in America, alongside New York and San Francisco, for renters. No surprise there. See also: Why Is Rent So High in the Great Recession? But UCLA researchers crunched the numbers and concluded that we're number one in the United States when it comes...
  • Japanese Romance Apps Hit the U.S., and They're Amazing

    Tucked inside the exhibit hall at Anime Expo was a small, pink booth. Inside, there were two cosplayers standing under soft lighting as people queued up to take photos with them. The guy with the fox ears and long, blonde hair is supposed to be Miyabi, a lead character in...
  • Porn Flight 15

    California porn studio Kink.com, which last year came under scrutiny for a condom-free production in which a woman who afterward turned up HIV-positive had performed, said this week that it's opening facilities in Las Vegas. The company, which was investigated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) following...
  • Free Brownies?

    A random act of kindness starts like this: a rain of cocoa powder, dark and rich and intensely chocolatey, poured into a big ceramic bowl with sugar and butter, then creamed with vanilla and eggs, then flour and salt (a very simple recipe; use excellent chocolate; don't forget the salt)...

Monk was once the most celebrated detective in San Francisco’s police department. Then his wife was murdered. (The crime is still unsolved.) He had a breakdown, turned into a twitchy agoraphobic and was forced to turn in his badge. Now he‘s inching back toward full-time employment with the help of a therapist and some low-key freelance consulting work. He also has a spunky nurseassistant, Sharona (Bitty Schram), who cooks his meals, does his chores, and figuratively if not literally holds his hand whenever he has to visit a crime scene. Once there, Sharona pretty much graduates to the role of assistant detective, although much of her energy goes into calming Monk down when somebody sneezes and discreetly slipping him a clean hankie so he can wipe his hand after he’s been forced to shake someone else‘s.

As a partnership, this is both cute and novel. Monk would find it hard to touch a criminal let alone beat one up, and Sharona’s about as far from a blank-faced karate-chopping clotheshorse like Alias‘ Jennifer Garner as you can get while still being good-looking. This is a gentle crime show that appears to have no interest in urban realism, pumped-up biceps or ”issues.“ (A pity in a way, because if it did, Shalhoub might be portraying American television’s first Arab-American detective. But then we‘d have to sit through lots of dumb, tedious lectures about discrimination, so perhaps it’s better the way it is.) Instead, the show concentrates on the good old-fashioned pleasures of watching an eccentric sleuth go about his business. It‘s too early to tell whether Monk will continue to intrigue or if he’ll slowly petrify into a gimmicky collection of neuroses, but so far things look promising.

The show does have some problems, however. It‘s not Monk or Sharona; it’s everybody and everything else. Writer and executive producer Andy Breckman, formerly of Saturday Night Live and author of that memorably funny song ”Here Comes My Career“ (”I have my friends, their names are Jack and JoeThey come to every show“), seems to have put so much energy into his two leads that there‘s little left over for anyone else. Ultimately, it’s not enough for the detective to be interesting; the people he investigates have to grab our attention as well. So far, unfortunately, they read more like props designed to offset Monk‘s brilliance than living, breathing characters.

Then there’s the inexcusable underutilization of San Francisco, surely one of the most camera-friendly cities on the planet. The hills, the rain, the fog, the stunning vistas, the lush green emerald of Golden Gate Park, the not-so-shabby bridge of the same name, the freaks and panhandlers, the dot-commers and gays -- visually, this show is so flat they might as well have set it in Sacramento.

Still, all this is fixable. Like Columbo, Monk is a detective all television criminals will learn to dread. It‘s bad enough when he shows up at your house once; when he comes back a second time, you know you’re done for.

Monk would make an amusing participant on Worst-Case Scenario (TBS, Wednesday, 8 p.m.), a show dedicated to exposing and conquering phobias, rational or otherwise. In one episode, a woman with a fear of heights (Monk can‘t look out a window without getting dizzy) overcomes it by learning the art of cliff-diving and eventually jumps off a promontory 60 feet high. I admired her courage, but doubted her sanity: Personally, I’d rather pull my teeth out with a pair of pliers.

What interested me most about Worst-Case Scenario the book (on which this series is based) was whether I‘d remember any of it if my car actually did get caught in a flash flood, or if I did one day find myself trapped in a burning building or face to face with a hungry mountain lion while wearing a coat. I say ”while wearing a coat“ because, according to the authors, you’re supposed to open the coat and flap it to make yourself look bigger. If you‘re not wearing a coat . . . Well, that’s the problem with the book, really. And what if you come across a mountain lion and he‘s wearing a coat?

So for me this show, like the original text, boils down to three things: the disasters themselves, the instructions you’re supposed to follow when you‘re in one, and the anxiety of whether you’ll recall them in the panic of the moment. Do I look a terrorist kidnapper in the eye or not? Damn, I can‘t remember! If I have to climb out of a burning building, I tie the bed sheets with slipknots. But how do I make a slipknot?

Fortunately, each episode ends with a soothing demonstration by ”Gear Girl“ (Danielle Burgio, stunt double for Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix) of a particularly up-to-date and ludicrous piece of high-tech equipment designed to save lives. My favorite was the ”WebShot Netgun,“ lately used by Japanese police during the World Cup, and demonstrated here by the luscious Ms. Burgio when someone has the temerity to steal her briefcase. She grabs the Netgun (it’s the size of a cannon, but, hey, she works out) from the trunk of her car and then chases the miscreant down a series of tunnels until she corners him and fires the oversize weapon with great and enjoyably pseudo-feminist relish. Immediately, he‘s trapped in a mesh of netting, unable to move. And luckily he’s not packing a gun, or Gear Girl would be facing a worst-case scenario of her own.

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending