Monk – Episode 8-1 Review

Elizabeth Perkins, Rena Sofer and Tony Shalhoub

Elizabeth Perkins, Rena Sofer and Tony Shalhoub

Spoilers ahead. This is a review, which means I’m going to discuss what happens in the episode. If you haven’t seen it yet and you want to be surprised read no further.

The final season of Monk is upon us, beginning with the season premiere on Friday, August 7th. The decision to end the series was in large part executive producer and star Tony Shalhoub’s. He explained in a recent interview: “I think we’re all ready to resolve the story line and move on to other things. We certainly don’t want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we still feel we’re doing great work, delivering strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.”

The premiere episode for the final season, “Mr. Monk’s Favorite Show,” proves they still had a least one more fresh idea. Here’s hoping they have fifteen more to go along with it.

Elizabeth Perkins, who has earned an Emmy nomination this year for her role in Showtime’s Weeds, is the guest star in this episode. She’s an excellent choice for the charming, wanton and ultimately dangerous, character she plays here.

All The Brady Bunch parallels are obviously deliberate and easily recognizable. At least to me. That’s right, I’m a Brady Bunch fan. There’s not much I don’t know about the Brady’s. In fact I’ve had the pleasure of meeting four of the “kids.” The show will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary on September 26th this year. Don’t worry: I’m not crazy. Just a fan. (Okay, the truth is I am crazy.) This is just another one of those Monk episodes that seems to be written especially with me in mind.

In the opening of “Mr. Monk’s Favorite Show” Monk and Natalie are alone late at night in front of a bookstore. Monk episodes usually begin with the crime and Monk doesn’t appear until after the opening credits. For those in which he does appear in the “teaser” that format is shaken up a little. These episodes usually reveal something significant about Monk. The center of the episode isn’t so much the mystery as it the development of the character.

Monk is waiting for a book signing event set for the next morning with actress Christine Rapp who has written an autobiography. As a child Christine starred in the TV series Monk loved as a child called The Cooper Clan. Monk explains his keen interest in the show to Natalie. “I’m not obsessed. I’m barely fixated. I’m mildly…. Okay, I’m obsessed. The show was very important to me. The Cooper Clan were the only friends I had.”

Early the next morning Christine Rapp (Elizabeth Perkins) is leaving a TV station surrounded by reporters who want her comments on the reaction to her new book, which is actually a tawdry tell-all. When told that former co-star Steven Dorn has advised her to watch her back Christine laughs it off, but after her car explodes seconds later she’s not laughing anymore. She’s hiding… behind her publicist, Kim Kelly (Rena Sofer).

Monk and Natalie have been joined in the line at the bookstore by many other autograph seekers/Cooper Clan fans. Monk is having a trivia contest with another obsessed fan who is armed with an episode guide and a Cooper Clan lunch box. He’s no match for Monk, who delights in rubbing it in. Natalie’s pleased that Monk is having such a good time, but seconds after Monk has purchased the first copy of Christina’s book Re-Cooper-ating, they learn that she’ll be a no-show because someone has tried to kill her.

When Monk and Natalie arrive at the crime scene, Stottlemeyer and Disher are already there investigating. Monk is frantic. It’s got to hit close to home for him that he’s dealing with a car bomb case, since that’s how his beloved wife Trudy died. Through the windows of the blown up car he sees Christine Rapp for the first time. She’s laying on an ambulance gurney. “That’s her,” he says awestruck. “She got bigger.”

Nearby Natalie is reading Christine’s book, out of Monk’s earshot. She’s horrified. “It’s filthy and I thought I was a wild child.” (Natalie’s wild side: I’d like to know more about that.) Among other things in her book, Christine has a long list of, shall we say, romantic conquests and Randy wants to know “Why is there an asterisk next to Bob Denver?” The answer is bad, but apparently not as bad as page 73.

Monk gets Natalie and runs over to meet Christine Rapp. She’s apparently overwhelmed by the incident and being fussed over by EMTs and her publicist. She extends her hand, in a bizarre and pretentious fashion that would creep most people out, for Monk to shake. He’s utterly enthralled, but Natalie hands him a wipe without being asked, because she has some idea where Christine’s hand has been.

After finding out who he is, Christine’s publicist Kim pulls Monk aside. Christine has been getting threatening letters and Kim wants to hire him as a bodyguard until the stalker/bomber is caught. Monk jumps at the chance. He is thrilled when Kim tells him “Welcome to the family.”

The next scene opens on the interior of the Cooper Clan home and it is awesome! Some set decorator should start dusting off his or her shelf in preparation for the Emmy he or she is going to get next year. The spectacularly authentic sets, the sit-com style three camera shooting, the hippie jokes, the dog named Scamp, the “groovy” wardrobe, the horse on the sideboard is all perfect, perfect, perfect. The first Cooper Clan episode we see is clearly spoofing the “Law and Disorder” episode of The Brady Bunch. Oh, come on. Don’t pretend you can’t remember it. Bobby becomes a safety monitor and let’s the power go to his head. In fact all the mentioned plots in “Favorite Show” have real-life Brady Bunch (I guess that’s an oxymoron) parallel episodes.

The camera pulls away to reveal that Monk is watching the episode with Christine. She’s amazed at how much he loves it and how well he knows it. He’s memorized all the dialogue even though he hasn’t seen it in 35 years. Kim arrives and wants to get down to business. Are there any leads? Monk shows her a fuzzy surveillance photo of the suspected bomber which could be anybody (as Steven Dorn later points out) but most closely resembles the Unabomber. They take a tour of the house. Christine’s bedroom has many mirrors. Monk just can’t figure out what the one over the bed is for. We find out Christine has a registered weapon which her publicist encouraged her to buy.

For the remainder of the tour Monk pesters Christine with nit-picky questions about the inconsistencies on The Cooper Clan. Why is Cathy allergic to peanuts in one episode, but not in another? Monk wants to know. As a Monk fanatic I think I can tell you the inspiration for that bit: in the first season’s “Mr. Monk Goes to the Asylum” it’s stated that Monk is allergic to tomatoes, but in season seven’s “Mr. Monk on Wheels” he happily prepares a meal with the perfectly square tomatoes he got from the lab. Those kind of nits are picked regularly on message boards (particularly on Monk message boards) and it’s bad netiquette to point out that nobody freaking cares. Like Christine, the proper response is to try to explain it away within the context of the show. The uncommonly chosen sane answer would be, it’s just a TV show.

Tony Shalhoub talked a little about this subject in a recent interview: “I find that there are obsessive fans. There are people who know way too much about the details of the character and way too much about various moments in different episodes, things that I, frankly, have long forgotten: small, small details. I suppose that’s good on the one hand. I just hope that those people keep a nice, healthy distance in the future: a nice, healthy, respectful distance.”

Christine flirts with Monk inviting him to guard her while she dresses. Naturally Monk declines. Monk sees the “Silver Globe” award. Most certainly the TV movie that earned Christine the award, The Vanishing Girl, is a reference to the critically acclaimed role in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway that Eve Plumb (Jan, The Brady Bunch) took on immediately following The Brady Bunch years.

As Monk and the publicist discuss the award ceremony, they hear Christine scream and rush to her rescue. She cowers in a corner as they read the scary note her stalker has left in lipstick on the mirror. “Next time I won’t miss.”

Later at the police station Randy, Monk and Natalie examine the mirror. Monk thinks the handwriting is familiar, but can’t quite place it. He spots Steven Dorn (Michael Stoyanov), a grown up and strung out Billy Cooper from The Cooper Clan, in Stottlemeyer’s office where the captain is questioning him. Excitedly Monk runs over to meet him and greet him with his decades-old corny catch phrase: “Shucky darns! Hey, Steven! Hey, Shucky Darns! Steven! Shucky darns!” He can’t believe that little Billy Cooper could have anything to do with the attempt on Christine’s life, even though Dorn admits he called her “a loud mouth, a liar and a tramp.”

Under orders from Stottlemeyer, Monk reads the book (except for page 73, which Natalie eats) and his few happy childhood memories are shattered. With Monk’s loss of Cooper Clan innocence, the tone of the episode shifts. Sit-com is out and film noir is in, as Christine Rapp checks into a cheap airport motel with a gaudy neon sign and lots of mysterious shadows, where Monk has recommended she hide out. So as she disappears into those mysterious shadows it’s inevitable that someone gets killed. Turns out it’s the stalker who’s shot by Christine.

Monk has been called to the scene. Gone now is the happy, excited, childlike Monk. He’s very bitter and unforgiving about Christine’s perceived betrayal of his childhood memories. He speculates on the stalkers motive: “Maybe he loved the show. Maybe the show meant the world to him and she betrayed everything it stood for.”

Stottlemeyer says Victor Timlinson (the stalker/victim) managed a Taco Bell. He’s nobody. He also mentions that the guy once worked in the mail room at some big accounting firm. Monk eventually confronts Christine and he can be very harsh. “Maybe you should have called your friend Bob Denver.”

Mind you, I haven’t read the book, but I don’t know about these veiled aspersions on Bob Denver’s character, especially since he has passed away. Besides smoking a little weed, I don’t know that there was ever much scandal about Bob? Was there? If there was I do not want to know about it.

Christine’s very good though. With any other man she probably could have convinced him to forgive her. “I was just a girl trying to be a little less lonely.” Elizabeth Perkins gives a nice edge of vulnerability to a basically despicable character.

The next day with the case seemingly wrapped up, Natalie tries to cheer up Monk. She’s consulted Ambrose about Monk’s favorite snack: ten round crackers and a glass of apple juice with 1 ice cube. (Wait a second. Ten round crackers? Doesn’t Monk prefer square crackers?) To go with the snack, which she serves to him while singing The Cooper Clan theme song, Natalie has brought him his favorite show The Cooper Clan on DVD. “I don’t have a favorite show,” he tells her.

Natalie pops in the DVD anyway and Monk has an epiphany while looking at the DVD cover. “Episode four ‘Broken Arm, Broken Heart,'” he tells her. We see that little Cathy Cooper, who’s right arm is in a sling, writes just like Christine Rapp’s stalker. It all falls in to place for Monk. “She wrote those letters to herself.”

Monk may have solved it, but they need more evidence and they go to Timlinson’s apartment to get it. Monk finds the evidence proving Christine stuffed the Silver Globe ballot box, but before he can give Natalie a surprise alert he’s conked on the head from behind with a lamp. This leads to a very rare Monk dream sequence, which opens on a broken vase at the Cooper Clan house where we’re treated to what is perhaps the best “here’s what happened” ever. How anyone kept a straight face I don’t know.

Monk wakes up just in time to see Natalie tussling with Christine, who has apparently dropped her registered weapon. Monk picks it up and gets the drop on her. “You’re in big, big trouble, young lady. That was episode five season two, ‘Grounded for Life’.”

It’s an all around entertaining episode and a charming way to open up the final season. It would be a lot easier to let Monk go if they didn’t keep making such great television.

For those who may be disappointed that Sharona didn’t make an appearance in this episode, according to Tony Shalhoub in a recent interview that won’t happen right away: “I’m sure you’ve probably read, because there’s been a lot of publicity, about Sharona coming back. Bitty Schram is going to come back for an episode, I believe it’s episode #12, [actually, it’s episode 14] which we’ll start shooting in September. They want to bring that character back and kind of wrap it up and give that a good send off.”

And for those who may be disappointed that Trudy’s murder is not addressed in the first episode of the final season, get used it. That mystery won’t move center stage until the last five episodes of the season. “What the writers have in mind is to do our normal stand alone episodes for the first eleven and the last five will be kind of connected,” says Shalhoub. “Then what they want to do is the final two episodes, number 15 and 16, will be just one story, a two parter. That two parter, will involve the solving of Trudy’s murder.”

Up next week: “Mr. Monk and the Foreign Man”

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