Tony Shalhoub and Bitty Schram
“Mr. Monk and Sharona” is the episode for all those fans who thought that Monk’s first assistant, Sharona Fleming, didn’t get a proper send-off because of the precipitous departure of Bitty Schram, who played the character for Monk‘s first two and a half season’s. Ms. Schram left over a contract dispute during the third season’s hiatus. That was five years ago, and I for one never thought they’d get the chance to give Sharona a proper good-bye. Well, I was wrong. Sharona’s back for this one in all her brassy, sassy, buxom glory.
Bitty Schram was asked in a press conference earlier this week why she had decided to reprise her role for the final season. “Oh, they just simply asked me. It was that easy. I was just like, yes, sure,” she replied. “I love the character and I love the chemistry and I absolutely love working with Tony.”
Also guest starring in this episode is Jack Wagner who currently stars in the CBS soap… excuse me, daytime drama, The Bold and the Beautiful. He’s also well known for Melrose Place and Titans, but I know him best as Frisco from General Hospital. I’m sure everyone who was alive at the time remembers his 1985 top ten hit “All I Need”. In fact, I’m finding it tough to get that song out of my head since I saw the episode. Jack attended the same college that I did (quite a few years before me), The University of Arizona. He was a drama major, of course, but he originally applied for a golf scholarship. So the golf skills he demonstrates in “Mr. Monk and Sharona” are legit.
The episode had terrific ensemble work from all of the regulars and a lot of amazingly good moments, but they saved the best for last with an ending so unexpected and marvelous that I’m not going to reveal it until the end of the review just in case you’ve wandered in this far without realizing there are going to be spoilers… because there are.
Not unexpectedly the episode has an early Monk feel about it. Tony discussed that aspect in the same press conference. “It felt like we just picked up right where we left off. We didn’t miss a beat. The only difficulty for me was that I look a lot older and Bitty looks exactly the same.” He added proudly, “I think they’re going to really like this episode this week. Especially the hard core Sharona fans. But I think everybody’s really going to like this one. It’s got a lot of juice.”
“What year is this?”
Monk is vacuuming his apartment when he accidentally sucks up a nickel and the machine stops working. (Apparently he couldn’t get the beta-version of the self cleaning vacuum from last week’s “Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk” fixed. Understandable, since everyone who might know how to fix it was dead or in jail.) There’s a knock on the door and he yells “Just come in. Door’s open.” Does anyone just leave their door unlocked these days in the middle of a big city? I’m not particularly paranoid or safety conscious, but I never leave my door unlocked.
The vacuum starts up and sends out a plume of dirt. Sharona (Bitty Schram) enters to find Monk covered in it, sputtering and hysterically asking her to call 911. Well, he’s not exactly asking her. His eyes are shut to keep out the dust and he thinks she’s Natalie. Sharona rushes to help him, guiding him into the kitchen to wash his face. After he does he looks at her and not believing what he sees he splashes water his eyes with more water. She’s still there. “Hello, Adrian”
After Monk cleans up, he asks Sharona the question he’s been dying to ask about since she left. Not why did she leave without saying good-bye, not is she happy now, not how’s Jersey; “You took a shirt to the dry cleaner shirt #4. Sharona, they said they never got it.”
After determining that she took the shirt to a different cleaners and that she doesn’t have the laundry ticket on her, she tells him how her life is going. Benjy is all grown up and headed for college, Trevor is history again, and “I’m still in Jersey and I’m nursing again.”
“Really, but isn’t Benjy like 17?”
I know some people might have thought that joke bordered on the inappropriate, but I thought it was hilarious. Sharona explains that she’s “working as a nurse” at a veteran’s hospital. She notices he has still has some “schmutz” on his face from vacuum cleaner. She instinctively grabs a wipe for him. “You still got it,” he tells her.
As she helps him wipe it off Natalie enters. Monk jumps away from Sharona and acts as if he were a cheating spouse, trying to stammer out an excuse. He introduces Sharona. Natalie is delighted to meet her. The two women embrace. Monk stands by nervously as they discuss Sharona’s recently deceased uncle, who died in an accident at a nearby ritzy county club. She’s suing them and has come to San Francisco to meet with their lawyers. They seem to really hit it off, which makes Monk even more nervous. “Trouble ahead,” he mutters as they joke at his expense.
Sharona invites them to lunch after her meeting. As they’re leaving they continue chatting and Sharona casually mentions her inadequate salary from Monk of $950 a week. This was what Monk was afraid of (or at least one of the things he was afraid of.) Natalie turns and gives him the look. It’s the look that can put the fear of God into a refrigerator repairman.
A little later Monk and Natalie wait for Sharona in the law firm lobby. The law firm, by the way, is called Conrad, Savo, Toplyn and associates. Not coincidentally three of the Monk writers are Hy Conrad, Sal Savo and Joe Toplyn.
Of course, Natalie wants to talk about how Sharona was making $20 more per week than she is. (And since that was five years ago, seems like it amounts to an even bigger difference, if you figure in inflation and the cost of living and stuff.) Monk agrees to pay her the difference if she doesn’t talk to Sharona about him. He doesn’t want them comparing notes.
Meanwhile Sharona and her somewhat dodgy lawyer (Christopher Boyer) are considering a settlement offer from the Eastdale Country Club lawyer (Karen Strassman). Her lawyer is all set to argue his case, but when Sharona sees the amount of money they’re offering she’s flabbergasted and immediately accepts. “No backsies,” she tells them.
When Monk and Natalie see the lawyers leave, they go into the meeting room to find Sharona. She’s still overwhelmed. She tells them the offer is generous and she’ll have enough money to send Benjy to college “anywheres that he wants.” Sharona can’t believe her luck.
They’re both happy for her, but Monk is immediately attracted to the bulletin board with pictures of the “accident”. He studies it carefully. “There’s something wrong here,” he tells them.
Sharona doesn’t want to hear it. If he discovers it wasn’t an accident she’s out a lot of dough. She demands he stop looking at the pictures and admit that it was just an accident. He can’t and he’s got that look. “I remember that look,” she tells him. “I hate that look.”
It’s not a look that intimidates refrigerator repairmen, but it does mean Sharona’s life is about to get a lot more complicated.
“Oh, stop whining. It’s only water. Just shake it off.”
Monk, Natalie and Sharona go to the golf course to interview the witnesses to Uncle Howie’s accident. As they walk across the green, the differences between the two women are highlighted by their costumes (Sharona in bright colors and Natalie in muted ones) and their conversation. Sharona wants to know why Natalie calls Adrian, Mr. Monk. “I can’t call him by his first name. It’s just not me.”
Sharona asks Monk if it’s okay for Natalie to call him Adrian. He says it is, but when Natalie tries it out they both decide they don’t like it.
They meet Perry Walsh, the country club golf pro, and his wife Carolyn out on the green. Also nearby is the Caddy, Gary Hanks who also witnessed Howie’s accident. Monk asks them to describe the accident. Walsh tells them at 7:30 in the morning they were looking for a lost ball when sorry Howie trip on some stairs and fall. They ran to help him and Walsh advised the Gary the caddy to call 911, but his “piece of crap Fujikawa” cell phone had a dead battery. So, as Walsh describes it, Gary went for help while he tried to revive Howie to no avail. He tells Sharona how sorry he is and he’s pretty darn convincing, too. Sharona and Natalie totally buy it.
Monk is not convinced. He wants to look at the crime scene, which Sharona insists is not a crime scene. She wants Monk to forget about the whole thing. After all she barely knew her uncle. “I met him twice,” she tells them.
She’s unsympathetic when Monk is splashed with water from a sprinkler. Natalie agrees that he should just “shake it off,” but she secretly hands him a wipe. “Here. Don’t tell her I did this.”
Monk examines the steps where Howie fell. He asks Sharona and then Natalie to lie on the ground where her uncle was found. They both indignantly refuse. He tells Sharona he made a mistake. He points out the loose step. (So, even though a guy died and they had to cough up a wad of cash, the Eastdale County Club doesn’t fix that?) It was an accident after all. She’s delighted and goes to call Benjy. Once she’s out of earshot Monk admits to Natalie that he’s 72% sure that it wasn’t an accident at all, but he’s afraid to tell Sharona.
Later Sharona show’s up at Stottlemeyer’s office. He’s delighted to see her. They hug. She says she’s heard he’s got a new girlfriend. He shows her a picture of T.K. and he’s wearing a ring on his left finger! She did say “girlfriend”, but I think they may have tweaked that scene. Even though this episode was shot before the upcoming “Mr. Monk is the Best Man” episode, they may have originally intended to show it after. Sorry, I know that’s a big spoiler, but it’s really hard to ignore that ring. So, now you know.
Randy rushes into the room. Is she here? Yes, she is. She is here. Wow, you look great.”
They hug, too. “It’s really good to see you, Randy.”
“I’m waiting for the punch line. You always used to set me up and hit me with a zinger.”
He tells her he’s missed it.
Monk and Natalie come in asking Randy for the rap sheet on Howard Fleming. He’s got no priors, but he does seem to have a habit of falling down around rich people who later give him lots of money. Sharona thinks that Howie was just. Everyone else thinks he may have been a con man. She doesn’t like that idea, especially since it would mean the accident was no accident. Monk thinks they should go check out her uncle’s apartment.
Stottlemeyer notices there’s a little friction between Natalie and Sharona and he pulls Monk into the hall for a little man to man chat. He advises Monk that his two assistants are like “bourbon and vodka. I love them both but I can’t have them at the same meal, because they don’t mix.”
Monk knows it’s a disaster waiting to happen, but he can’t choose between them, so they all go to Howie’s place together. Once there they find piles of unpaid bills, proof that Howie liked the ladies, a picture of Sharona with her uncle at her confirmation, and a bunch of pillows stacked up in his kitchen like a staircase. The last of which suggests that Howie staged his fall, but something went wrong.
Sharona still won’t believe it. Natalie asks if she only cares about the money. Sharona admits it’s important. She needs the money, because she doesn’t have zillionaire parents. Zing!
“Hey, hey, I’ve never taken a dime from my parents,” says Natalie.
“Well, then give ‘em me number,” Sharona fires back.
Both women walk out, neither of them happy with Monk. “I hate this case,” he mutters.
“You have to tell me now. Say here’s what happened.”
Sharona goes to Randy in the squad room for advice, because she remembers how good she always felt after talking to him. He’s in a hurry to get to a court date. She tells him about Adrian’s suspicions as they walk to the elevator. Randy thinks Monk is probably right, because he almost always is. Sharona thinks Natalie has turned Adrian against her because she’s jealous that Monk like’s her better. “A woman can tell who likes who,” she tells Randy as they get in the elevator.
They look at each other. “Absolutely.”
After a Natalie/Sharona argument about whether to take the stairs or the elevator and treating Monk like a baby versus not making him uncomfortable, they go to Perry Walsh’s apartment to question him again. Monk tells him they thing Howie may have fallen purpose. Walsh says it looked real to him. While they talk Monk notices something and to get Walsh out of the room he asks for a glass of water. He asks the women to “be cool” and whispers that Walsh is the guy. Sharona demands an explanation right there and then. While trying to keep an eye out for Walsh he points out that a book is missing from the Walsh’s book shelf and he saw that book in Howard Fleming’s apartment. Howard and Carolyn Walsh were having an affair. Walsh found out and did something about it. Sharona wants more details.
All three of them go into a closet for the here’s-what-happened, which he first tells too quickly to be understood and then again more slowly. Walsh found out about the affair, convinced an unsuspecting but broke Howard Fleming to stage an accident. After the fake fall Walsh sent his caddy away to get help and then bashed Howard’s brains out on the steps. Not surprisingly, Walsh opens the closet door. He’s heard every word. He throws them out.
Later in the squad room Stottlemeyer is furious that Monk did the here’s-what-happened in the suspect’s closet. Now Walsh has been tipped off and they don’t have any hard evidence. Stottlemeyer looks at Natalie, who points the finger at Sharona. Randy sticks up for Sharona. They all begin to argue loudly, except Monk who slips out of the room. He goes outside, catches a cab and tells the cabbie to just drive.
“You got him here. You got him to me.”
Later, Monk is now missing. Sharona and Natalie are at his apartment feeling bad about it. They talk about Adrian and bond again. “I do not know how you put up with him.” Sharona tells Natalie. “I don’t know how I put up with him. Actually I do. I loved him.”
They apologize to each other for their bad behavior and praise each other for the way they’ve taken care of Monk. They also apparently put their heads together and figure out where he is. They find him at Trudy’s graveside. “Mr. Monk have you been here all day?” Natalie asks.
“I’ve been here for 12 years.”
They apologize for fighting and ask him to come home. Sharona says she doesn’t care about the money; she doesn’t want Walsh to get away with her uncle’s murder.
They go to the country club and break into Walsh’s office. After Sharona jimmies the desk drawer open Monk finds a Fujikawa cell phone battery. The final puzzle piece falls into place. Before the murder Walsh switched the caddy’s battery with an uncharged battery so he wouldn’t be able to call for help, leaving Walsh alone with the victim. The battery in the drawer isn’t proof, but the battery currently in the caddy’s phone would have Walsh’s fingerprints on it. That’s the evidence they need.
Unfortunately Walsh is right outside the door when Monk explains this. Someone calls out his name in the hallway. They seem him and they know he’s overheard. He runs out to golf course to find the caddy and the cell phone. Monk, Natalie and Sharona pursue. Monk catches up to him first, but Walsh punches and he falls to the ground. Monk’s ready to give up, but Natalie and Sharona continue the pursuit in a golf cart. They tackle him in the sand trap (which looks like it was a lot of fun for all the actors and their stunt doubles). Natalie conks him with a sand rake and it’s lights out for Walsh. Monk catches up to them. They find the caddy and get the phone. “Don’t worry,” Monk tells him, “the city of San Francisco will provide you with an upgrade.”
As they walk back to the county club Sharona trips on the same loose step that her Uncle pretended to trip on. She falls on her arm and breaks it. “I can’t believe they never fixed that step,” says the caddy.
“This is my lucky day. Benjy’s going to college,” says Sharona and then she moans in pain.
“Get ready. Here comes the hug.”
Monk and Natalie say good-bye to Sharona in front of his apartment as she waits for “a friend” to pick her up and take her to the airport. She gives Monk a hug alert and then a long hug that he warmly returns. She tells them she’ll be back in a couple of weeks to file a lawsuit over her broken arm. Her ride arrives and it’s Randy Disher. He helps Sharona with her suitcase and then as she’s about to get in the car, he kisses her. She kisses him. They kiss each other.
Awesome! It was an ending I wasn’t expecting and I didn’t even know I wanted, but when I saw it I thought it was perfect. Bitty Schram liked it as well: “I was really happy to do it and I thought it ended really, really well. I just thought it ended the way it should have and I was very, very pleased with it and very pleased to be working with everyone again on that show. I really was.”
Tags: Monk, Tony Shalhoub