NEW YORK – What would you get if you combined the smarts of Sherlock Holmes, the quirkiness of Columbo, and the physical humor of Inspector Clouseau?
If you guessed USA's new show, Monk, you win the $50-million prize and a copy of the home game. (OK, I lied. You win nothing, but you really should win something for being so smart.)
I'm here to tell you that Monk, USA Network's new series, is the best detective show to come along in, well, decades.
It is so clever that it makes you remember how good TV used to be — and still can be when they use actors who didn't train at Ford Models. And when they hire writers who can actually put two words together.
I promise you, you've never seen anything quite like it.
For one thing, Monk (Tony Shalhoub), San Francisco's most intuitive homicide detective, has a small problem. After his wife was murdered, he became an obsessive/compulsive, which cost him his job on the SFPD.
Not for nuthin', but it's tough to keep a guy on the job who's phobic about germs, heights, crowds and most everything else. Monk also needs to do things like touch every fence rail, return home 70 times to make sure the coffee pot is turned off, and rearrange every desk, table and bulletin board he comes in almost-constant contact with.
Unlike the usual retired detective-turned-private eye who inevitably has a working sidekick, Monk is too obsessive/compulsive to actually work much, so his "sidekick" is his disgruntled but loyal practical nurse, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram).
The casting of both Monk and Sharona couldn't be better. Shalhoub you might remember from things like Men In Black, Big Night, and Wings.
Schram you'll recognize from movies like A League of Their Own, and 400 gazillion other movies and TV appearances. She's always great, but she's so good in Monk you'll want to take her home -- or at least fix her up with your brother.
In the premiere, we meet the characters -- Monk, Sharona and Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) who reluctantly forced Monk to go on disability, but now equally reluctantly is forced to hire him back as a consultant when the rich mayoral candidate Warren St. Claire (Michael Hogan) is shot at while making a speech.
The candidate has a horrible spoiled wife (Gail O'Grady), who may be fooling around. He has enemies and he has friends who may not be so friendly after all. So who done it and why?
One of the good things (and as you may have noticed, I think there are lots good things here) is that you don't discover who done it before Monk does.
The viewer is allowed to go along guessing and second guessing until the end, which is, to my way of thinking, the best way to keep your interest in a mystery.
In between catching criminals, Monk is busy running from kids who pick their noses and sneeze, an obese woman who coughs in his face, and trying to figure out how not to panic when a gun falls in a sewer. He also gets on everyone's nerves because he's constantly realigning everything on their desks and straightening out their table settings.
Watch for his antics in a kindergarten class when he tries to fit in a kiddy seat. It's laugh-very-out-loud-funny.
Watch it or you'll never work in this town again. And I mean it.