To adore “Monk” is to adore Tony Shalhoub, a leading man like no other who has carried this USA fave through some of the most ridiculous plot resolutions TV has seen in some time. Playing the phobic detective as a teddy bear eccentric, Shalhoub has become a critical darling while crafting a characterization that will surely go down as one of the most memorable sleuths to whom the tube has ever been introduced. That said, skein would be a lot better if it wasn’t so attached to dopey, Encyclopedia Brown-ish endings.
Of all things, the second season’s only notable change is that the catchy instrumental theme song has been replaced by a less impressive ditty from singer-songwriter Randy Newman. Not a huge deal, but ask any of the fans who have become devout “Monk” followers — there are many — and they’ll all say it’s the classy opening which hooked them last season. (It now plays over end credits only.)
As for the actual episodes, nothing has shifted at all. Second year’s kickoff is titled “Mr. Monk Goes Back to School” and it features neuroses galore, a murder and no possible way in which the potential suspect could have actually committed the crime. At least until Adrian Monk arrives to tie the facts together, tick people off and flinch his way through the myriad of possible situations.
In this hour, a popular high school science professor (Andrew McCarthy) is having an affair with an English teacher, but she turns up dead while he’s proctoring an SAT exam. Not to worry: Monk devises a preposterous chain of events — and boy, is it outrageous — that places the prof at the scene of the crime thanks to some eyeglasses and a clock tower.
Supporting characters stay within their comfort zones quite nicely. Bitty Schram is a delight as Monk’s savior Sharona, a realist who understands how psycho her boss is but loves him anyway; Ted Levine is spot-on as the police chief who now just gives up whenever a case feels like it’s solved … since it really isn’t; and Jason Gray-Stanford is likably innocent as the Young Turk who’s trying so hard to make a name for himself among the ranks.
Talk about pressure: Production shifted from Canada to L.A. all to satisfy Shalhoub’s schedule, but the production is no worse for the move; show always comes off as a breezy shoot with below-the-line elements not particularly noteworthy. Even if they were, this is Shalhoub’s stage all the way.