Monk: Season Eight


On DVD: 
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
What might have been.

Monk was first conceived at ABC and the network asked Michael Richards to play the lead role, but he turned it down.

The last season of a long-running series usually brings high expectations (Hi, Lost!) and it’s easy to be disappointed in a show’s resolution (How’s it going, Seinfeld?).  Happily, that is not the case with Monk.  While not all the episodes of Monk: Season Eight are spectacular, they are all solid, the characters and series history are well-served, and the show’s storylines are resolved in satisfying ways as the season progresses.  Most importantly, Monk (still brilliantly played by Tony Shalhoub) remains his quirky, frustrating, and ingenious self, anchoring one of the most consistently funny shows on television.

Highlight episodes include “Mr. Monk Goes to Group Therapy” where the dreaded HMO forces Monk to forgo private therapy and join a group that is targeted by a serial killer, “Mr. Monk Takes the Stand,” where an aggressive defense attorney (Jay Mohr, obviously having a blast) uses Monk's phobias against him, and “Mr. Monk Goes Camping,” where Monk attempts to rough it in order to convince a member of the reinstatement committee to vote him back onto the police force.   In one of the most anticipated episodes, “Mr. Monk and Sharona,” fan-favorite Bitty Schram returns as Monk’s first assistant, Sharona and clashes with Natalie (Traylor Howard) over how to best handle Monk and his issues.  Replacing a major character in any show is problematic, but this episode shows just how perfectly the vastly different Schram and Howard fit in Monk and it was a joy to have them together and to give Sharona a proper goodbye. 
The final three episodes deserve special note because they wrap up loose ends and resolve character arcs surprisingly well.  In “Mr. Monk and the Badge,” Monk is reinstated as a police detective, but he soon finds he’s not the same man he once was and the job isn’t necessarily what he wants or needs anymore. In “Mr. Monk and the End,” parts one and two, Monk is taken back in time when a crime scene just happens to be the scene of another crime he was investigating the day his wife Trudy was murdered.  When Monk is poisoned and is given only days to live, he opens the last gift Trudy gave him, leading him to finally solve the only case that really mattered to him.  The ending is poignant but not overly sentimental, and I love that Monk isn’t “fixed” at the end.  He’s in a better place than we've ever seen outside of Trudy flashbacks, but he’s still the Monk we know and love.  I’ll even admit I teared up during the final montage, set to “When I’m Gone,” a lovely song written for the finale by theme composer/singer Randy Newman. 

The wonderfully produced four disc set has all sixteen episodes of season eight, including the two-part series finale.  For extras, there is a set tour featuring co-producer Doug Nabors, a ten minute “Mr. Monk Says Goodbye” featurette with Tony Shalhoub, Traylor Howard, Jason Gray-Stanford, and executive producers Andy Breckman and Randy Zisk  discussing Monk’s end, and a video commentary of Shalhoub, Breckman, and Zisk who discuss “Mr. Monk and the End” as they watch it.  There are also about twenty minutes of general interviews with Shalhoub, Howard, Gray-Stanford, and Breckman on subjects ranging from favorite episodes and guest stars to their thoughts about the final season.  

Monk is the comfort food of shows: always there to pick you up when you need a laugh or to make you feel smart because you can solve the mystery five minutes into an episode.  The characters are consistently fun and the tone mostly light-hearted.  While I’ll miss this quirky gem of a show, I’m glad it got such a good send-off.

Review by Michelle St. James