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Mr. Monk Takes on His Greatest Foe: A Lackluster Revival

The original series managed to mine comedy from pain; this revival only wallows in the latter.
  • Traylor Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Gray-Stanford, and Ted Levine in Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie (Photo: Peacock)
    Traylor Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Gray-Stanford, and Ted Levine in Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie (Photo: Peacock)

    It’s like they forgot. Back in 2005, USA introduced the slogan “Characters welcome” which celebrated the network’s “blue sky” programming. Dramas like Suits, Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains, and Monk were emblematic of the kind of optimistic series that dominated USA’s lineup. Yes, there was drama, but not the gritty kind; the characters were flawed, but not in a dark disturbing way; and the series were entertaining, but not so complex that you needed a flowchart to keep track of all the characters.

    But watching the new Peacock movie Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie, it’s as if everyone involved forgot the show’s blue sky vibe. The revival finds Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) in the depths of despair, which may not be entirely out of character for the retired detective, but the relentlessness of that sentiment casts a pall over the entire production. The original series, as Shalhoub himself described it, always sought to find the comedy in the pain, but did not wallow in the latter.

    The script, from creator, writer, executive producer Andy Breckman, contains other equally questionable decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic would have been an absolute nightmare for a germaphobe like Adrian, who was using hand wipes long before they became de rigueur. Nearly four years later, he most likely still would be wearing a mask and not leaving his house. For something as seminal as the pandemic the movie should have gone all in or all out. Instead Mr. Monk’s Last Case dips its toes in it — Monk now travels with his own personal hand sanitizer dispenser and hoards at-home COVID tests — without fully embracing it, mentioning it a few times but never truly showing how much it would still be impacting Adrian’s daily life.

    Technology has advanced so much since Monk, which premiered in 2002, had its series finale on December 4, 2009. This was a man who used to say “picture go fast” when he wanted to fast-forward his DVR. When Natalie’s daughter Julie let him borrow her laptop, he meticulously cleaned it, stayed up until 3 a.m. playing solitaire and used the CD drive as a cup holder. He once rearranged the keys on a keyboard to place them in alphabetical order. How does Monk feel about the ubiquitous and confessional nature of social media? What about people constantly using their phones as cameras? We’ll never know because the movie doesn’t really acknowledge how much the world has changed since we last saw him. And that’s too bad because there is potentially a lot of humor that could be mined from, for example, Adrian interacting with Amazon’s Alexa.

    The movie’s mystery centers on Rick Eden (James Purefoy), a billionaire who made his fortune in online shopping and has a penchant for space travel. So, basically a cross between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, but with Purefoy bringing a sleazy charm to the role.

    Picking up about 12 years after the finale, Mr. Monk’s Last Case reunites everyone for Molly’s (Caitlin McGee) wedding to investigative journalist Griffin (Austin Scott). Fans may remember that in the series finale, it was revealed that Trudy had a daughter (played then by Alona Tal). Adrian’s former assistant Natalie (Traylor Howard) is now a successful real estate agent in Atlanta, much to Monk’s chagrin. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) has been elected for the third time as sheriff of Summit, New Jersey, a job he took in the series finale, and he’s still with Sharona. (Bitty Schram, who reprised her role in the show’s final season, only appears in the movie in flashback scenes from the original series.) “It was more of a betrayal, actually,” Monk says of Natalie and Randy moving away.

    Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) has retired from the police force and has a new mysterious job. Hector Elizondo also returns as Adrian’s psychiatrist Dr. Neven Bell. The actors all step back into their characters with ease. And it is fun to have the gang back together — just not enough fun to overlook the movie’s many flaws.

    Monk was always a funny character, and certainly whether or not obsessive compulsive disorder should be played for laughs is something to be explored. But here the moments chosen for comedy are off-putting. In one scene, Adrian gets dog poop on his shoe and exclaims, “Amputate. No choice. Just cut it off.” That in and of itself is funny, a classic Monk reaction. But that humor falls flat when placed in the same scene where a man who Monk was desperately trying to warn dies because a package he was carrying exploded. Monk was always quirky and self-centered. The movie opens with a scene from the show’s pilot where, in the middle of a crime scene, Monk worries that he left his oven on. But he was never callous.

    The leaps in logic and editing create further problems. The criminals on Monk were never the savviest but here they behave in ways that just make it seem like they want to get caught. And there’s one particular jump from one scene to the next that’s so jarring, it’s as if a whole scene went missing. Since this is streaming on Peacock, one would think there would be no particular time constraints, and a few necessary plot-driven scenes could have been included.

    With the frenetic holiday season upon us and so much of the world in a fraught place, a new entry into the Monk oeuvre could have offered a welcome reprieve. Instead it’s a reminder that it is often best to leave beloved properties alone. So, skip this particular trip down memory lane. As Monk himself might say, “You’ll thank me later.”

    Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie premieres December 8 on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Amy Amatangelo is a writer and editor. In addition to Primetimer, her work can be found in Paste Magazine, Emmy Magazine and the LA Times. She also is the Treasurer of the Television Critics Association. 

    TOPICS: Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie, Peacock, USA Network, Monk, Andy Breckman, Jason Gray-Stanford, Ted Levine, Tony Shalhoub, Traylor Howard, Blue Sky TV