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On the Tube: Obsessive-compulsive detective is a welcome addition to TV's eccentric sleuths

Friday, July 12, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Fans of "Columbo," "Matlock" and "Murder, She Wrote," take note: There's a new crime solver on the tube.

    Television Review

WHEN: 9 p.m. today on USA


USA Network's "Monk," premiering with a two-hour movie tonight at 9, introduces viewers to Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub), a detective with a tragic past (his wife was killed four years ago) and a problem-plagued present (he's obsessive-compulsive). Episodes will air weekly at 10 p.m. Friday.

Viewers first see Monk with his "Girl Friday" Sharona (Bitty Schram), consulting with police on a murder. He stares at the crime scene intently, furrows his brow and looks at Sharona gravely.

"The stove! I think I left it on," Monk says, going off on a worried tangent, even asking her to drive home to check.

"Pull yourself together," she says, taking him aside.

Written by Andy Breckman and sympathetically played by Shalhoub, Monk is an amusing character, cruelly called "the defective detective" by a cop. Some viewers will no doubt take offense, but "Monk" doesn't set out to make fun of people with this disorder -- it just finds the inherent humor.

The premiere's main case involves an assassination attempt on a San Francisco mayoral candidate. The current mayor calls on Monk to investigate, much to the chagrin of the candidate's wife, played by guest star Gail O'Grady ("NYPD Blue").

"Is this a joke?" she fumes. "Someone tries to kill my husband, and you send in Rainman?"

But this Rainman is good, noticing things his former boss, Capt. Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), would never catch

Story-wise, there's nothing in "Monk" that makes the show terribly different from all the detective shows that came before. It's the character of Monk that gives the series distinction. Shalhoub plays him as a guy who desperately longs for normalcy and realizes the limitations resulting from his disorder. It's the tight scrapes he gets into that give the show comedic life.

In one scene, Monk descends into a filthy sewer to rescue Sharona. Once below ground, Monk takes time to straighten a crooked "Danger: Keep Out" sign. Moments like these make "Monk" an enjoyable addition to the long-lived genre.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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