The tv series Monk started in July 2002 and is still going (as far as I know — we only get reruns here in New Zealand). But it’s never been the same since actor Bitty Schram (playing the feisty Sharona) left before filming the second half of series three; she appeared in just 38 episodes. Yes, the actor left — so this was not a creative decision as claimed by the producers but a power play, and it SHOWS.
Who knows what the creator of the series, one Andy Breckman, thinks of this. He must have worked out the balance of the characters to the nth degree if he’s gone through what most good tv writers do. Then just have it subject to arbitrary change when the producers, presumably rolling in more millions of profit each year, tell an actor “Take it or leave it.”
Yes, Traylor Howard is blonde and cute. (I admit to a prejudice against the ugly modern trend of females named with two unfeminine surnames.) I’ve seen her in a few teen movies from the early ’90s and she did well enough. But there is no way her character Natalie has “replaced” Sharona — who lent just the right spice to the mix. Ted Levine seems to me a very accomplished comic actor (and otherwise) and Jason Gray-Stanford does well too as the often hapless detective lieutenant. Tony Shaloub is expert in what he does on screen — but part of what he does is executive producer, and he doesn’t seem to be quite as good at this. It obviously creates an unhealthy power imbalance among the cast.
But whether this one event triggered more unfortunate trends I can’t say for sure. The comedy had gotten less clever, more slapstick. The tone is more crassly sentimental, to the point of getting us to feel sorry for geeky Teen Monk in numerous flashbacks. As if anyone’s interested — Yet, he might get his own series one day in a lucrative spinoff, as these things tend to happen. Straining for plots, Monk is put in less and less likely situations until credulity is strained beyond breaking. Knowing just a little about mental health, I’ve known from the start that someone who suffers from anxiety as constantly and intensely as Monk does could never bring himself to focus on a case for more than a few seconds at a time. No way could he function coherently as a detective over a whole case, never mind a genius who solves every case. But for the sake of involvement (which every good drama needs) I was willing to suspend disbelief.
Yet, the producers throw away this one main premise of the character when it suits them. After the umpteenth rerun episode I just started to watch — and felt too insulted to continue — Monk, on the run from the police, had just come out of the ocean to be greeted by his friend Leland Stottelmeyer (Ted Levine). The captain says something like, “That must have been hard since you can’t swim.” And Monk replies, “I was highly motivated.” These injokes are fine if the series wants to descend to the pat, unchallenging level of Murder She Wrote or Love Boat, but don’t expect me to hang around.