The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

29Oct/111

Mr. Monk’s Top Twenty List, Part Five

Past Posts: 6-10 11-1516-20 and honorable mentions.

We've reached the end of our top 20 list. I do have to say that it appears that the second half of Season 2 of Monk was the show at its absolute best as 3 of the top 5 episodes are from that period.

5) Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing (Season 5, Episode 4):

Mr. Monk is blinded while trying to protect an elderly firefighter from his murderer. The great detective finds himself apparently temporarily blinded, which at makes him happy as many of his obsessions, compulsions, and fears are tied to eyesight. He struggles with his blindness, but using his sense of touch, he manages to compensate for it. The episode features an involved mystery with a false ending and a final scene that is perhaps the most thrilling in the entire series.

4) Mr. Monk and the Paperboy (Season 2, Episode 10): Mr. Monk's paperboy is murderered in an attempt to keep Monk from reading his morning paper. Monk surmises that the cause was stop him from reading the paper lest he discovers a crime. Monk's challenge isn't finding a crime, but finding the right one. He solves two unrelated crimes after reading the paper and still hasn't found the reason for the murder of the paperboy. This is definitely a story of legendary proportions, with some great payoffs.

3) Mr. Monk and the Astronaut (Season 4, Episode 13): Monk faces another impossible murder. This time, Monk identifies the murderer. The problem? He was an astronaut in orbit of the Earth at the time the victim died. Monk is dismissed and underestimated by the astronaut as a weakling who will always back off until Monk begins to close in and the astronaut has to stop Monk from the finding the key evidence. The climatic scene on the airstrip is one of the most memorable and satisfying of the series.

2) Mr. Monk and the Missing Granny (Season 2, Episode 13):
Monk is engaged to find a woman's kidnapped grandmother in hopes of getting help with his reenstatement case. What Monk finds is a baffling case where as ransom, the kidnappers demand that they provide the homeless a meal and the perpetrators claim to be tied to a radical group from the 1960s. This one is very cleverly plotted and one of the few Monk episodes where there's no homicide.

1) Mr. Monk and the Three Pies (Season 2, Episode 11): This is the first episode in which we meet Monk's more ingenusous and more disturbed brother Ambrose whose agoraphobia hasn't allowed him to leave their house since their father left them and has caused him to save all mail and newspapers for the day their father returns. Monk's been nursing a grudge because Ambrose missed Trudy's funeral and never calling or writing Monk afterwards. Ambrose suspects foul play in the disappearance of a neighbor. At the same time, murders are being committed involving people who won the neighbor's pies at the fair. A great classic mystery puzzle with that perfect blend of comedy and drama.

That brings us to the end of this series and there were many great Monk episodes that didn't make the cut. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.

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22Oct/110

Mr. Monk’s Top 20 List, Part Four

Past Posts: 11-15, 16-20 and honorable mentions.

10) Mr. Monk and the Sleeping Suspect (Season 2, Episode 7):

A beautiful woman is murdered by a mail bomb. Monk thinks her brother committed the crime. The problem? The brother Monk identifies has been in a coma for months. This case was a real puzzle as Monk has to find out how the comatose man perpetrated a seemingly impossible murder. In addition to this, with Dr. Kroger out of town, in lieu of therapy, Monk talks out his problems with the still comatose suspect.

9)   Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa (Season 4, Episode 9): At an office Christmas Party, poisoned wine that was sent to Captain Stottlemeyer. The episode is clearly the best of the four Monk Christmas episodes with a right mix of mystery, comedy, and sentiment.

8 ) Mr. Monk and Dale the Whale (Season 1, Episode 4): Dale "the Whale" Biederbeck appears to be "the guy" in the killing of a woman as witnesses claim to have seen the 800 pound man in the house of a murdered woman on the night she was killed, but the bed-bound Biederbeck couldn't possibly have even gotten through the doorway.

Biederbeck is a personal enemy of Monk's, vindictive and spiteful. He sued Trudy over an unflattering article and sent the Monks into bankruptcy.

The way Monk solves the case is genius as was the case with most of the Monk episodes. The denoument is somewhat reminiscent of Poirot particularly when Monk says the phrase, "A very fat man."

I should add that this isn't the last that the series would see of "Dale the Whale." Appeared twice more and in each of three appearances, he was played by a different actor.  So fans can compare their favorite. Tim Curry's version was mine.  Dale  always seemed to know more about Trudy's death than he let on, and had a mix of power, cunning, and ruthlessness working for him. It always seemed to me that the writers could have done more with him than they did.

7) Mr. Monk and the End (Season 8, Episode 15 and 16): There's much to like about Mr. Monk and the End. First of all, it actually gives Monk's story an ending. This itself is rare in detective fiction. Historically, this is very rare for detective series. Think about the Columbo or The Rockford Files and you realize that the detective show typically goes out unplanned with a whimper.

In the course of investigating a murder at the same place he'd been when he learned at Trudy's death, Monk gets too close for comfort to finding his wife's killer, who orders Monk killed. The assassin poisons an item in Monk's grocery cart.

The doctor informs Monk that the poison will kill him in a matter of days and that not only had someone tried to murder Monk, but that they may have succeeded.  The doctors can develop an anti-toxin if they can find the source of the poison in time.

The police set out to find Monk's killer before it's too late. When hope appears to be lost, Monk finally discovers a clue to the identity of Trudy's murderer, but is it too late? Will Monk run out of time before the killer does?

The overarching plot of the two part episode is a great homage to that Noir Classic, DOA which features a hero (played by Edmond O'Brien) who has been  murdered with luminous poisioning and seeks to find the killer before the poison runs its course.

"Mr. Monk and the End" has moments of high-level dramatic intensity and while there's not a whole lot of mystery in this story, Monk does some fancy deduction at the end.

The show also had some very comedic moments as well, particularly when Monk is told about the poison and its effects:

Dr. Shuler: You’re gonna feel normal for a while. And then there’s gonna be some vomiting, followed by death.
Monk: Vomiting?
Dr. Shuler: That’s right. Followed by death.
Monk: Vomiting.
Dr. Shuler: Yes. Followed by death.
Monk: Vomiting!
Dr. Shuler: Adrian, I really need you to focus on the last part of that sentence. There’s gonna be some vomiting and then death.
Monk: Is there any chance death could come before the vomiting?

There are a few points to criticize the episode on. What became clear from watching the episode, it seemed to me that the writers really hadn't thought of who'd killed Trudy and that over the course of the show they threw out random clues ("the six fingered man," "the judge,")  and in this episode had to find some way to come to a coherent conclusion. They succeeded mostly, but had they had more of an idea as to the who and why of Trudy's murderer, it would have flowed a bit better.

I did appreciate how they brought most of the characters (Disher, the Captain, Monk) to some point of change in their lives, but their effort to insert a love interest for Natalie into the story with no foreshadowing in prior episodes (as happened with Disher and the Captain) was clunky.

One criticism I've read of the episode is that some think the actual reason for Trudy's murder was too "soap operaish." Some would hope that the reason for the murder would be something big like a corporate scandal or a political cover up rather than something personal. Without giving away the ending, I'll say that I understand why the writers chose to play it the way they did.  They're ultimate goal with the ending was not just to wrap up Monk's case, but to give a satisfying change in direction to Monk's life. Mere vengeance or catching the bad guy wouldn't do that.  The way they wrote this episode was a master stroke and a fitting end to the 21st Century's best detective, complete with a new Randy Newman song written especially for the end.

6) Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger (Season 1, Episode 7): A mugger jumps out with a knife to rob a man. The man promptly shoots him in self-defense. A uniformed police officer is seen fleeing the scene. When its revealed that the mugger is a billionaire and the media begins talking down the department for the actions of "Fraidy Cop," Monk is called in.

The episode was both uproariously  funny and at the same time, a classic mystery puzzle.

Next week: the top 5.

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15Oct/110

Mr. Monk’s Top 20 List, Part Three

See 16-20 and honorable mentions.

15) Mr. Monk and the Panic Room (Season 3, Episode 2):  This is a classic locked room mystery. A man is found murdered in his personal panic room and his chimp is found holding the murder gun. In addition, multiple shots were fired foreclosing the possibility of suicide.  Sharona takes a shine to the chimp, and takes it away from Animal Control to avoid it being put to death. It's up to Monk to find out what really happened. This episode also featured some zaniness as the Captain tries to find out if the Chimp could have fired the gun by trying to provoke the chimp with an empty gun (or at least one the Captain thought was empty.)

14. Mr. Monk v. the Cobra: (Season 3, Episode 11): The martial arts star, "The Cobra" is believed to have been long dead. However, he apparently comes back to murder a man who wrote a tell-all book about him. Monk is on the case, searching for the truth. At the same time, Natalie is upset when she learns that while struggling to pay her, Monk is keeping up Trudy's office. This episode has a very solid ending and a great denoument as Monk gets very close to death.

13) Mr. Monk and the Big Reward  (Season 4, Episode 13): Once again, Natalie's pay is an issue and she wants Monk to get more money. This time, Natalie wants Monk to find a missing diamond that has a million dollar reward attached to it. However, to solve the case, Monk has to beat three other archetype detectives who figure out the easiest way to collect is to just follow Monk around. Hilarity ensues, along with a fun mix of guest detectives.

12) Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico (Season 2, Episode 2): A truly bizarre death sends Monk and Sharona South of the border. A young man dies when his parachute fails, but the medical examiner says the cause of death is drowning. To make matters worse, someone is trying to kill Monk. When Monk arrives, he finds life in Mexico difficult without his favorite brand of bottled water available, Monk suffers mightily, and has to solve the case and get out of Mexico quickly.  A very funny episode with a great denoument.

11) Mr. Monk Goes Home Again (Season 4, Episode 2) Monk's secnd visit home to his brother Ambrose comes on Halloween as their estranged father is supposed to come for a visit. However, a murderer is loose, having shot an armored car guard with his own gun. And someone is attacking Trick-or-Treaters who have gone to Ambrose's house and stealing their candy.  One of the show's better mix of comedy, mystery, and some poignant moments between the brothers Monk.

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8Oct/110

Mr. Monk’s Top 20 List, Part Two

Having dispensed with the honorable mentions, we turn to the actual 20 best Monk episodes.

20)  Mr. Monk is Someone Else (Season 8, Episode 4): This episode begins with a bang. It appears that Monk is killed in the first scene. But of course, it's not Monk, it's contract killer Frank DePalma, who is a dead ringer for Monk. The FBI asks Monk to go undercover, find out who DePalma's target was, and stop the killing.

Monk goes undercover, taking on the role of a wise guy assassin. Monk discovers that the target is an elderly man with no ties for the mafia.  It's not long before everyone feels that Monk has gotten too much into character, and they attempt to pull him off the case, but Monk persists.

The mystery is one of the more solid entries of the show's latter seasons. The highlight though is Monk finding his inner tough guy and holding his own with the mafiosos who hired him. Add in two classic confrontations with the Captain and Harold Krenshaw, and this one is definitely a keeper.

19) Mr. Monk is Up All Night (Season 6, Episode 9)

Mr. Monk is having trouble sleeping, so he heads out on a walk, and through a restaurant window, witnesses a murder. Or does he? When the Captain and Disher arrive, they find no evidence of the crime. Was it covered up or is Monk having a breakdown.

This episode, as the title implies, occurs almost entirely at night.  This gives it a noirishfeeling, that makes it particularly appealing. It also has to feature perhaps the best Randy Disher scene ever when the true culprits are apprehended.  

18) Mr. Monk and the Red Herring (Season 3, Episode 10)

The context of this episode does not make it an obvious fan favorite.  This began the 2nd half of Monk's 3rd Season. In the interim, Sharona had been written out of the series due to contract disagreements with Bitty Schram.  This meant that the episode which introduces the "new assistant" had better be good.

The cast and crew managed to pull it off. Natalie meets Monk after killing a burglarar in self-defense. The apparent reason for the burglary is Natalie's daughter's fish.

The episode does a good job introducing Natalie. As a widow, she is in-tune with much of what Monk has gone through. In addition, she's a jill of all trades which made her a valuable assistant to Monk.  She had a very distinct personality and style that differed from Sharona.

The mystery is clever and  quirky, making this a solid introduction for Natalie Teeger, despite the rough background that the episode aired against.

17) Mr. Monk's 100th Case (Season 7, Episode 7):  Many television shows have faced the challenge of celberating a milestone. Many just ignore it, blowing past 100 or 200 episodes like it doesn't mean a thing. Others have had clips shows, where 4 or 5 minute new footage is package with a bunch of used footage. (This is known as the cheapest type of television episode.)

In the Golden years of television when TV programs did 39 half hour episodes a year, 100 episodes wasn't a big deal. But given that Monk's first season was 13 episodes and subsequent seasons were 16 episodes each, this was truly a big deal for the show's longetivity.  It was also a big deal for a reason referenced in the Season 2 episode, "Mr. Monk and the T.V. Star," with 100 episodes, Monk would live on in syndication and create even more fans and generate millions in additional revenue.

The writer marked the event, by having a news magazine follow Monk as he solves his 100th case. The episode begins with Monk's friends gathering around the television at the house of the magazine's anchor to celebrate, with Monk alone at the party, and thinking something is very wrong.

The episode did a great job recreating the feel of a news magazine, and also brought back several past Monk foes back in new footage. One remarked, "Do I remember Adrian Monk? That's like asking the Titanic if it remembers the iceberg. "

In doing the show this way, Monk took a look back without being hokey, satisfied fans, and left plenty of room for a good mystery twist.

16) Mr. Monk Goes to Vegas (Season 3, Episode 14):  Monk gets a call from an inebriated Captain Stottlemeyer stating that he knows a man murdered his wife, whose death had been assumed to be accidental.  Monk and Natalie head out to investigate, but a hungover Stottlemeyer doesn't remember what it was he'd noticed.

This episode was a lot of fun. Monk has a formidable villain in James Brolin, and Vegas setting was nicely done.  Monk and Natalie also have some great scenes together. Perhaps the most notable realization what that the Captain could solve crimes as easily as Monk provided the Captain was drunk. This was reminiscent of Anthony Boucher's character, Nick Noble.

Overall, "Mr. Monk Goes to Vegas," offers a very even mix of comedy and mystery.

Next week: 11-15

   

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