Mr. Monk’s Wild Ride May Not Be Quite Over

Adrian Monk knows exactly where we’ve been and what we’ve done.  And he may just be where we’re all gonna go again.

Say this much for NBC Universal.  They may be not be winning any streaming wars in terms of subscribers (they literally took a victory lap when they recently announced that Peacock hit 30 million subscribers, still a poor seventh among mainstream suppliers and less than a seventh of Netflix’s global reach) or profitability, but they at least seem to have some sort of path to making themselves more desirable and and unique.

Long before they were one company, Universal Television helped NBC set itself apart from its broadcast network competitors with a “Mystery Movie” concept that featured a rotation of whodunnits in a “wheel” concept.  Far and away, the most successful and enduring of those was COLUMBO, which featured Peter Falk as a engaging, quirky detective who always seemed to be one step ahead of his fellow investigators and, of course, the bad guys.  A generation grew up with this, and umpteen reruns in outlets like the CBS LATE MOVIE (as David Letterman used to snark, “it’s not that late, and it’s not a movie) reinforced its endurance and comfort food TV status.  By the time Columbo was finally running out of gas, several revivals and more than three decades later, NBCU had ownership of the USA Network, and when it came time for them to dip their toe into the original scripted hour business, they found a worthy successor to Lieutenant Columbo in Adrian Monk

Monk is even quirkier than Columbo–full-fledged OCD, but eerily capable of recalling the most niggly of details about a crime scene or some fact about a possible suspect.  The San Francisco police department (yes, another dogwhistle to the Mystery Movie legacy, as that was the force that Rock Hudson oversaw in the fondly recalled stablemate MCMILLAN AND WIFE) is willing to put up with Monk’s idiosyncracies because he’s invaluable at providing them with ways to crack otherwise baffling cases.  And that proven formula helped USA quickly establish a beachhead when it began to do battle with its fellow basic cable networks in the quest for SOPRANOS-like ratings and attention where advertisers could actually buy spots.  It was a battle FX began in March of 2002, establishing a beachhead with 4.83 million viewers for its premiere.  Three months later, MONK premiered with virtually the same number (4.77 million).

But unlike THE SHIELD, which struggled to maintain those audience levels after some missteps in plot line and skew in its second season, MONK quickly found an ensemble cast that allowed its appealing lead Tony Shalhoub to thrive.  And as USA built out its “blue sky” approach with companion shows like PSYCH, it found a similar place in the TV ecosystem that the MYSTERY MOVIE did decades earlier).  When MONK’s final USA episode aired in 2009, where he finally resolved his wife’s murder, that finale reached more than 9 million viewers, one of the rare situations in TV history where the audience for a finale far exceeded its premiere.

Well, MONK is back, albeit for now in a one-off, that has been welcomed by critics all over.  MR. MONK’S LAST CASE dropped on Peacock this month and was welcomed back with open arms and gushing reviews, such as the one that the Left Angeles TIMES’ Robert Lloyd offered up:

“Mr. Monk’s Last Case” is basically just a double-length episode of the series, but with the challenge of standing alone after 14 years and providing a workable new(ish) environment for the players. (The cast has aged well.) With a screenplay from series creator Andy Breckman and direction by Randy Zisk, who helmed 35 episodes of the original series, its bona fides can hardly be questioned. Just as pure fan service, it’s a welcome return.

The gang got back together ostensibly for the marriage of Monk’s stepdaughter, but fate and a psychotic billionaire intervened and the poor fiance never did make it to his wedding day.  Devastated already because of financial failings and the pandemic, Monk has been all but ready to pack it in.  But once again, faced with the challenge of needing to solve the murder of a loved one, Monk rises to the occasion.

And much like the 125 earlier episodes, which can be streamed on Peacock in a heartbeat (and you will be prompted to do so once you finish this movie), there’s often as much comedy as there is drama.  Monk didn’t exactly handle the early days of the pandemic well (flashback scenes see him in a hazmat suit sucking his food through a straw and a hole in his face shield, almost never leaving his house).  He’s not quite as bad now, and takes some solace that more of the world has picked up on his habits (as his stepdaughter observes as she watches airport travelers frantically using hand sanitizer, she observes “They’re all like you”, to which Monk dismissively snorts “They’re gonna hate it”.

And amidst the playing out of how Monk ultimately brings the person responsible for his stepdaughter’s tragedy to justice, this is a reflective version of Adrian Monk, who reminds all of us of the journey he–and we–have been on.  As Shalhoub told the ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Mark Kennedy:

“When we’re young, everything’s in front of us. And then when we’re in our middle ages, we feel more settled in the present. But then as we move beyond that, we mostly are looking backwards. We’re looking behind us and we’re reassessing and reevaluating,” Shalhoub says.

“You know, ‘What have I done? What has been my footprint and my impact?’ And I think that’s exactly where Monk is: ‘What has all this meant? What have we really accomplished?’ That further perpetuates these very dark thoughts that he’s having.”

And for Peacock, this seems to be an ideal fit.  They had relative success earlier this year with POKER FACE, a new crime-solver that earned Natasha Lyonne an Emmy nomination.  And the older audience that supported MONK and continues to watch COLUMBO reruns on diginets like MeTV and NBCU’s COZI TV in droves also watches a lot of Hallmark channel movies and mysteries, and Peacock is the streaming home for that content.

New Comcast topper Mike Cavanagh confessed exactly how relative that success is last month during their earnings call, where he spun a $2.8B loss into a positive, since it was slightly under the $3B projection.  They do have a couple of exclusive NFL football games coming in the next few weeks, including a playoff game, and they will also have the 2024 Summer Olympics from Paris.  The pandemic-delayed 2021 Tokyo games helped get Peacock established in the first place.

They could do a lot worse than consider a full-fledged resurrection of the series.  And, fortunately, since (spoiler alert), MONK never did get around to what he had been planning in this movie, that’s apparently on the table, as Shalhoub told Kennedy:

  “I thought the door was closed. I really did for a lot of years. But now that we’ve cracked it open, I’m just going to leave that door open,” he says. “I think the next one would have to be called ‘Monk’s Really, Really Final No Kidding Case – This Time We Mean It’ or something like that.” 

MONK’s impact on the streaming world prior to this is indisputable.  Without MONK’s initial success, USA doesn’t do SUITS.  And you know how that’s gone, especially for Peacock’s chief rival.

But that’s looking backwards.  By the end of this movie, MONK’s looking forward.  He even finds someone new to take care of, an adorable rescue dog with more than a few things wrong with him that was all but headed for euthenizing.  Kinda how some on Wall Street might otherwise be seeing Peacock.

Here’s hoping that’s one more case Adrian Monk can crack.

Until next time…

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