Of Psychics and Psychiatry 'Monk' Returns to Form and Gets a Quirky New USA Running Mate in 'Psych'
Cox, Ted, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Ted Cox Daily Herald TV/Radio Columnist
Here's a stumper: What do you do when the insanely neurotic detective you've built an entire show around starts to get better?
That's the ticklish position "Monk" finds itself in as it begins its fifth season at 8 p.m. today on USA. Tony Shalhoub's Adrian Monk, the San Francisco detective suffering from obsessive- compulsive disorder and a wealth of phobias, seems to be making progress in the path toward mental health. What's the show to do? What would "Columbo" be without his rumpled trench coat, or "Kojak" with hair (in the person of either Telly Savalas or Ving Rhames)? The crafty way it finds out of that corner it has painted itself into - and the help Shalhoub receives in that from old colleague Stanley Tucci - makes for one of the series' better episodes.
The season premiere "Mr. Monk and the Actor" is a welcome return to form after last year's uneven stretch trying to adapt Traylor Howard to the cast. To be honest, I have my own obsessive- compulsive issues with "Monk," in that I still can't help missing Bitty Schram, Monk's original nurse and sidekick. Yet tonight's premiere is good enough for me to forgive the show and allow that Howard, who played the girl in the ABC sitcom "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place," doesn't distract too much from matters at hand, while at least being easy on the eyes.
Tonight's nifty premise revolves around a Hollywood movie about Monk himself, the neurotic detective. This self-referential postmodernism is actually nothing new (go back to how Don Quixote visits one of the illegal publishers who is putting out unauthorized versions of his adventures). In this case, however, it also functions to lead Monk back to being his bundle-of-nerves self.
Tucci, Shalhoub's old co-star from the feature film "Big Night," comes in as the method actor playing Monk and immediately starts picking up all his tics and neuroses, an affected disorder that even finds him appropriating Monk's trademark line: "It's a gift, and a curse." (I'm not sure who's funnier, Tucci's Monk or Peter Weller's take on Monk's gruff boss played by Ted Levine.) Yet when Tucci starts investigating the still-unsolved murder of Monk's wife, it threatens to undercut whatever progress he's made toward total sanity.
From psychiatry USA moves on to psychics, sort of, with the new series "Psych," which follows immediately after at 9 p. …