TV Review: ‘Monk’ Continues to Age Gracefully

[IMG:L]With six seasons under its belt, you might think USA’s Monk would’ve jumped the shark by now. On the contrary: The seventh-season premiere (airing Friday at 10/9c) finds the award-winning dramedy as original and robust as ever–despite losing one of its key cast members.

Veteran actor Stanley Kamel, who played Adrian Monk’s (Tony Shalhoub) therapist since the first season in 2002, suffered a fatal heart attack in April.

Kamel’s death is affectionately and classily written into the season premiere, with Monk still mourning the loss of Kamel’s Dr. Kroger character (who also died from a heart attack) as he embarks on a fruitless search for a new doc.

After deeming several psychologists unsuitable because of shortcomings like uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room, Monk finally settles on Dr. Neven Bell, played by Hector Elizondo, partly because of their mutual admiration of the late Dr. Kroger. Elizondo, it must be said, is perfectly cast.

Meanwhile, the detective is forced to move out of his apartment because he can no longer endure the barely audible piano playing of a young girl–who lives across the street!

In an uncharacteristically spontaneous decision, Monk winds up buying the spacious home of a recently deceased elderly man.

But after a handyman (guest star Brad Garrett) rips the place to shreds to try and solve a minor wiring problem, Monk’s dream home becomes an OCD sufferer’s nightmare, with dust particles galore and his “third-favorite wall” no longer intact. It also reveals an interesting clue.

There’s not much that can be said about Shalhoub’s incredible performance as the title character that his three Emmy wins and annual nominations don’t already say; even if Monk were poorly written, he alone would be worth the hour each week.

But of course, this show is anything but poorly written, and there is no creative burnout in sight. Episode after episode, Andy Breckman and his co-writers find quite possibly the best balance of comedy and drama on TV. This season’s premiere, for example, opens on a disturbing, almost Hitchockian, note, before settling into laugh-out-loud comedy. In fact, it’s one of the funnier episodes in a while.

Guest star Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) displays enjoyable yin-yang chemistry with Shalhoub, but bet on David Strathairn’s appearance a few episodes down the road to earn Monk’s almost-standard Emmy for Outstanding Guest Star.

Grade: B+