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Published:January 22nd, 2007 15:41 EST
The Misadventures of Adrian Monk

The Misadventures of Adrian Monk

By Melissa Lee

A great way to start off the weekend has come back to the USA Network for another year. The fifth season of the popular cable television series "Monk" returned with a fresh and intriguing "Mr. Monk Makes a Friend" episode on Friday at 9 p.m. An episode about a man making a friend may not sound too exciting. If this man is a hilariously obsessive-compulsive (but wildly brilliant) detective, however, and this suspicious new friend is the first he has ever had, then a solid, entertaining episode emerges.

The murder mystery series, which first aired in 2002 on the USA Network, has won several Emmy Awards for its outstanding acting. Tony Shalhoub shines as protagonist Adrian Monk, a private detective who consults with San Francisco police investigators Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lieutenant Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford). Monk`s assistant, Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), helps him to cope with his disorder, and organizes his consultation work.

Together, these actors form a tight-knit organization where each member plays off the others` unique qualities. Monk`s idiosyncrasies can serve to hinder or enhance his crime-solving abilities, and his behavior makes for exaggerated humor. Shalhoub is excellent at portraying the lovable, humorously obsessive-compulsive character.

Stottlemeyer, one of Monk`s oldest friends, has come to have great respect and tolerance for him. Stottlemeyer`s bumbling second-in-command, Disher, provides great comic relief and serves as a foil to his more serious boss.

As the only woman in the foursome, Natalie rounds out and supports the group. At times, she provides fresh, sharp insights on clues that her male colleagues do not initially notice. Her endearing character is a perfect replacement for Monk`s first charming assistant, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), who left to remarry her ex-husband.

While the first four seasons of "Monk" were creative and fascinating, the disappointing fifth season has so far fallen flat. The actors have been as great as ever, but most of these episodes were a little too creative, with bewildering, unrealistic and sometimes annoying scenes and plotlines. Fortunately, "Mr. Monk Makes a Friend" promises a return to the edgy and exciting storylines that fans know and love. As always, the show begins with the murder-- a man strangles his girlfriend after she discovers that the bottle of wine he gave her as a gift contains something other than wine.

The next day, Monk bumps into a man named Hal Tucker (Andy Richter) at the supermarket, and their groceries spill. The two hit it off immediately. Hall takes great pains to help Monk recover his purchases while chatting about his innovative habits (such as bubble-wrapping apples).

His awkward giddiness at Hal`s first phone call and invitation to a hockey game evokes both laughter and pity in the viewer. Hal, his first real friend, is a typical guy and Monk is flattered that someone so friendly and normal wants to spend time with him.

This episode provides a poignant look into the social limitations of Monk`s condition, rather than focusing on his detective skills. He is so thrilled that someone actually likes him for who he is that he completely lets down his guard. This time, Natalie, Disher and Stottlemeyer are the ones suspicious of Hal.

When they interrogate him about his true intentions, he claims to be Monk`s only true friend, and exposes their superficial friendships with him. He points out that they never "hang out" with him; they only "wind him up and point him at a crime."

The true pain of Monk`s loneliness becomes revealed when he discovers that Hal is actually the murderer. Even though Monk knows that he was just being used, Hal`s mind games cause Monk to be torn between having any kind of friend, no matter how false, and catching a cold-blooded murderer. Richter`s acting is chilling in the final scenes, when Hal carelessly and easily switches back and forth from cruel killer to amiable pal.

Although Hal lies about being Monk`s friend, his remarks about Natalie, Disher and Stottlemeyer`s flawed friendships with Monk are awkwardly accurate, and this episode serves to address that point. At the end of the show, Natalie offers to accompany Monk to the concert in the place of Hal, "just because we`re friends."

"Mr. Monk Makes a Friend" explores Monk`s social and personal vulnerability as the crime aspect takes a back seat, though the episode is still entirely relevant and related to the greater series. The two elements are deftly woven together to produce a taut, eye-opening experience. This show is at its best when it uses the right inventive techniques to display Monk`s dynamic character, and this season looks to be keeping up the originality that has viewers hooked.

From "The Tufts Daily"