Friday, July 31, 2009

56: Monk

I believe Monk is the only original USA program on my list, so I'll use this entry to talk both about Monk and my theory on USA shows. Unlike TNT, USA had a little success with original programming before the 21st century, but it really wasn't all that much, more or less limited to the extremely mild successes of La Femme Nikita and Duckman (also, while looking through original USA programming I discovered the ridiculous sounding Lost on Earth, which will have to be a subject for a future entry). Monk, which debuted in 2002, more or less has laid the blueprint for many of USA's future successes (and seemingly beginning successes) such as Psych, Burn Notice, Out of Sight and Royal Pains.

Monk, of course, is the story of Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective, who worked for the police, but suffered a breakdown after his wife was killed in a car bombing, and then only now has gotten his life together enough to help out the police on particularly troubling cases - assisted of course by his two assistants, first, the vastly inferior Sharona, and then the superior Natalie. He is brought in by the police chief played by Ted Levine who still creepily reminds me of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, who is assisted by the incredibly bumbling sidekick Randy Disher (about whom the wikipedia article lists a bizarre character detail which apparently appears in a few episodes I haven't seen in which Disher is part of a band "The Randy Disher Project" which has recorded such songs as "Don't Need a Badge").

All USA shows, I had always thought followed some type of formula (since been edited from not all - I've never see 4400, and there are others, but several of the shows at least). They're mostly non serial, with a small touch of recurring plot in every episode, and they are all some middle ground between straight drama and comedy - some are more dramatic than others, but they don't take themselves too seriously (Burn Notice is a lot more serious than Psych but there's plenty of levity there that might well not be if it was produced by another network). It makes these shows generally ideal for watching late at night, or for a Sunday afternoon marathon, but less likely to convince me to marathon through a season on DVD. My theory was comfirmed wholeheartedly when I came up an interesting New York Times article, which basically talks about how the new head of USA (new as of a few years ago) wanted to keep up in following the success of USA's biggest hit, Monk, with shows that aren't, you know, too dark. As hinted at in my prior Burn Notice parenthesis - Burn Notice was originally to be set in Newark, but USA wanted them to lighten it up a little - and Miami seemed a hell of a lot more appealing to them. This approach seems to me to have both positive and negative consequences - there's sometimes when it's nice to walk a show with a little bit of comedy, a little bit on the lighter side, when you're not in the mood for say, a Six Feet Under. On the other hand, it runs the risk of not making a show as it good as it can be, and probably making it difficult to make great shows (certainly not impossible - some shows may be pitch perfect at this type, as they are - it's just when you go into a script already looking to tinker it a certain one, I think it's often to its detriment).

Either way, Monk was the originator of this whole school of programming, and it certainly gets credit for that, as well it should.

1 comment:

Victor said...

Aren't you short changing USA's pre-21st century "Baywatch on Bikes" hit "Pacific Blue"? 5 seasons and a 101 episodes! Not to mention that WWF Raw at one time was the highest rated show on cable.

Technically "Silk Stalkings" moved from CBS but it still had a disturbingly prolific run on USA (8 seasons and 176 episodes!).