USA network's Monk is controversial. A new theme song and a new co star provide fodder for a great Monk article.
Having an all new episode of Monk is like finally getting those Girl Scout Thin Mints you ordered from your friend’s daughter months ago. Monk is that specific, delightful moment on Friday nights where being obsessive, germophobic, and even wanting to have your wardrobe consist of only your favorite outfit becomes the norm rather than the obsession.
In Adrian Monk, there is a comfort in his neurotic radiance, a joy when he straightens the off-kilter picture on the wall that you know would drive you crazy too, a sense of relaxation that you couldn’t mess up a date as badly as he can, and a thrill knowing his compulsive brilliance will ultimately lead to police cornering “the guy,” the show’s lingo for the murderer. Then, Monk will go home to his perfectly organized home, sterile sheets, and clean faucets and basins, only to dream about his consuming love for his dead wife Trudy.
USA Network releases new weekly shows for two months at a time, but only a few times per year. Then there are reruns again. I confess to watching Monk marathons, buying episodes of DVDs, insisting my family members watch too—all but gluing people to their chairs. Either people love this character or he annoys the crap out of them.
And avid fans have two controversies: the theme song and the assistant. Since obsessive people don’t like change and can’t let go, every Monk discussion board that exists keeps harping upon the two abrupt changes: the theme song and the assistant.
THE THEME SONG CONTROVERSY
Fans have an addictive obsession with the show. Like Adrian Monk, every detail is scrutinized. For example, music director Jeff Beal wrote a wonderful theme song. For season two, USA Network executives replaced it with the song “It’s a Jungle Out There” by Randy Newman. The theme song change launched viewer protests, http://www.petitiononline.com/monk123/petition.html
Only about 2000 people signed the petition, but the writers made the theme song change protests one of the running jokes in the TV series. One episode centered around a fictional TV detective program that changed its theme song (Mr. Monk and the TV Star.)
Though treated like a joke on the show, and still used in the end credits, Jeff Beal’s original theme song was not forgotten; it was nominated for an Emmy Award. Emmys are voted by peer groups and the musician’s peer group selected Beal for the Emmy—one of only two Emmys won by Monk. The other Emmy was Tony Shalhoub’s acting performances.
Before Beal won his award, the composers’ peer group at the TV Academy had a cocktail reception to acknowledge the music nominees. Injustice was a theme of the discussion of partiers munching on crackers, cheese, cashews, and champagne. Apparently, academy members also agreed there was no reason to replace a perfectly good theme song with another, albeit perfectly good theme song. It has also been expressed like this: http://www.filmmusicsociety.org/news_events/features/2003/091903.html
The next year, music academy members did either a repeat or an about face, depending if your loyalty is with the musicians or the producers. For the 2004 Emmy Awards, the best theme song prize went to Randy Newman for “It’s a Jungle Out There.” Two theme songs; two Emmys. However, Newman’s composition is mysteriously missing from the official Monk soundtrack http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0002GTRWO/qid=1089910994/sr=8-2/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i2_xgl15/102-9499145-4384928?v=glance&s=music&n=507846
THE ASSISTANT CONTROVERSY
It’s difficult to actually extract why Monk producers changed the actresses who played Monk’s assistant, going from Bitty Schram’s portrayal of New Jerseyite nurse Sharona Fleming to Traylor Howard’s ex-barmaid character Natalie Teeger.
Rumors on internet message boards say Schram wanted more money as the co-star of a successful show, and producers thought she was overvaluing herself. Though change is good in many cases, the change must show an improvement to what has come before. Fans watching Howard’s character note an obvious lack of chemistry between Teeger and Monk. Besides that, Teeger has a complex and confusing back story that makes some people’s heads spin trying to understand her motivations.
Sharona Fleming was a fully developed character with a simple story. She was divorced nurse and single mother, her ex-husband was a jerk, yet her shrewd sensibility helped solved crimes. Sharona understood the medical side of investigations while her extremely strong maternal instincts helped her to protect several of the show’s characters while always knowing what a mother would do in any situation. As a person, Sharona was portrayed as someone who was unique in her personal style, took risks in love, placed a high value on education, and knew who she was as a person outside her role as nurse, mother, and assistant detective.
Her motivation was protecting other’s well-being; it was clear Sharona and Adrian had no romantic interest in each other; if anything, the relationship mirrored siblings. The vulnerability of a single mom wanting to find love, mixed with her gutsy intelligence made her one of the most enjoyable parts of Monk. Schram was nominated for a 2004 Golden Globe Award.
Natalie Teeger is a poorly educated, ex-barmaid single mom. Instead of a smart, middle-school aged son, Natalie has a similar daughter. This time, there is no ex-husband except for a series of framed photographs of a now-deceased military pilot.
This is where the story gets confusing. At first, Mr. Teeger was described as exceptional, a hero, someone whose acceptance in NASA’s astronaut program arrived in the mail along with his death notice. Next, producers leaked to the press that Natalie is a potential love interest for Monk. The show’s cinematography adds to that, mixing camera shots of family photos of dead spouses with living images of Natalie and/or Adrian. The implication is a new family is starting. Given the lack of chemistry between Natalie and Adrian, I sit and wonder why the producers want to send the program down that path.
Then the producers appeared to change their minds about Natalie’s past. How can obsessive Adrian Monk compete with an astronaut candidate? The Right Stuff versus The Wrong Psyche? No one was going to buy that story. So the writers changed it up. Dropped into the narrative was a new description of the dead ex-husband. Suddenly.
Refreshing—that is how I describe Monk’s recurring romantic interludes with different types of women. Each brings out another side of him. The flashback sequences with his ex-wife Trudy also adds a softness to the show. The question needs to be asked: why would producers want to develop a singular romantic interest for Monk?
In one recent episode, Monk took custody of a toddler for a few days. He showed incredible sensitivity as a father, but had no reason for social services to leave a young child with him. Producers allowed viewers to see a potential for paternity.
If the Monk series is to exist in short bits over many years, perhaps having a wife and children would give the stories more range and options. Bad options. Natalie Teeger is drab, moody, and uninspired. If producers are to match up Monk, they should invent a character to challenge his intelligence, push him to grow, and add color. Bitty Schram was a scene stealer; Traylor Howard is scenery. What if Sharona Fleming was hanging for her life from a moving dump truck? That would have been worth watching.
WHAT I WOULD DO TO IMPROVE THE SHOW
1) Dump Traylor Howard. Natalie Teeger’s husband REALLY isn’t dead. He’s been a prisoner of war for years. He needs her. He is a hero because he saved 200 third world enslaved children just before he was captured. She moves to Germany while he is deprogrammed. They move to New Jersey and buy Sharona’s house because Sharona is getting divorced again and moving back to San Francisco. Natalie and family live happily ever after, never to be heard from again.
2) In the dialogue, it becomes clear that Monk took Dr. Kroger’s advice and actually had sex with a woman. This happened after Sharona left town before he met Natalie. He isn’t married but now has a child on the way or a newborn baby. The current storylines show Monk can deal better with a child than romance. The mother and child become recurring characters. Brooke Adams (Mrs. Tony Shalhoub) would be my casting choice.
3) Give Monk a colorful assistant. If they can’t afford Bitty Schram, there must be many actresses who aren’t milquetoast who they could hire. Marcia Del Mar? Marisol Nichols? Seidy Lopez? How about an assertive, flashy but not sensuous Latina in that role.
THE FINAL WORD
Keep both theme songs. Dump Traylor Howard.