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'Monk' returns for one 'Last Case,' and it's a heaping serving of TV comfort food

A man with curly dark hair wearing a dress shirt buttoned to the top and a tweed jacket looks pensively at something out of frame.
Steve Wilkie
Tony Shalhoub returns as lead investigator Adrian Monk in Mr. Monk's Last Case.

The USA Network detective series Monk, like its title character, always stood out as being a little ... unusual.

An hour-long police procedural, the show aired from 2002 until 2009 and presented a different murder to solve each episode. Yet — like the classic TV series Columbo — it not only focused on the particulars of its central mystery, but also took time to have fun with the quirky brilliance of its lead investigator, Adrian Monk (played by Tony Shalhoub), who had obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Now, after almost 15 years, Shalhoub and most of his original castmates are back, in a new movie on the Peacock streaming service, titled Mr. Monk's Last Case.

Despite some dark and dramatic moments, the original Monk played like a comedy. In fact, creator Andy Breckman submitted the show for Emmy consideration in the comedy categories, and Shalhoub competed against sitcom stars to win the award for lead actor three times. And until The Walking Dead came along, the finale of Monk held the record as the most-viewed scripted drama on cable television.

In that last episode of Monk, back in 2009, Adrian finally cracked the case that had triggered his OCD compulsions: the unsolved murder of his wife, Trudy. Now, in this movie sequel, writer Breckman and director Randy Zisk revisit the character after all this time.

Mr. Monk's Last Case begins by establishing how the title character has, and hasn't, moved on since we last saw him. We learn that Adrian retired from the crime-solving business and got a hefty cash advance to write a book about all the murders he'd solved.

A young woman smiles as she clips an ID onto the jacket of an older man who smiles back at her.
Steve Wilkie / Peacock
Molly (Caitlin McGee) helps look after Monk (Tony Shalhoub) in Mr. Monk's Last Case.

Unfortunately, Adrian's fears and compulsions didn't leave him, and while working obsessively on his memoirs, he became a relative recluse. The outbreak of COVID didn't help, but his stepdaughter Molly — a newly introduced character played by Caitlin McGee — moved in with Adrian during the pandemic. She quickly became the most important person in his life, and he was so grateful that he promised to use his book advance to pay for her impending wedding.

As this new Monk movie begins, all seems fine — but not for long. Very quickly, there's a murder that Adrian feels compelled to solve. Even before that, there's bad news when Adrian visits the office of his publisher. She's read the first several hundred pages of his manuscript — and hates them.

Adrian's attention to detail, which helps him solve crimes, apparently doesn't help so much when it comes to writing memoirs, especially when he goes on for pages about how he and a murder suspect and coincidentally used the exact same model of vacuum cleaner. The publisher delivers the blow that she's rejecting Adrian's manuscript and demands he return the advance.

The publisher's concern that people may not care as much about Monk after all these years is a sly little nod to what this TV movie is facing. It's waited so long to reintroduce the character that it's a whole new world out here — reflected by the fact that Mr. Monk's Last Case is premiering not on cable, but streaming on Peacock.

But Adrian Monk and his cohorts do just fine in their 2023 return. Shalhoub slips back into the character with assurance and precision, nailing the comedy in each scene while making room for some somber tones of loss and depression.

This movie sequel, however, is anything but depressing. It's TV comfort food, and it's enjoyable to catch up not only with Adrian Monk, but also with his castmates from the original series. The title of this new Peacock movie is Mr. Monk's Last Case — but, given how well its ingredients fold together, I wouldn't necessarily take that title literally.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.