Stream On: Good clean fun – with a little murder thrown in

By on January 23, 2020

WHAT TO WATCH ON TV

Legendary Det. Adrian Monk lost his badge – and his sanity for a time – when his wife was murdered. Now he’s back as a private eye, with a personal assistant who must cope with his obsessive-compulsive disorder. (IMDb.com)

The master detective with “normie” assistant is one of the most-used tropes in detective fiction. On TV, it means Sherlock, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, House M.D., and our two series today. The hero is especially gifted but cursed with addiction or syndrome or actual mental illness – or just attitude; his sidekick is a “normal,” but competent, proxy for the audience. The series below add value to the formula with (mostly) family friendly comedy, the second one leaning more heavily on the fun factor, but both are a joy to watch.

MONK (Amazon Prime Video; other services on demand)

In 2002 Monk became one of the most popular shows on TV. Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) was a brilliant S.F.P.D. detective who harnessed and was able to constructively use his obsessive-compulsive disorder on the job. But when his journalist wife was murdered, he lost it, and holed up in his house for three and a half years. A new nurse, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram, A League of Their Own) was able to get him out of the house, and the police department gave him work as a consultant while he strived to solve his wife’s murder and regain his badge. (Sharona was replaced in season 3 by personal assistant Natalie Teeger, played by Traylor Howard, Two Guys and a Girl.)

Throughout the series, his only unsolved case remained his wife’s murder – until the final two episodes. Shalhoub was brilliant as the supremely quirky genius, who also had 132 phobias, including germs, dentists, pointed objects, vomiting, dead things, snakes, crowds, heights, fear, mushrooms, milk, small spaces and open spaces. In one episode when he is forced into the woods and stumbles, he cries out, “Agh! I touched nature!,” demanding a sanitary wipe from Natalie.

Series creator Andy Breckman made no bones about his inspiration. At one point Monk is described as “like Sherlock Holmes, but nuts.” Like Holmes, Monk solves the trickiest of puzzling cases, including a few “locked-room” mysteries. But along with the comedy and puzzles, there’s a healthy dose of pathos as Monk deals with the death of his beloved wife and being an outsider where’er he goes. Here’s a trailer for the Season One DVD set. [TVPG]

Breckman’s The Good Cop (2018) starring Tony Danza and Josh Groban lasted for one season on Netflix. It showed a lot of promise but apparently couldn’t “cut through the clutter” and attract enough viewers to remain viable. The first season of its model, the original Israeli series, Hashoter Hatov, is also on Netflix.

 


Slacker Shawn Spencer was tutored as a child by his father, a Santa Barbara P.D. Sergeant, in observation and deduction. Now he finds undemanding work when he opens a fake psychic detective agency, Psych, with his best friend, Burton Guster. (IMDb.com)

PSYCH (Amazon Prime Video; other services on demand)

Following the  fifth-season premiere of Monk on USA Network, audiences met Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster, childhood friends who run a fake psychic detective agency. Shawn (James Roday, Dukes of Hazzard movie) has an eidetic memory and was relentlessly tutored by his father, a frustrated detective, in the arts of observation and deduction. The thing is, he’d rather do anything but work. As a diversion he began phoning anonymous tips to his local police station, which resulted in the closing of not a few cases. When he was identified by the police, they suspected him of complicity and arrested him, and Shawn pled psychic ability.

He realized he might make some money without extending himself too much and enlisted his down-to-earth best friend, Burton Guster (Dulé Hill, The West Wing) in a business venture, a detective agency called Psych. Shawn and Gus’s habit of showing up at crime scenes with solutions earns them a spot on the police chief’s rolodex as consutants, earning them the ire of Det. Carlton Lassiter (Timothy Omundson, Deadwood), who is not fooled by Shawn’s “psychic powers.”

Even lighter in tone than Monk, Psych revels in the odd-couple relationship of impudent slacker Shawn and straight-arrow Gus, who is a pharmaceutical sales rep by day. At crime scenes, Shawn introduces Gus with a variety of comic names that W.C. Fields would be proud of: “This is my assistant, Lemongrass Gogulope” or Squirts MacIntosh, Weepy Boy Santos, Methuselah Honeysuckle, ad infinitum. When Shawn is asked about his “psychic detective agency,” he says, “You know ‘The Mentalist’ on TV? Well. it’s like that, but we’re not fake.”

Psych was the highest-rated scripted series premiere on basic cable in 2006, and is more fun than a barrel of visionary monkeys. It has achieved cult status, and here is a video from Comic-Con 2012, “100 Episodes in 200 Seconds.” [TVPG]


Next time: Dead – and loving it! From Six Feet Under to 2000’s Dracula by way of Trueblood. Email me and follow Stream On OBX on Twitter.

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