'Monk' back for second compulsive season

Sunday, June 15, 2003

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. -- Only the top of Adrian Monk's face is visible. His eyes move apprehensively back and forth. He's creeping up a narrow, iron stairway that opens onto the roof of a clock tower.

His elbows wedged to his sides, his hands curled close to his face, the obsessive-compulsive detective played by Tony Shalhoub steps cautiously into full view.

"I imagine this is your worst nightmare -- a crime scene on a roof," says Monk's police colleague, Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine).

"No," Monk responds, as he characteristically wipes the residue of Stottlemeyer's handshake from his fingers. "It's my fourth worst. No, wait, fifth ..." He muses back and forth, finally explaining, "I didn't bring the list with me!"

The clock tower is a key plot element in "Mr. Monk Goes Back to School," the season opener of "Monk," airing at 9 p.m. Friday on the USA network.

The Southern California hills stand in as a suitable backdrop for the San Francisco Bay area, where "Monk" is set. The first season of the off-kilter, critically acclaimed detective series was filmed in Toronto. The show was moved to Los Angeles this year for artistic reasons and to be closer to home for the cast and crew.

Sixteen episodes of the hour-long show are being produced, compared with 13 last year. But there are no plans to again air reruns on ABC-TV, which greatly increased the series' exposure.

Between takes, Shalhoub -- who won a Golden Globe for "Monk" -- keeps the top button of his shirt fastened, even as the day grows warmer. Monk, he explains, even "sleeps in pajamas with the top button fastened."

Shalhoub, 49, played a cab driver in the '90s TV comedy "Wings." His films include "Galaxy Quest" and the "Men in Black" movies.

He's clearly delighted to play Monk, a brilliant sleuth whose obsessive-compulsive disorder stems from his continuing struggle to come to grips with his wife's unsolved murder.

"It's gratifying on a number of levels because people relate to this character's obstacles, his problems, but also because it's a very nice blend of drama and comedy, sort of the best of both worlds," said Shalhoub, noting that Monk's afflictions provide "a real, emotional, vulnerable base."

Writer David Breckman says the show tries to be neither unrelentingly downbeat nor too whimsical. "The goal is to balance the scales as perfectly as possible."

The crimes on "Monk" are solved by basic intuition and logic, not sophisticated machinery, which Shalhoub applauds. "It's one of my pet peeves to see someone sit down at a computer and have the computer solve the crime," he said. "There's nothing dramatic about it."

For this episode, Shalhoub explains how he made Monk use paving stones as stepping stones -- part of his "constant state of discovery" about the character's quirks.

"One was angled this way, so his foot would go this way. One was small, so then he would step on it with his tiptoe," he said. "It was just something we discovered in the moment."

He added: "You have to use that stuff very sparingly, not to have it detract from the scene, but it's another color, another detail to add in."

It's the sort of Monk stuff that tests Capt. Stottlemeyer's patience.

"How do I say this diplomatically? Basically my job is to make Monk look good by virtue of my ineptitude," Levine said with a grin. The actor appreciates the series because "a kid can watch with his grandma -- we don't dwell on the nastiness or the forensic."

But that doesn't mean the details of police work get short shrift. There's a police detective on hand as a technical facilitator and Levine, who's played many police officers in his career, makes sure his character isn't depicted as a complete fool.

"If Monk has uncommon sense, Stottlemeyer has common sense," Levine reasoned. "We try to nail down the common sense aspect because then Monk's insight will be much more profound."

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