Monk: Season Two
finds the popular cable dramedy all the more satisfying and fun in its second year. Relationships between the series' core characters have (against all odds) actually deepened and sweetened, while the new whodunit storylines challenge obsessive-compulsive investigator hero Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) in fresh and novel ways. There are no big changes, but there is more compassion, even friendship, exchanged between Monk and his former boss, Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), and grudging admiration for the difficult private sleuth from Stottlemeyer's second-in-command, Lieutenant Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford). As for Monk's crucial bond with his long-suffering assistant, Sharona (Bitty Schram), well, nothing comes easier than before. On the other hand, Sharona continues to draw Monk out of his self-obsession by giving him someone to care about.
Highlights include the strong season opener, "Mr. Monk Goes Back to School," starring Andrew McCarthy as a science teacher whom Monk instantly suspects of killing a colleague. (The latter's death was disguised as a suicide.) Monk's investigation leads him to take, with many pitfalls and funny moments, a post at the school as a substitute teacher. But the episode also demonstrates the series' increasing preference for mysteries that concern how a crime was committed rather than who did it. Also good is "Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico," in which Monk finds himself in a panic without bottled water while working alongside two south-of-the-border equivalents (in looks and personality) of Stottlemeyer and Disher. "Mr. Monk Meets the Playboy" stars Gary Cole as a girlie-mag publisher who blackmails the chivalrous Monk by acquiring, and threatening to print, old topless photos of Sharona. One of the season's best shows, "Mr. Monk and the Paperboy," finds the fastidious, orderly detective in a major freakout when his own home becomes a crime scene. Still a comic joy and still stimulating for mystery buffs, Monk: Season Two is highly recommended. Among appealing guest stars are Rachel Dratch, Glenne Headley, Tim Curry, and John Turturro as Monk's Mycroft-like brother. --Tom Keogh