Thursday, March 14, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Monk Seasons 1-4 Gift Set

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great acting and puzzles; endearing characters
Cons: A few poor episodes, only half the episodes
The Bottom Line:
First half of great show
Laughs and mystery to spare
Obsessively watch

Monk is a Gift, Not a Curse

Every so often, a show comes along that perfectly matches cast and story to become an instant classic. Monk is just such a show and this set of the first half of the series proves it.

Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a former San Francisco police detective. He's suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and multiple phobias his entire life. However, after the murder of his wife, he got so bad he couldn't face the world. That's when Sharona (Bitty Schram) entered his life. She's a nurse who helps him deal with the world around him. With her help, he begins to face the world again. Since being a detective is all he knows, he assists his former partner Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lt. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) solve their most puzzling crimes.

And they regularly seem to have some pretty puzzling cases. Why was a millionaire shot while mugging someone? How did an 800-pound man commit murder? How did a man send a letter bomb while in a coma? Why are the members of a jury being killed? Is a martial arts star alive or dead? Did a monkey commit murder? Who killed the pizza delivery guy? How did an astronaut commit murder from space?

And did I mention this show is a comedy? Along with a great puzzle, you also get plenty of laughs. Each week, Monk must deal with some quirk in order to solve the case. Maybe it's the little things, like straightening a stack of papers while fleeing a burning building, or something bigger like chasing a criminal through the sewer.

But there is a balance to the show. While we might be laughing at Monk in one scene, we're sympathizing with him the next. This is a real person, brought to life expertly by three-time Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub. And he's deserved all three wins for this role.

The rest of the case is equally good. They each bring their own gifts to the show. Bitty Schram takes a role that could get lost behind the lead and makes Sharona stand out. Ted Levine's Stottlemeyer is gruff on the outside, but truly cares for Monk, even if he's frustrated that Monk can solve cases he can't. Randy Disher is just goofy, but Jason Gray-Stanford makes him a lovable goof.

Part way through season three, Bitty Schram left, to be replaced by Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard). While some have never warmed to her, I find I love her just as much if not more then Sharona. Natalie is a widow herself and therefore has an understanding of Monk that none of the other characters truly do. There is a sweetness to their relationship that I enjoy.

Naturally, some of the episodes are better then others. Season one and a whole is weaker then the others as the writers and actors were still trying to find the characters. Occasionally, a plot stretches believability or the characters go over the top. Even the weak episodes are entertaining, however.

So what do you get with this set? The 59 hour long episodes and the two-hour pilot that make up the first four seasons. The sets have a few extras, but at only five minutes each, they hardly go in depth. But the shows themselves are well worth buying the set for. The shows are widescreen and look great. The sound is simple stereo, but that's all you really need to enjoy the programs.

The price can fluctuate. Sometimes, this is a better deal then buying the sets individually, sometimes not. Since you don't get anything special by buying the sets together, be sure you check that out.

Whether you buy the sets individually or bundled together, be sure to check out this show. It's the most fun you'll have watching murder on TV today.

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