Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Mr. Monk and the Writer: Lee Goldberg's Monk Episodes

My favorite TV series is, without a shadow of a doubt, the early 2000's TV series Monk.

If you've never seen an episode imagine Sherlock Holmes with more quirks and emotional deficiencies than you could shake a stick at.  Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a former police officer who has gone downhill since the murder of his wife.  He was already a little quirky even before, but after her death he became almost catatonic.

With the series premiere, Monk is gradually working his way back to some semblance of normal.  At least as normal as an OCD compulsive, phobia-laden man can be.  With the help of his personal assistant (and nurse), Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), Monk becomes an essential go-to guy when the San Francisco police department is stumped (which happens just about as often as it did when Sherlock Holmes was brought in as a consultant for Scotland Yard).

He also is the favorite of many bigwigs in the city and state government.  In fact, even though initially Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and his assistant L. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) are resentful and reluctant to allow Monk to help in cases, both gradually develop a respect for him over the span of the series.

A few years after I became a devoted fan of the series I happened across a book "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse" by Lee Goldberg.

This was the first in a series of books that Goldberg wrote with the "defective detective" as its star.   Goldberg went on to write a total of 15, both within the span of the history of the TV series and after the TV series ended.

My initial reaction when I first read "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse" was that Goldberg had just taken the script (which he was co-author of, BTW, with William Rabkin) of an episode of the TV series and just novelized it, albeit with a few changes.  When I stated as much on my (now retired) book review blog ...and then, I read... as such, however, the author himself kindly informed me that the book came first and the script for the TV show was adapted from it.  [And I really appreciated him taking the time to correct me.  Made me feel good that anyone famous would even acknowledge I existed.  :-) ]

Anyway, I read all those books, even though I never got around to reviewing all of them on that blog.  (I didn't lose interest in reading, just lost interest in keeping up with multiple blogs.  This blog, The Midnite Drive-in was the winner in the blog derby.)  Unfortunately, a few years back Goldberg stepped away from the Monk novels and the reins were taken up by another author Hy Conrad.  I understand the need to not be bogged down with a series like that, but I definitely liked Goldberg's novels better.

Anyway, aside from those novels, Goldberg also wrote three of the TV screenplays for the series, along with co-author Rabkin.    The first to be aired was "Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico", the second episode of season 2.  The second to be aired was the fifth episode of season 3, "Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather".  And the last episode that Goldberg was involved with writing was the episode which was referred to above: "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing", airing as the 4th episode of season 5.

Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico (original air date: June 27, 2003):

 Adrian Monk absolutely hates leaving San Francisco.  This can be seen throughout the series.  Occasionally he is called on to visit locations that remove him from his staid environs, and to a number he is always so far out of his element that he can be very hard to deal with, by either Sharona, his nurse (in the first seasons), or Natalie, his assistant (in later seasons).

But at least for the most part he hasn't had to leave the state of California.  But the mysterious death of the son of a bigwig in San Francisco (and, by chance, a good friend of the mayor) draws him to Mexico.  The son died when his parachute failed to open during a parachute jump, but the doctor in the morgue, Dr. Alameda (Jorge Cervera, Jr.) who is doing the autopsy, insists that he drowned... in mid-air, no less, since he was talking with others just before he jumped.  Thus the local constabulary in Mexico, Capt. Alameda (Tony Plana) and Lt. Plato (David Norona) are confused.  Enter Monk who, although reluctant, is able to make the trip because he has 18 suitcases full of stuff that he can't live without (including three or four with just bottled water, the only brand of water he drinks.)

But someone wants him off the case.  Or rather someone wants him dead.  First his entire suitcase collection is stolen (including his cherished water).  Then on several occasions someone tries to run him down while walking on the street.  With severe dehydration setting in (since he won't drink the water, and not just the local water, but any water than is not the brand he drinks, which seems to be unavailable.)

Monk does his usual investigations including talking with an obnoxious spring breaker, T.J. (Shiloh Strong) who challenges him to a drinking contest before he will hand over any information he has.  Of course, Monk doesn't drink, but Sharona does and whips the whippersnapper up one side and down the other of the pitcher of beer.  She later suffers from a hangover and the mysterious appearance of a bunch of fiesta beads.  (Even if you've never been to a Mardi Gras celebration you probably know how she got those beads, but she doesn't initially know.)

As he tries to solve this case, despite being hampered by his aversion to drinking the local water, Monk observes several things that lead him to discover the true culprit.  Which may leave you kicking yourself when you realize how well you have been fooled by the red herrings that Goldberg throws at you.  Should have been obvious from the start, I think, but I admit I didn't see it coming.

Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather (original air date: July 23, 2004):

In a barbershop that is actually a front for a Mafia numbers gambling racket several gangsters are shot and killed.

"Fat Tony" Lucarelli (Lochlyn Munro) and his "associate" (read: bodyguard) Vince (Oleg Zatsepin) approach Monk and Sharona in an effort to get them to discuss solving who committed the crime with Tony's uncle.  Tony's uncle is Salvatore Lucarelli (Philip Baker Hall), the local "godfather" of the SF Mafia.  He suspects the culprit is one of two rival gangs and wants Monk to find out.  Seeing the potential for causing gang warfare, however, Monk refuses.

But the FBI stick their fingers in the pie in the person of Agent Colmes (Rick Hoffman) who convinces Monk that if he works on the case the FBI will help to get him reinstated as a police officer (his dream).  Despite Stottlemeyers's objections, Monk agrees, because after all, the carrot that the FBI guy waves in front of his face is just what he wants.

There was  witness of sorts to the crime.  A government mint employee across the way from the barbershop.  Supposedly he saw the guy who went into the barbershop, and the culprit was wearing a jacket worn by the local Chinese tong (the Asian Mafia).

But when Monk goes to visit the tong leader he determines that they are innocent.  When a Molotov cocktail is thrown in to the building while he is there, however, it is apparent that someone else is not so convinced.

The true culprit behind everything, in true Monk fashion, has nothing whatsoever to do with who we think is involved.  Although this episode is the least of my favorites of the three episodes Goldberg wrote I have to admit I really liked the character of Fat Tony who is admittedly (by himself, at least) to be "very persuasive".  (Or maybe it's really Vince who is the persuasive one... You only have to see Vince to know he could convince you to do whatever Fat Tony wants...)

Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing (original air date:July 28, 2006):

The third and final episode in which Goldberg was credited is the one which was based on the aforementioned novel "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse".

Monk and his assistant Natalie goe to the firehouse because Monk wants to be sure that the plethora of smoke alarms he has in his house are in working order.  Unfortunately while Monk is there a fire alarm goes off and all but he elderly Rusty (Art Evans) go off on a call.

While Rusty checks out the alarms (by puffing on a cigar and exhaling on them) a guy walks in like he owns the place.  When Rusty confronts him the guy hits him with a shovel, killing him.  When Monk tries to stop him, the guy throws solvent in his face, blinding him.

Monk of course is distraught at the loss of his eyesight, and receives no encouragement from the eye doctor who says he doesn't know if Monk's eyesight will return.  In order to get Monk focused on  things other than his potential perpetual blindness, Stottlemeyer forces Monk to focus on helping solve the crime of who killed Rusty and what the culprit was after.

Monk's acute powers of observation help him when he realizes that one of the fireman's jackets and helmets that were there when he came in the first time are now missing.  But finding the jacket and helmet later are of no real help because the homeless man who has them just found them abandoned.  Which causes Monk to wonder why someone would kill a man to steal the equipment and then later abandon it.

By far the most complex and thus most entertaining of the triplet of episodes, the story has many twists and turns.  And just when you think its about time for Monk to utter his iconic phrase "Here's what happened".... Bam! Another twist.

Goldberg has written dozens of scripts and story lines for TV shows and has written probably at least 100 novels (I'm too lazy to actually count, but he has written a lot.)  Aside from the series he wrote involving Monk he also has written several involving the TV series "Diagnosis: Murder",  "The Dead Man" series written with his co-author of the Monk episodes, William Rabkin, and one that just caught my eye and I intend to seek out,  a non-fiction book titled Unsold TV Pilots.  (I'm intrigued by just what doesn't sell on TV considering what actually makes it.  I once wrote a couple of blog entries years ago that I called "Spinoff Hell" in which I discussed some of the more obscure spinoffs that successful TV shows inspired.)

Here's hoping Goldberg sticks around (which may be for some time, because although I can't actually find his birth date online, he looks to be a fairly young chap)  I really like the stuff he writes.



  1. When Monk hit the airwaves it was not broadcast in Ontario. I still have to catch up with the show/books.

    When Diagnosis Murder went off the air, I found great comfort in Goldberg's novels based on the characters. When he joined the show is when it really took off.

    1. Only seen maybe three or four Diagnosis Murder eps. I can't get into it because all I can do when watching them is wonder where Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie are... :-D Thanks for reading.


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