USA Network set the standard for original cable series with the premiere of Monk, a crime drama about an obsessive compulsive detective portrayed by Tony Shaloub. Now after seven successful seasons the series is coming to an end with one final run of sixteen episodes.
Season eight kicks off on August 7 with an episode entitled "Mr. Monk's Favorite Show." Elizabeth Perkins guest stars as an aging child star who has just written a tell-all memoir and starts receiving death threats. Monk is ecstatic when she hires him to be his bodyguard. But that thrill disappears quickly once he starts reading the book and realizes what a sordid life his idol has actually lived.
I'm not sure whether the premise was inspired by Maureen McCormick's memoir published last year but the writers do a great job at skewering the fast-paced life of Hollywood actors and our insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip. Monk's reading of the memoir and his reaction to it is one of the funniest moments of the episode and will likely be remembered as one of the best comic moments of the series.
Many other guest stars are lined up to appear this season including Jay Mohr, Daniel Stern, Bernie Koppell, and Meat Loaf, among others. In addition, Tim Bagley will return in his role as Harold Crenshaw. But the biggest news is that Bitty Schram, who played Monk's nurse Sharona for the first three seasons, will return late in the season and reprise her role.
The other big promise being made is that all the lingering questions of the series will be answered. Will Monk be reinstated with the San Francisco Police Department? More importantly, will his wife Trudy's murder finally be solved? The producers will only promise that all questions will be answered by the time the series concludes although they won't really deal with most of the questions about Trudy's murder until the last few episodes.
To USA's credit, they are planning to run all sixteen episodes between now and December rather than splitting the season in half as they do with their other original series.
If the initial episode is any indication, viewers can expect the same high quality of stories that have become a trademark of the series. There is still the right balance of both humor and drama. Tony Shaloub does a fantastic job of playing out the phobias (especially for laughs) without overdoing it.
It will be hard to imagine Friday nights without Monk. But at least we have a few more episodes to enjoy. From the looks of what's on tap, it should be a fun season to watch.
Monk airs on USA Network Friday nights at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.