Cable networks, USA in particular, have done a great job attracting viewers to summer programming. Year after year, people know that come July or come August some of their favorite shows will be returning. Perhaps two of the most highly anticipated shows of the summer return tonight to USA – Monk and Psych.
Monk, which is entering its eighth and final season, has been around far longer than Psych. Every promo for the show has been quite explicit about this fact, but fans need not worry that the series will be done come Halloween, USA will be – as they always seem to do – splitting the season in two, with the final episodes not actually arriving until the winter.
The show stars Tony Shalhoub (Wings) as the obsessive-compulsive detective, a role for which he has won a Golden Globe (and several more nominations), three Emmys (and several more nominations), and two SAG Awards (and several more nominations). It certainly hasn't been a sad run for the star who, in speaking of the decision to conclude the show stated on a recent conference call: "We certainly don’t want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we’re still really… doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high."
Even if that is something of a standard line delivered by actors and producers of long-running shows, it certainly is a true one in the case of Monk. The premiere episode in this final season, "Mr. Monk's Favorite Show," features the character taking on the role of bodyguard to the star of his favorite childhood TV show, and has all the humor tinged with sadness that we've come to expect from the series.
As his success at various award shows indicate, it is Tony Shalhoub who has made this series a standout for the length of its run. He is able to portray this terribly sad, not quite whole, man in a way that not only elicits smiles and laughs from the audience, but incredible amounts of sympathy as well.
Prior to the first season of the show, Mr. Monk lost his wife, Trudy, to a car bomb. The devastation he felt caused Monk to not only lose his job as a detective in the San Francisco Police Department, but pushed his obsessive nature to greater extremes. The crime has been the one case Monk has been unable to solve, something which may change by the series finale. Shalhoub started that the finale, airing in two-parts, "will involve the wrap up of Trudy’s murder… the solving of Trudy’s murder." It certainly has been a long time coming for the detective, and seems like a fitting way for the series to find an end point.
For its part, Psych is only entering its fourth season, and has not been as well received at award shows as Monk, but is certainly an equally good program. The series stars James Roday (Miss Match) and Dulé Hill (The West Wing) as Shawn Spencer and Burton 'Gus' Guster respectively. Shawn is a pretend psychic who uses his Sherlock Holmes-like ability to examine details in order to solve crimes, while Gus, a pharmaceutical sales rep, tags along and does everything he can to keep Shawn on the straight and narrow. It is certainly not an easy task as without Gus, Shawn would go completely off the rails – he tends to meander away from them as it is even with Gus.
While Psych does have some serious moments, it does lack the dramatic underpinning of Monk. Shawn and Gus have had to deal with hardships and upset, but nothing quite on the scale of Adrian Monk's life. It was last season's finale, and the discovery of a serial killer which proved to be Shawn and Gus's darkest case, but one that doesn't seem to have affected them all that greatly by this season's premiere.
Psych is simply great fun to watch. It's one of those shows where it truly appears as though the cast and crew are having a great time making it. Speaking to that point on a recent conference call, Hill stated, "We have so much fun up there. The cast is great, the crew is even greater, and we just have a lot of fun. No one takes themselves too seriously; we all come to work and we are pretty much getting paid to laugh all day. We sing songs; we have the best singing crew in Vancouver."
The series does film in Vancouver, but takes place in Santa Barbara. However, in a joke true to the sensibilities of the show, the season premiere, which features Cary Elwes as a guest star, has Shawn and Gus travel to Vancouver on vacation. Roday stated, "It was an opportunity to finally not worry about everything that was in the background of all of our shots. We actually could play the locations for the actual locations, and make believe stickers and Canadian flags all those things were good."
As with Monk, Psych makes for an incredibly enjoying hour of television, and while I will be disappointed to see Monk disappear after this season, I sincerely hope that we have many more seasons of Psych to look forward to. Back-to-back, the shows may be the best two-hour original programming block on cable, but Psych should have the ability to succeed without the lead-in support Monk has provided to this point.
Monk and Psych premiere August 7 on USA at 9pm and 10pm respectively.