When there’s a murder, you call the police. When the police can’t solve the crime, they call the greatest detective alive - if they can get him there. The first season of everyone’s favorite Obsessive Compulsive Detective Monk starring Tony Shalhoub in his multi-Emmy-winning role comes to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Sourced from new 4K restorations of each episode, the series looks better than ever and sounds great. The show is still just as entertaining as you remember. Recommended.
Detective shows are a bread-and-butter staple of television. From Perry Mason and Dragnet to Murder She Wrote and Matlock, these shows have traversed the totality of television history. Sometimes it’s something dark and bizarre like Twin Peaks, spooky and conspiracy-driven like The X-Files, or just plain charming and entertaining like Columbo. There’s a convention to these shows where our main detective is always the smartest one in the room. Everyone there is looking to them to find the one little piece of evidence that solves the crime. To keep things fresh and unique, each show has to have some kind of a hook. In the case of Monk, it's a man who is so obsessive-compulsive that even the littlest speck never misses his eye.
After losing his reporter wife in a car bombing, Detective Adrian Monk (Shalhoub) was let go from the San Francisco Police Department because of his afflictions. Now he’s back on his feet thanks to his nurse/assistant Sharona (Bitty Schram) and he’s ready to get his old job back. To prove to his therapist Dr. Kroger (Stanley Kamel) and his old partner Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) he’s ready for action, he’s taking on the SFPD’s toughest cases as a consultant. One disinfectant wipe after another, Monk is able to put the pieces together and solve the case, much to the admiration and irritation of everyone around him.
As a fan of the series, I sadly never really got to enjoy it when it originally aired on USA. The series started right in my crazy final years of school and then during the stressful times of the recession hitting right after graduation, I just didn’t have time for a show like this - nor could I afford cable! So like any number of great shows I missed in the first run, I sporadically caught reruns, syndicated episodes, and rented DVDs of Monk. However, until this disc release I only actually sat down and enjoyed the series in order maybe once and that was probably ten-plus years ago.
Most modern detective television series have some sort of “bigger case” throughline to anchor the series. That’s true here. For Monk, it’s Adrian’s need to find who killed his wife Trudy (Stellina Rusich, later played by Melora Hardin). Thankfully that throughline doesn’t dominate each episode. The plot point of her death is omnipresent but it’s not the only focus. Compared to another clever detective show Castle, the murder of Beckett’s mother became such a focus they could have retitled the series as the show started to fall apart after a few seasons.
There’s also a formula to Detective shows. If you pay attention long enough you can usually spot who the killer is well before the big reveal. Going back to Castle, the killer-of-the-week was almost always the third person they interviewed. For Columbo you almost always saw the murder or crime in advance, so it was a matter of figuring out how Peter Falk was going to solve the case. With Monk, the writers smartly switch things up. Sometimes it’s a true "whodunnit" episode where you don’t know the killer’s identity. Sometimes it’s a “whydtheydoit” where we know who the killer is but their motive is a mystery. Then there’s the odd “howdtheydoit” episode where we know the killer's identity and we know their motive, but then the fun becomes figuring out how the dastardly deed was done.
On top of the slick plot writing, credit needs to come to the great cast. Shalhoub is magnificent as the titular detective. He’s fun and funny without the comedy strictly being a result of his maladies. His mental ticks and OCD aren’t the joke but his strength. And while most episodes are fun, funny, and relatively harmless, there are plenty of genuine heartfelt moments throughout. There’s really no mystery why he won so many Emmy awards back-to-back for this series. Of his constant companions, I especially enjoy Ted Levine as Captain Stottlemeyer. Levine has a knack for portraying love, admiration, and annoyance - often in equal parts all at the same time. Next is Bitty Schram as Sharona. She’s wonderful as his nurse but at her best as his friend. I loved that they never pushed their relationship into some cheap romance like Moonlighting. She’s strong and sassy but not a dumb blonde either and can hold her own when necessary. (She also deserved a much more personal and dignified exit from the series in the third season). Rounding out the core cast is Jason Gray-Stanford as Dective Randy Disher - Stottlemeyer’s right-hand man. He’s often stuck as the doofus or the guy who throws out the silliest theories or overstates the obvious. Thankfully he’s never overplayed into complete annoyance and also gets his time to shine with the rest of the cast.
Like every show, there’s the odd episode that doesn’t quite click or the reveal hinges on a big piece of convenience evidence, but overall it’s a great series. Few shows start out great but right from the big pilot episode, Monk was damn good entertainment. As I said, there isn’t much of a strict throughline that you have to see every single episode to enjoy it. Casually throwing in a disc you’ll get a few hours of fun material to pass the time. Equally though if you’re dedicated to watching it episode-by-episode in order, it’s a worthwhile run. Especially because the feature-length film Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie is streaming on Peacock December 8th!
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Monk solves the crime of the missing Blu-ray release thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Season One arrives as a four BD-50 disc set, the discs are housed in a multi-disc case with individual trays and no stacking with an identical slipcover. The inside of the insert features the episode listing. Each disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
Reportedly sourced from new 4K remasters, each episode of Monk simply looks phenomenal on disc. It should be noted the transfers replicate the 1.78:1 framing. Not a cheap show, the episodes look big and expensive with a nice cinematic feel. Compared to my parents’ DVD set or the current streaming versions, the disc encodes easily outpace every other release. Watching through the episodes I felt like I was seeing fine details in facial features, clothing textures in Monk’s tweed jackets, or simple details in set design. Keeping things cinematic is a nice layer of fine film grain which is also far better resolved and natural looking than what I’ve been seeing on streaming ahead of this disc release. Colors are bright and bold with nice black levels and crisp clean whites. It helps that each disc isn’t stuffed with episodes ensuring the bitrate stays nice and steady.
Now there is a slight, itty bitty minescule issue with the full version of the Pilot Episode on disc one. During the opening credits, there’s a small edit error right when Bitty Schram’s name card comes up where a brief flash of Monk pouring boiling water over his toothbrush pops in. Now that shot is part of the series' normal episode credit sequence, but it’s not part of the original Pilot Episode. Schram’s card is still over the shot of the tea kettle so that's not missing and partly why I didn't immediately notice it. Not sure how that snuck in there, likely an editing error if they had to rebuild the opening credits during the restoration process, but it’s there. However it’s so brief, it’s literally a blink-and-you’ll miss it moment. Maybe worth a possible disc replacement offering, but also not such an error that I got worked up over. I checked through the other episodes' credit sequences a couple of different times and nothing else like that stood out to me so it looks to be a simple one-off issue for that one episode. The “Syndication Version” of the Pilot that's split into two parts is just fine using the syndicated version credit sequences.
On the audio front, each episode of Monk comes with a very good DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Given the series and cast involved, the dialog is clean and clear. Scoring is a nice accompaniment to keep the soundscape active. Sound effects are well-appointed to give each track plenty of space and atmosphere. I would have been curious to hear what a 5.1 track would have sounded like, but these are still very good and in keeping with the original presentations without sounding overworked or thin.
On the bonus features front there’s nothing new in the soup but we have all of the older archival extras previously found on the DVDs. If you’ve never gone through them the featurettes are nice looks into the series but nothing too extensive. All of the bonus features are found on the final disc.
After a few delays, Monk Season One is finally here on Blu-ray and I’m pleased to say it was worth the wait. Tony Shalhoub’s Emmy-winning detective is still a great show and even after multiple viewings, the episodes are worth revisiting. Watching through old DVDs and on streaming services to refamiliarize myself with the show, throwing in those discs was a breath of fresh clean sterile air. With terrific transfers full of rich detail, the show is a visual delight in 1080p and the great audio ensures you never miss a clue or a witty punchline. Bonus features are a bit thin, but the archival DVD materials return. As we’re set to get a new season of Monk on Blu-ray every month from KLSC, now’s a good time to start making shelf space. Recommended
Order Your Copy of Monk Season One on Blu-ray