Wed Jun 18, 7:05 PM ET
By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When it comes to "Monk", the series about a germ-obsessed detective, I've got to come clean. Upon its premiere, I expressed some misgivings. Mostly, these were about the plot in the opener, which I considered weak, and about Adrian Monk's neuroses, which I found at times to be annoying.  One year and two Golden Globes later, "Monk" has proved tobe a winner for USA Network as well as ABC, which reran the episodes, a novel but effective arrangement. As for me, while I still think the pilot story left room for improvement, I also think that improvement is evident in the second-season premiere, a first-rate baffler that will have you going until the very last moments.

I'm also ready to concede that, after a while, Monk's neuroses are more endearing than annoying. This is thanks in large part to the sensitive portrayal of this melancholy detective by Tony Shalhoub (news), who pours his heart and soul into the role.

Sometimes, as in the opener, when Monk is walking down a stone pathway at a high school campus, doing his utmost not to step on any cement between the stones, his obsession makes for truly inspired comedy. At other times, as when he painstakingly centers each and every chess piece on the board, it can still be tiresome.  Overall, though, the novel situations that test Monk's phobias are not only an important aspect of his character but an element in the storytelling that viewers have come to anticipate and relish.

In the second-season opener, written by David Breckman, Monk is called upon to investigate the death of an English teacher who apparently leaped from the clock tower. In mere minutes, Monk concludes that this was no suicide and that the murderer was a science teacher, played by guest star Andrew McCarthy (news) with oily charm. The problem is that the
science teacher was in his class monitoring an exam at the time the teacher fell to her death.  Except for a few over-the-top scenes with the athletic coach, this is one very clever story.

Two-thirds of the other regulars, Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lt. Randall Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford (news)), spend most of their screen time guessing what they might have overlooked that Monk hasn't.  The other third, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), Monk's "colleague/assistant," provides a needed energetic yin to Monk's subdued yang.

Director Randy Zisk, who also is co-executive producer, lets the story unfold at a nice pace but never allows it to eclipse the fascinating and quirky character of the hero.

Cast: Adrian Monk: Tony Shalhoub; Sharona Fleming: Bitty Schram; Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer: Ted Levine; Lt. Randall Disher: Jason Gray-Stanford; Benjy: Kane Ritchotte; Derek Philby: Andrew McCarthy; Beth Landow: Erica Yoder; Arleen Cassidy: Rosalind Chao; Iverson: Jamie McShane; Nick Patterson: David Rasche.

Credits: Executive producers: Andy Breckman, DavidHoberman, Tony Shalhoub; Co-executive producer/director: RandyZisk; Supervising producer: Fern Field; Producer: Philip M.Goldfarb; Co-producer: Tom Scharpling; Teleplay: David Breckman; Story: David Breckman, Rick Kronberg; Director of photography: Hugo P. Cortina; Production designer: Chuck Parker; Editor: Michael Matzdorff; Music: Jeff  Beal; Set decorator: Cynthia Lewis; Casting: Liberman/Patton, Sandi Logan.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
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