When an officer dies after drinking poisoned wine sent to Captain Stottlemeyer as a Christmas gift, the captain suspects Frank Prager, who tried to shoot him outside a bar several months earlier. Searching the crime scene for clues, Monk notes that the bullet holes seem to form a pattern, but neither he nor Stottlemeyer can figure out the message they're intended to convey. To solve the case, Monk is forced to go undercover... as Santa Claus.Written by
'Monk' has always been one of my most watched shows when needing comfort, to relax after a hard day, a good laugh or a way to spend a lazy weekend.
Christmas is my favourite time of year, so as well as being a fan of 'Monk' expectations were high for "Mr Monk and the Secret Santa". This is another example of expectations being met but not quite surpassed, they almost are but it's not the special episode that it could have been. It's not the brightest bauble, for 'Monk' and in general, but is a long way from a piece of coal in your stocking at the same time. Although the mystery is fun and interesting, it is also rather too easy to solve, guessed it exactly pretty early on even with the greetings card clue being a very clever touch.
Stottlemeyer's encounter with the nun did feel very forced. It was lovely to see a good deal of both Stottlemeyer and Disher, and they are very amusing, but they've been in fairly stereotyped roles personality wise for some time at this point and it would be nice to see the writers to extend their characters beyond that.
However, there is never a dull moment, there is the right amount of Christmas cheer without being too sentimental (that it didn't focus too much on drama was a good thing) and never being mean-spirited, and there are some delightful character moments. The highlight is indeed Monk dressed up as Santa at the mall, which is both hilarious and heart-warming, though Stottlemeyer and Disher's duet was also a riot. The ending was touching.
Natalie is down to earth, sympathetic and sassy, also being sensitive to Monk's needs and quirks which Traylor Howard does well bringing out. Ted Levine and Jason Gray-Stanford are very good, can never get enough of Levine as Stottlemeyer and will always love his entertainingly seesaw relationship with Monk (one of 'Monk's' best elements to me).
As said many times, one of the best things about 'Monk' has always been the acting of Tony Shalhoub in the title role. It was essential for him to work and be the glue of the show, and Shalhoub not only is that but also at his very best he IS the show. Have always loved the balance of the humour, which is often hilarious, and pathos, which is sincere and touching.
It's not just the cast or story though. Another star is the writing, which is also essential to whether the show would be successful or not and succeed it does here. The mix of wry humour, lovable quirkiness and tender easy-to-relate-to drama is delicately done, particularly the last one. The quirks are sympathetically done and never exploited or overdone.
Visually, the episode is shot in a slick and stylish way, and the music is both understated and quirky. While there is a preference for the theme music for Season 1, Randy Newman's "It's a Jungle Out There" has grown on me overtime, found it annoying at first but appreciate its meaning and what it's trying to say much more now. Oh and a good job is done with the different opening credits sequence to accommodate the changes made.
All in all, will make one feel cheerful and warm as well as entertained. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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