Monday, June 17, 2013

In-Class Movie: "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies" (2004)

"You wonder," said my companion, "why it is that Mycroft does not use his powers for detective work. He is incapable of it."

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Greek Interpreter

Austin: When Monk first went on the air, USA wasn't the network we know today. They had two big shows to put them on the original programming game. The first, The Dead Zone, had an interesting first season but never really fizzled in pop culture like Monk did. Monk became incredibly popular with Emmy victories for Tony Shalhoub and nine full seasons of the program. Essentially the success of Monk changed the entire game for USA because as other sci-fi shows failed (The 4400), their quirky mystery shows were a hit (Psych, Burn Notice, White Collar, the entire damn network.)

Early on, it's easy to see why. In the first few years Monk was a darker and grimier show with a pilot that literally had him in the sewers. The protagonist is one of the saddest people on television as an obsessive-compulsive detective with a murdered wife who is too unstable to remain a police officer, the only job he loved. The Sherlock Holmes parallels were evident due to the way that Monk saw the clues that nobody else could see. His Watson character was a sarcastic nurse named Sharona who knew him best but also wouldn't put up with some of his obnoxious habits.

"I swear to you, your eyes are now clean. We can go now."

I never finished the show because after five or six years, the show started to value quirkiness over mysteries or characters. What they were putting Monk was just cruel by never letting him evolve even a millimeter. Rewatching "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies" for the first time since it aired back in 2004 is making me think I need to rewatch more of this show. The introduction of Monk's brother Ambrose is so amazingly done that it makes me wish "The Greek Interpreter" was filled with family backstory like this one is.

I'll talk more about the actual mystery soon, but what did you think of this? Had you seen Monk before?

Leigh: As someone who has watched pretty much every incarnation of Law and Order (still haven't seen Law and Order UK), there have only been a few procedurals that I've watched outside of that. CSI, Bones, some NCIS, various episodes of pretty much everything else, Scooby Doo if that counts. I have never seen an episode of Monk before. I have a lot of weird anxieties and my OCD got pretty bad in high school, when Monk was on, so I never really found a want to watch this show, for obvious reasons. My OCD is pretty much non-existent now (let's not talk about the weird anxieties) so I actually did enjoy this episode. It was fun and different than most of the procedurals I've seen. I can see why it was so successful for so long. 

I can also see why you decided to throw an audiobook at me and watch this episode. This was a great parallel to the Greek Interpreter. Sure the mysteries weren't at all the same but the second plot to the story and this episode were about a genius brother being introduced to the audience in ways that were perfect for them. We meet both of the brothers in their habitat, Mycroft where he is most comfortable being an odd duck, and Ambrose in the house he hasn't left in over 30 years.  We also see how each brother is like a concentrated version of the detectives in question. Mycroft is smarter than Holmes and faster and has more connections and Ambrose is an extreme agoraphobic and outshines Monk's detective skills in a fantastic scene in the bedroom. I also really enjoyed how Monk's teenage bedroom was such a great example of how all teenagers feel at some point or another but to an even more extreme. It also didn't seem as cheesy as most other Protagonist Goes Back to Childhood Bedroom scenes. 

"You're right. According to this, we were never in the same Coen Brothers movie."

But now the mystery. It seemed a little familiar to me, a lot like the Blue Carbuncle. Sure, it isn't Christmas, and it isn't a huge diamond shoved inside a goose but it is dealing with someone hunting for something incredibly important in a weird food item. Am I trying to connect them too much or did you notice it too?

So what did you think of the mystery? Personally, I wanted more Leslie Jordan.

Austin: Oh obviously, the episode needed more Leslie Jordan. That's a no-brainer.

Actually I didn't think of the Blue Carbuncle as much as I thought about that first Basil Rathbone movie we watched, Dressed to Kill, where the criminal were trying to get the three music boxes much like this guy was trying to get the cherry pies. Apparently this is similar to a story we haven't read yet called "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons." I can only imagine it's double the fun.

The mystery on this episode started off very strong. As the audience, we get the weird Doyle little thing of a man seemingly killing a lady because of a pie. The problem is that by knowing that, Monk is behind us for too long of the episode. There is no suspense of him testing out the radio thinking that's what the guy is after when the episode is called "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies." That plays out really well later on, when Monk does his big reveal speech only to not having the mcguffin in the final pie. I liked knowing who did it from the very first scene; reminded me of Columbo. In shows like this, whodunnit is too easy of a question because you only have two maybe three actors to choose from. The little details like what happened to the bullet shells is a better puzzle to solve. Especially when they get it to tie into Ambrose so well. (Unlike a certain Greek Interpreter again....)

Aside from some clumsy steps in the middle of the episode that I described, this is a fantastic script. The relationship between Monk and Ambrose is so compelling, especially once the fire starts and we see both of their phobias being tested. Also the heated debate regarding Monk has been so mad was just two actors getting a scene richer than I've seen on USA in a long time. I loved Sharona's kindness towards Ambrose in trying to make him feel less anxious. I love how the Captain actually acknowledged that the police should solve their own case for a change and tried to distract Monk by bringing up the uneven barricades. Plenty of funny lines all around. Very sweet moment at the grave. In case you didn't tell, this paragraph is just a checklist of stuff I liked. I did not expect to have such a strong reaction to rewatching this. It was like when I recently watched The Office finale after not liking the show for years. It reminded me how much I used to love these characters.

Which brings me to a curious question. I didn't know this was going to be your first Monk episode (and that you had a past with OCD. Whoops!). Did this work for you as a first time episode or was it too "mythology" heavy to enter in on? Also here's the ultimate Mycroft question: If there is a character smarter than our hero detective, why aren't we following that guy instead of creating traits that keeps him from being the protagonist (laziness, agorphobia, etc.)?

Leigh: About a month ago, my boyfriend and I were driving back from visiting family (pre-Florida move) and he had gotten a pair of Aviator sunglasses from his uncle. He put them on and I commented that he looked a lot like Tom Cruise from Top Gun (except about a foot taller, no joke). I then said that he and I should go as Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer from Top Gun for Halloween because that would be awesome. I didn't know if Val Kilmer was in it or not because I've never seen this movie. My boyfriend then told me that I should really watch the movies I make references to. This happens a lot. 65% of the time, if I reference a movie or TV show, I probably haven't seen it and I'm just referencing what I've picked up from pop culture references. I saw The Godfather the first time about three months ago but because of all of the various references that EVERY show ever has made about it, I knew all of the plot points, I just didn't know when or to who they would happen. So while I hadn't seen an episode of Monk ever before, the only time I felt lost was when Ambrose was saying that Monk's wife was killed in a parking garage. I knew she had been killed. I knew that Monk had lots of anxieties. I knew that he was a consulting detective type character all because of commercials and pop culture references. So there definitely wasn't too much mythology for someone who hasn't seen it as long as they know the basic concept of the show. I actually enjoyed it and if the whole show was like this, I might watch more episodes.

This would be an exciting scene if Tom Hanks didn't spoil it in You've Got Mail.
The reason why audiences tend to like Mycroft so much is because he can put Sherlock Holmes in his place. For the majority of the readers, they've been following Sherlock for a while now and while there have been a few cases where he was entirely wrong, he is more often right and not only right but almost psychic with what he gleans from just a smudge of dirt on someone's shoe. We like and enjoy Holmes because he is so intelligent but also has faults like his cocaine problem or his lack of social grace. Having Mycroft show up and prove that there can be smarter people is just another way to show that Holmes has faults and is human and since The Smartest Detective in the World has faults like a real person, maybe, just maybe if you tried really hard, you could become as smart as him. So why don't we follow Mycroft? Because he isn't as interesting. Even if you remove his fault of being lazy, he still isn't *interesting*. He's more or less a shut in who goes to work and does top secret things for the government but government intrigue mysteries just aren't as much fun as the mundane sometimes unless you're really into Tom Clancy novels. But some people have found Mycroft to be the more interesting one and have written (non-canonical) books about him. Perhaps a future endeavor? 

And as for Ambrose, I think that one is obvious and was said by Monk in the episode.

Next time, something is stolen. That is what happens when you don't lock your doors when you go out for coffee. 

And now Austin with the final word!


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