The MONK Fun Page Review

“Mr. Monk Gets Drunk”

I loved “Mr. Monk Gets Drunk.” It was my personal favorite episode of season four, a season which I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end.

I knew there would be an anti-alcohol contingent who were bound to protest and already had their hackles raised as soon as they heard the word drunk, but I confess I’m stumped as to how anyone else could watch this and not recognize how wonderfully well done it really was.

Just to get it out of the way, I’ll address the question of drinking in the episode. First, it amazes me that anyone would object to fictional drinking and think nothing of fictional killing. Isn’t that kind of like handcuffing Mr. Pee when you have a quadruple murderer standing in front of you? Secondly, drinking or killing (or adultery or stealing or whatever it may be) in a fictional context isn’t representative of or an endorsement of the real life deed. It’s an attempt to unmask and convey the emotions that motivate the act for the purpose of entertainment. In the case of fictional drunkenness, it’s almost always used to explore a character’s psyche, real motivations and true feelings: in vino veritas, as it were. The comedy drunk is usually a brutally honest character who says and does the things he's to inhibited to say or do sober. He acts as a voice and release for the audience.

In “Mr. Monk Gets Drunk” I found the fictional drunk hilarious and the fictional killer pretty darn amusing, which doesn’t mean I’m advocating real drunkenness or real killing and neither is Monk. Of course there are those who have a hard time drawing the line between fiction and reality. Those people probably shouldn’t watch television.

“Mr. Monk Gets Drunk” has a script as delightfully dry and delicious as a good bottle of "foot wine" by writer Daniel Dratch. Dratch is also responsible for “Mr. Monk and the Very, Very Old Man” and co-wrote “Mr. Monk and the Three Pies” and “Mr. Monk Goes to Vegas” among others. The episode was expertly directed by Andrei Belgrader, the director of “Mr. Monk and the Kid”.

Hitchcock Homage
Okay, was it just me, or did everybody else catch all the Psycho references in this episode? It begins with the opening shower scene, including the shot of the shower head, but instead of the beautiful Janet Leigh we get the not-so-beautiful Rudy (Larry Clarke). The shower setting gives us the first clue that Rudy won’t make it out of the scene alive. The guy with the gun is the second clue. Paul Ben-Victor as hit man Al Nicoletto was perfectly cast. He had me from “Normally, I’d frisk you….” until they slapped on the cuffs. It’s not easy to add a subtle comical edge to a cold-blooded killer, but he succeeds impressively.

Trust was a big topic for the episode and we get a sample in the teaser. It seems Rudy trusted his partner Ben Gruber so much that he let him leave town with 3.1 million dollars and no forwarding address. Wow, that’s trust! Looks like Monk and Natalie have a long way to go.

I don’t know whose idea (writer’s or director’s) it was for the opening fade from the postcard to the SF skyline and Monk title, but it was superb. I watched with a couple of friends and we all simultaneously gasped with delight.

On to the Allacco Winery and Inn
Right away we see a little more depth in Natalie’s character. Mitch’s death was almost as long ago (six years?) as Trudy’s and Natalie still hasn’t gotten far enough along in her grieving process to return to the city where they honeymooned. (Of course, it might be that she’s gone through the pension money so fast she can’t afford to go to Paris.) That was also a nice bit of business with the suitcases and some good continuity about Kevin living upstairs. (And yes, I know many are grateful not to see Kevin.)

This scene brings the trust issue into the forefront. In case anybody’s got a bug in their ear about it, I don’t think Natalie literally meant she was his partner, as in owning half his business or being a detective herself. She was speaking philosophically in a “we’re in this together” kind of way, just as she did in “Traffic” reminding him that they have to depend on each other. Also, she does have to be the one to draw the line as far as keeping his checking behavior in check. That’s one of the things for which he’s hired her.

They’ve used the one item-out-of-place-joke before (“Other Woman” restaurant scene), but it’s very Monk. Enter Sylvia, who knows him better than to try and shake his hand and knows him well enough to have warned him about changing the rug. Also a very nice little performance as they work around to revealing her secret grudge. “No big deal,” she says. That’s Monk’s line, but it means the same thing when she says it: it was a big deal. Too bad for her she didn’t really learn her lesson. I also enjoyed Monk recounting in detail the fake mystery he solved a year ago.

Then we have another lovely fade to the dinner scene using Jeff Beal’s haunting Trudy’s theme. I love that theme. Sometimes I leave it in a loop on my media player. It’s great to have Jeff’s musical touch on all the episodes. (Note: this is not an invitation to renew the theme song debate.)

Interesting choices for the other inn residents, particularly veteran character actor Richard Libertini as the shrink. One automatically wants to trust him, after all he’s familiar. He’s, you know, that guy and he’s a psychiatrist like the good Dr. Kroger whom we all trust implicitly. Trusting Dr. Sobin puts us in the awkward position of doubting Monk. It’s a challenge to the audience. The happy young honeymooners are supposed to evoke thoughts of Monk and Trudy as Honeymooners and sharply contrast with his now lonely state. I don’t know what the French guy represents. Any ideas? Natalie’s Paris, perhaps.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to say that Ricardo the Waiter (Assaf Cohen) was pretty darn cute, but I couldn’t quite place his accent. Cohen seems like the kind of all purpose ethnic actor Tony Shalhoub has been.

I’m not sure exactly what Dr. Lancaster meant in “Asylum” when he told Adrian that he’d help him find a way to observe anniversaries privately, but I don’t think talking to an empty chair in a public dining room was what he had in mind. Apropos of nothing, a bottle of 1984 Cabernet will usually set you back a couple hundred bucks, but since his name was on it Monk probably bought it a while ago.

There’s something about an Aqua Velva Man
Danny Roebuck (Larry Zwibell/Ben Gruber) is another casting coup. I’ve always enjoyed his work (think Matlock) and somewhere around here I have his autographed picture. He’s terrific playing his character exactly the opposite of the way you might expect a sensible man on the run from the mob to behave. He also doesn’t look or sound even vaguely Venezuelan. Also, good job by the make up department: the flushed tone of his skin made him look as if he might have a heart attack at any moment.

The scene that ensues is wonderfully layered as Monk deals with so many things at once. He’s disturbed that his dinner with Trudy has been interrupted. He’s feeling the effect of his sip of wine. He’s overpowered by the scent of the Aqua Velva. He’s following his tablemate’s line of patter and every single clue he drops. He’s also following the poker game in the background.

When Zwibell/Gruber leaves Adrian to join the game, we get an important insight into the nature of the other players. Despite his jovial nature, Larry/Ben gets the cold shoulder from all of them, until he flashes a little cash. Only then does he receive a warm welcome. The group shot again emphasizes that Monk is just not part of the gang.

The Morning After
Monk’s one sip hangover is terrific (especially shushing Natalie: nobody needs to be that perky in the morning,) if physically impossible. I think he just thinks he’s hung over and, in fact, he “recovers” quickly enough when the mystery rears its head. Too bad the poker players chose to install the worst liar of the bunch in room 202. Even I got that nose rubbing tell. Did everyone catch Sylvia’s little smirk as Natalie and Monk examined the registration book? It was at this point I thought she might be playing a trick on Monk to get back at him for the mystery he spoiled the year before and thought perhaps everyone else was an actor she hired?

The next scene has another shot reminiscent of Psycho looking down the stairs at the investigating detective. Natalie was great in this sequence, scrunching up her face to indicate what a chore it is to follow her own trust rule. She’s got her doubts, but she does stand by him. The retelling of the bad joke was cute, but it was Natalie’s punch line that really had me rolling on the floor: “Maybe it’s your delivery.” She’s also great in the next scene sticking up for Monk when he isn’t there.

On to the Wine Tasting
I was sure anticipating this scene, particularly the spitting. The build up was terrific and it was a lovely little performance by the wine expert. Sophisticated and calm, she explains the five Ss, building the comic suspense and Monk’s panic with excruciating indifference, like a wine country version of Anne Robinson. You know, I’ve been to a few wine tastings and I don’t remember everyone spitting so much or so enthusiastically. Still very funny.

The “kissing fern” was pretty lame, but hilariously so, particularly when Monk joins in. They really do make a nice team. That was clever of the poker gang to remember the group shot and cover their tracks

The following sequence has a nice pan around the house once again reminiscent of a Psycho shot, indicating that what began as a pleasant holiday for Monk is turning into a nightmare. Right on cue, hit man Al drives up. Even though we already know who he is and the danger he represents, at the same time we still have to feel a little relieved that he’s there to verify Adrian’s story and remove any niggling doubts the audience or Natalie might have. It’s just another example of how a Monk scene is always working on different levels. Al Nicoletto becomes an unlikely ally, yet another great touch. Al’s cover story, by the way, is lifted right from the plot of Psycho. He must be a Hitchcock fan.

“Foot Wine”
This was one of the most hilarious scenes in Monk this season or any other. The previews did spoil it a bit, but I was still as surprised as Monk when the wine expert revealed that the one vintage in California being made by foot was the Allacco Cabernet. Monk’s horrified little gasp and the foot wine tirade that resulted were fantastic. Also very funny was hit man Al putting in his two cents about how “barbaric” the custom was and Natalie admitting “that’s disgusting” as the three “I Love Lucy” castoffs waddle away.

For anyone still under the mistaken impression that Traylor Howard can’t act, I present her “Can I break into his car line?” line as overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There was some masterly inflection going on there.

Mr. Monk Really Does Get Drunk
We learn at least three things in the next scene. Monk really can’t hold his liquor. He’s a bad tipper. Al looks like a moose. I suppose there were people who didn’t find this funny and I’m glad I don’t hang out with them. If you didn’t laugh at the “two guys in a revolving restaurant line” you’re hopeless.

One thing that did bug me: you’d think the waitress would have noticed when decanting the wine that it wasn’t a Claret. Was she illiterate? I’m glad Adrian didn’t tip her.

Nice to see Natalie’s up for a little brawling in the next scene and Monk is ready with one of his catch phrases, “You’ll thank me later.” (That’s a drink, by the way, for anybody playing the Monk drinking game.) So, in the middle of this big fight while Natalie struggles desperately with the killer, does Monk just grab the nearest bottle of wine to hit Al over the head with and save the day? No, not Monk. He grabs the only bottle of white on the belt, so the remaining wine will match.

It’s nice that Leland “exposition” Stottlemeyer finally arrives, but it’s the only scene in the episode that really seems awkward. Oh well, I guess someone’s got to do the loose- end-tying-up dirty work.

Drunk Summation Thingie
Priceless. Just give Tony the Emmy now. No one else can touch him. The scripting and directing for the scene was also pretty great, not to mention Ted Levine’s outstanding performance and the little James Brown tribute as Monk slips repeatedly out of his coat to continue the summation. It’s great that Stottlemeyer’s the one to sniff out the clue and Natalie’s realization that she’s been drinking death wine is a nice, creepy counter point to Monk’s earlier “foot wine” shock.

The final scene is such a subtle step back from the frenetic atmosphere of the second half of the episode and we’re all rewarded with Natalie’s apology and the “Adrian” moment.

Well written, amazingly acted, deftly directed: what more can you ask of a T.V. show? (That’s not an open invitation to pick any nits, but feel free to disagree if you must.)