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Mr. Monk and the UFO

Mr. Monk and the UFO” is the third entry in the eighth season of USA Network’s cornerstone series Monk. Since it is the final season it appears that Monk will be allowed to demonstrate a little personal growth. Tony Shalhoub discussed that aspect of the character in a recent interview: “I feel like Monk has become a little more open to others and embraces, to the degree that he can, other people’s points of view.”

This episode addresses that point directly. It’s about Monk making a conscious effort to be more of a “people person”. He’s out of his element in a number of ways, but ultimately we see Monk at his best and brightest as a result.

The credited writer of this one, Michael Angeli, wrote the excellent Edgar Award nominated episode “Mr. Monk and the 12th Man” from season two. He also wrote for Touching Evil, the short-lived USA series starring Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan and he currently produces and writes for USA's In Plain Sight.

This week’s director was Kevin Hooks. It’s his first time working on a Monk episode, but he’s had 25 years of experience directing for television starting with a favorite of mine, St Elsewhere, and more recently Bones, Lost, 24 and Ghost Whisperer. He was also a director and executive producer for Prison Break. He started in the business as a child actor and garnered a Golden Globe nomination as Best Male Newcomer for his role in the 1972 criticaly acclaimed film Sounder.
Kevin Hooks
Kevin Hooks
Daniel Stern
Daniel Stern guest stars in this week’s episode as Sheriff Fletcher. Daniel has been sort of quietly famous for the past 20 years or so, but he is perhaps best known these days for his voice. He was the grown up Kevin Arnold who narrated The Wonder Years (a series for which he also directed) and he was the voice of Dilbert in the short lived series of the same name. He’s also known for his many films including Breaking Away, Diner, Home Alone, City Slickers, Celtic Pride and Very Bad Things.

As the easy going Sheriff of Vintonville in “Mr. Monk and the UFO” he is a very trustworthy and affable ally for Monk. Daniel Stern makes the character very easy to like.

They tried to sneak a guest actor past me, but I spotted him anyway. Barry Livingston plays one of the UFO fanatics. He's credited as Geiger Counter Enthusiast. ("Enthusiasts", by the way was a very kind way to characterize the "internet people".) Although he's been working steadily in TV, film and theater for fifty years Barry is still known best for his nine year stint on "My Three Sons" from 1963 to 1972. Barry played Ernie Douglas. (Except he didn't become a Douglas until 1965 when the character was adpoted. Before that he was just a neighbor kid, except in real life his TV adpoted brother was his real brother.... It's complicated.) Sure, the Brady boys were groovy, Keith Partridge had the hair and the Mod Squad was um... mod, but Ernie was the prototype nerd and he was the one I had the crush on. In more recent years Barry's had roles in HBO's Big Love, Everybody Hates Chris, Eli Stone, Mad Men as well as films including Zodiac and You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

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Geiger Counter Guy

Barry Livingston
Ernie Douglas

The episode features a large and ridiculously diverse supporting cast (with a lot of inspired perfomances from the "enthusiasts"), which may be the reason that Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Lt. Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) are given short shrift. Stottlemeyer appears in only one scene and Disher is no where to be found.

This is one of those rare episodes which takes place outside of the fictional San Francisco where Monk lives and, since Vintonville has its own law enforcement, the SFPD gets a few days off. The killer also gets less than the usual share of screen time (only one scene) and although the murder and the UFO get tied together in a neat little bow, it’s not as important as Monk’s actual and metaphorical journey through the desert to gain a little enlightenment.

“You’re mad at me. I’m a detective. I can tell.”

Natalie and Monk are on the road late at night, somewhere in Nevada, and she’s giving him the silent treatment… but not for long. She scolds him for his anti-social behavior with her friends who they’ve just been to visit. “Couldn’t you have at least tried?” she asks. He tells her he’s just not a “people person”.

The argument is cut short when their car breaks down on a lonely, deserted bridge. Natalie attempts to make repairs, gives Monk a cell phone and asks him to call for help. He can’t get a signal and as he wanders away from the car in search of one, he looks up into the night sky and sees what can only be described as a UFO.

Random thoughts on this scene:
• I think this is shot on the Universal lot. It looks like the collapsing bridge they have on their studio tour.
• Are Natalie's old friends in Nevada from her Las Vegas dealer/gambling addict days?
• I'm not sure anyone will be surprised that the town where Monk later says the wedding took place, Montville, is actually a town in New Jersey and not too far from Summit NJ where the Monk writers work.

“Maybe they’re there to take him home. Maybe that’s his ride.”

The next morning Monk is obsessing (because after all that's what he does best) over the “some sort of aircraft” he saw, while Natalie is getting the bad news about her car from the local mechanic, Boom Boom (Eric Stonestreet). He tells her it will cost $300 to repair. Monk questions him about military bases or weather stations in the area and reluctantly confesses to having seen a “flying saucer”. The mechanic is unfazed having once seen a ghost. When Monk implies that Boom Boom is stupid and then compounds the insult by telling him he’s “car smart”, the cost of the repairs skyrocket to $800.

Natalie calls Captain Stottlemeyer (in his one and only scene) to let him know where they are. She tells him they’re in Vintonville, Nevada which “isn’t actually on any maps”, that Monk has managed to tick off the only mechanic in town and that Monk has seen a UFO. None of which surprises Stottlemeyer. He jokingly suggests that the UFO could be there to pick Monk up. “That would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?” he says.

UFO 21

Vinton Street is, of course, a running joke in Monkland. There is a real Vinton Street in San Francisco, but it's only an alleyway half a block long with no businesses on it. Nonetheless, it pops up in an astounding number of Monk episodes. Apparently even when they’re away from the fictional San Francisco “Vinton” follows them around. It's actually a street in head writer Andy Breckman's neighborhood in New Jersey. I guess it must be a really great street or they wouldn't mention it so often.

Meanwhile Monk goes to the local sheriff’s office to report what he’s seen. Sheriff Fletcher is busy with a woman, Dolly (Tammy Dahlstrom), who is suggesting that something may have happened to her missing friend and neighbor, Marge. Monk waits while the sheriff tells her there’s no reason to worry yet and no sign of foul play.

I gotta think that this woman being named "Dolly" is not just a coincidence. Remember the psychic in "Mr. Monk and the Psychic"? Her name was also Dolly and the plot twist in that one, the killer needed someone else to discover the body so he could inherit money from the deceased, is the same plot twist used in this episode.

During this scene we get an excellent example of what Tony Shalhoub called a "matching problem". That's when there are two takes of a scene and when they're put together later it's obvious (or sometimes not so obvious) that something is different. In this case it's the blinds in the sheriff's office. Monk lowers the blind so that it's even, but when the sheriff escorts Dolly out it's uneven again and when he turns to talk to Monk it's even.

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UFO 23
UFO 24
Click to enlarge the images

Once she’s gone Monk reports what he has seen, but struggles not to call it a UFO. The sheriff gently suggests it might have been dry lightning, but Monk is sure of what he saw even if he’s not willing to label it. The sheriff believes him if only because a close encounter might relieve the boredom of small town law enforcement. He’s only got two cases: a rabid raccoon and kids knocking over mail boxes. “This is a busy week for me,” the sheriff tells Monk facetiously. The poor guy has no idea how busy it’s about to become. Monk is the Jessica Fletcher of the West Coast. Everywhere he goes someone winds up murdered. So you just know Dolly’s friend Marge doesn’t stand a chance.

In this next scene the Sleep Inn gets its first, but by no means last, mention in the episode. Sleep Inn is the sponsor of the new Little Monk web series and in wanton celebration of that fact the Sleep Inn logo is seen more often in this episode than hookers are seen at a brothel.

UFO 25

When Monk and Natalie return to the Sleep Inn that night with a bag of cleaning supplies, they’re greeted by Sleep Inn clerk Dickie (Mathis Fender). As Natalie explains that only one bag of cleaners is a gold star in Monk’s book, Monk sees the UFO again. This time Natalie sees it and so does Dickie, who whips out his cell phone and gets it on video.

“Ah, the Internet People.”

When Monk wakes up at the Sleep Inn the next morning, he yawns, stretches, turns on the lights, opens the curtains and sees what appears to be the classic green alien standing in the parking lot. Unable to process this, he calmly returns to bed and repeats the process, no doubt hoping it was a dream. When he looks outside again he sees three aliens, or rather three alien wannabes as he soon discovers. The Sleep Inn is crawling with UFO enthusiasts, who’ve seen the UFO video footage on the internet. When Monk and Natalie emerge from the hotel, they’re confronted by the eager mob who want to know, among other things, if alpha contact Monk has been probed. Their impromptu interrogation is cut short when someone announces that the landing site has been found.

The UFO enthusiasts include, Goggle Enthusiast (Eric Lange), Second UFO Enthusiast whose stepfather has been making fun of her for 20 years (Amanda MacDonald), Green Alien Costume Enthusiast (Jeremy Howard), Geiger Counter Fanatic (Barry Livingston), Segway Enthusiast (David Hadinger) and the business woman who turns out to be an enthusiast (Jennifer Riker).

UFO 12

Monk tries to investigate the site hoping to prove that what he saw was not a UFO, but the “internet people” prove to be too great of a distraction. When confronted with Monk's scepticism Geiger Counter Enthusiast has the gall to quote Carl Sagan.

Geiger Counter Enthusiast: Of course it's possible. As Carl Sagan said, it's pure hubris to assume our tiny blue marble could contain the only intelligent life in the galaxy. The aliens have arrived.

UFO 15

Monk: Or...

Goggle Enthusiast: Or what?

Monk: Or anything.

In fact, Sagan didn't believe that aliens had arrived.

He supported Monk's "or anything" theory. Sagan said, "There are no cases - despite well over a million UFO reports since 1947 - in which something so strange that it could only be an extraterrestrial spacecraft is reported so reliably that misapprehension, hoax or hallucination can be reliably excluded."

When Natalie gives Monk a wipe and explains Monk’s "thing" about germs, they become suspicious. One of them notes that “he’s not sweating” and although Monk attributes this to a “glandular thing” it’s enough evidence for the fanatics to question his planet of origin. His refusal to expose his belly button is proof enough for them that Monk is in fact an alien.

The hostility of the UFO people is nothing compared to Boom Boom’s particularly after Monk lamely attempts to apologize. "I'm sorry I said you were stupid... out loud."

He tells them the repairs will take at least another day. Meanwhile the fanatics are still searching around the “landing site” and discover the body of Dolly’s missing neighbor Marge.

UFO 17

Natalie and Monk are hanging around a fruit stand. As he sorts citrus fruit and she considers the possibility Monk might be an alien, the sheriff arrives and asks for Monk’s help. (The film plot that Natalie is recounting about the alien with bad dreams is from The Imposter starring Gary Sinise and Tony Shalhoub. Sorry, if I just ruined it for you.)

The coroner thinks Marge Larkin died in a hiking accident, but the sheriff’s not so sure. Much to Natalie's chagrin, they examine her faceless body (apparently the coyotes got to her) at the coroner’s office. Monk concludes that she was murdered. FYI: Larkin is the last name of Tony Shalhoub's sister Susan, who guest starred in the season seven episode "Mr. Monk and the Genius" and the last name of his nephew, Tony Larkin, who guest starred in "Mr. Monk and the Miracle".

“Make him show you his belly button!”

Monk, Natalie and the sheriff go to Marge’s house to search for clues and they’re greeted by Marge’s brother, Kyle Larkin. He tells them that he and his sister were estranged and that he has recently filed bankruptcy because his business failed. “Do you need a deputy?” he asks Sheriff Fletcher. I really enjoyed the wry delivery of that line by the brother played by Ethan Cohn. He made the most of what turned out to be quite a small role, considering he's "the guy". Seriously, how super guilty is this guy? Nobody else even has a whiff of a motive and he’s offering one up on a silver platter. Moron. Monk concludes that Marge was killed in the house and the body was later dumped. He wants to examine the site in the desert where the body was found. They hear a commotion outside. It’s the UFO aficionados waiting for him. Convinced he’s an alien, they’re now treating Monk like a rock star. They bombard him with questions. “What is love?”

“What is the frequency?”

“Can we touch you?”

The sheriff hustles him away.

Monk, Natalie and the Sheriff go to the spot in the desert where the body was found. They hear a vehicle in the distance, but they don’t see it. At first they think it’s the internet people coming to harass Monk into exposing himself, but then shots are fired and the sheriff catches one in the leg. “You’re bleeding!” Natalie tells him.

“It’s probably from the bullet.”

The shooter also takes out the tires and the radio on the sheriff’s jeep leaving the trio stranded.

“Let’s review the situation, shall we? We’re in the desert. No car. No radio. And coyotes, face eating coyotes. And things that eat the face eating coyotes. And things that eat the things that eat the….”

Despite Monk’s pessimism it’s decided, primarily by Natalie, that he should go for help while she stays to help the injured sheriff. In the next scene we see Monk beneath the blazing desert sun, dust swirling around his feet, carrying a canteen. He falls to his knees exhausted… only thirty feet away from Natalie and the sheriff and the jeep. Once he’s really underway, Monk unbuttons his top button, a big deal for him, but quickly buttons up again, despite the heat. A very disoriented Monk stumbles across evidence on the desert floor. He talks to himself. “It’s evidence. Let’s take it with us.” It's a good thing Kyle later confesses, because it seems like in his delerium Monk may have contaminated the evidence.


By this point Monk has not just one, but two buttons undone on his shirt… and he’s out of water… and he’s sweating… and he’s covered in dirt. “You win, dirt,” he shouts. “Congratulations, dirt. Well played.”

Monk also says, “Natalie, you were right. You called it. I ’m dying alone.”

Did I miss a scene? I don't recall Natalie ever telling Monk he would die alone, much less telling him that in this episode. It seems like an inordinately cruel thing for Natalie to say. Not her style.

Monk now regrets not being a “people person” and he longs to see people again. He’s reached the bargaining stage, promising to be good, nice and empathetic. “I’ll be the empathetic detective” he says, but when he walks over a ridge and sees the UFO fanatics gathered below, his new found empathy is put to the test: “Not these people,” he whines.

He collapses in the dirt.

“He knew the internet people would come. They believe anything.”

After a break for a Little Monk sneak peek, Monk awakens in what I’m sure is a very comfortable Sleep Inn bed, asking for floss. Natalie, the sheriff and the coroner are waiting for the here’s-what-happened. He explains that Marge’s brother Kyle, killed her for her money and then dumped her in the desert to make it look like a hiking accident. When the coyotes dragged her away he was afraid the body might never be found and consequently he wouldn’t be able to get her money. He had built a remote controlled UFO model (which is only about three feet wide, but miraculously appears to be much larger) to lure the fanatics there, hoping they would find the body.

In an effort to fulfill his people person promise, Monk gently tries to explain to the internet people that the UFO wasn’t real. He encourages them to “Live life, you know, find employment.”

UFO 18

I think I detectes a touch of Shatner-y goodness in that line. Besides the content ("Get a life!"), there were some Shatner-esque pauses in his speech. Natalie congratulates him on his sensitivity, but the enthusiasts aren’t buying it. They think it’s a cover up. So to accommodate them Monk admits he is an alien.

“Leave me alone or I will destroy your whole planet.”

A few days later, home again in San Francisco, Natalie arrives at Monk’s to tell him he’s made the papers and Kyle Larkin has confessed to everything (which is great because the evidence was a little weak.) As Monk dusts a top shelf in the kitchen, Natalie surreptitiously tries to verify that Mr. Monk does indeed have a belly button. He’s not about to let that happen. “I am as human as anything in this room,” he assures her.

Natalie’s still curious and pursues him teasingly, but more aggressively. He hides in the bathroom and then pokes out his head to tell her, “Leave me alone or I will destroy your whole planet.”

It’s a delightfully playful ending to another great Monk episode. Season eight seems to be the writers’ wish list season, where they get to do all those thing they’ve waited years to do (although they’ll probably never get to do the cruise ship one), but as Tony Shalhoub has said, “We certainly don’t want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we still feel we’re doing great work, delivering strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.”

I’d say, so far, well played

Not an Alien

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
— Carl Sagan

August 27th 2009

Mathis Fender 1
Mathis Fender & Tony Shalhoub
Mathis Fender plays Dickie, the hotel clerk who takes the video of the UFO, in "Mr. Monk and the UFO". Mathis is a multi-talented young actor/writer/photographer or as he says on his twitter profile "A gentleman's gentleman, a scholar, jack of all trades, and an all around good person to know." He's from Tyler Texas and, this is just a guess, I think he's a Taurus. I found Mathis on Facebook and he kindly answerd a few questions for me.

How did you get the part in “Mr. Monk and the UFO”?

My talent representative set up an appointment through the casting director of Monk for me to audition. After my first audition, I had a callback for a second audition with the producers of the show. They decided I was right for the role and booked me.

What attracted you to the part?

I'm a huge fan of comedy and I love Monk. The part also allowed me the opportunity to do a scene with Tony Shalhoub and Traylor Howard.

Why do you think they chose you?

They felt that I had the right look, personality, and skill to play the character.

What was your concept of the character? Who is he? How did you approach it?

The character I played on the show, Dickie, is a young hotel employee who happens to video something very special on his cell phone that sets a strange series of events in motion. He is a nice guy who accidentally brings conflict into the story for Mr. Monk and his assistant Natalie Teeger.

I approached the role as a regular guy holding down a summer job whose life had become monotonous and routine. Dickie is a small town kid who happens to witness something that throws his small town into an extremely unusual situation.

What do you think you may have brought to the role that wasn’t in the script?

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Whenever I audition, I try to remember that my personality is what makes me different than the guy sitting next to me in the casting office. I try to incorporate the part of me that is like the character into the story. For this role, I think my quirkiness and bulging biceps worked for my character who also acts as hotel security for Mr. Monk toward the end of the episode.

Where were your scenes shot?

My scenes were shot just outside of Los Angeles at a Comfort Suites hotel.

Mathis Fender 2

Who was the director of the episode and what was he or she like to work with?

Kevin Hooks directed the episode and was awesome to work with just as was everyone on the Monk set. At the end of that 15-hour day, he was still all smiles and patience. You couldn't find a more professional or nicer guy to take direction from.

What was your most memorable moment filming the episode?

Working with a fantastic actor like Tony Shaloub, there were several great and memorable moments. However, my favorite was at the end of the day. I had asked Mr. Shaloub early in the day if he would mind posing for a picture with me when he had a moment. Most of my scenes were shot at the end of the day, and I became so focused that I totally forgot about getting the picture. After the final shot, I was walking back to gather my things to leave the set when Mr. Shaloub stopped me to remind me about taking a picture. He waited for me to go find my camera and asked one of the producers to come over and take the photo. I thought it was really cool that the star of a hit tv show was generous enough after a very long day of shooting to take time out of his schedule just so I could have a picture.

Did you watch the show before you got the role?


What do you enjoy most about acting?

As an actor, working on new characters allows me the opportunity to study different kinds of people and their unique skills. I then examine how I can fit my own personality into the character. I also enjoy traveling to new places to shoot. As an audience member, I love getting completely lost in a story as a result of experiencing great acting.

What do you find most challenging?

Mathis Fender 3

I think the biggest challenge in acting is servicing the story that the writer(s) are entrusting me to tell. How can I best tell this story so that it is most satisfying to the audience? That is the challenge.

Which actors do you most admire (living or dead)?

This is the toughest question because it keeps me up at night. There is a long list. Paul Newman and Robert Redford were and are master storytellers, legendary entertainers, and probably my favorite two actors to watch. Montgomery Clift, Jack Lemmon, Guy Pearce, Val Kilmer, Joe Pesci and Matt Damon all fall into the discussion of my favorite actors.

What has been your best acting experience so far?

I would have to say getting the opportunity to perform on Broadway in "A Christmas Carol" was the highlight of my acting career thus far.

Mathis Fender 4

Professionally speaking, what’s the one thing you’d most like to do that you haven’t done yet?

Being from Texas, I have always wanted to be in a Western. I love the genre and can't think of a more exciting acting experience.

What’s next on your agenda?

Right now I am working on my television career. This is episodic season in Los Angeles so I am auditioning and looking for the next exciting role in a great show like Monk.

Photos by Mathis Fender

Follow Mathis on Twitter

Mathis Fender's IMDB Page

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