Thursday, August 6, 2009

TV Reviews: Premieres of "Monk" Season 8 and "Psych" Season 4

Two of USA's Favorite Shows Return on August 7, 2009
Monk Begins to Solve His Last Cases in the Final Season and Shawn & Gus Take Witty Aim at The Mentalist

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Premiere Episode Review:
"Mr. Monk's Favorite Show"

Although he was very gracious and humble, in a recent interview, Tony Shalhoub revealed that the flip-side to starring in a series about a man with OCD is that at times, it can bring out the obsessive side in Monk's most ardent fans.

Perhaps channeling some of these experiences and of course putting his own Tony Shalhoub/Adrian Monk spin on things, in the surprisingly lighthearted opener of the eighth and final season of USA Network's award-winning series, we meet Adrian Monk as a super fan.

Not unlike the Tobey Maguire character in the film Pleasantville who can describe in excessive detail the dialogue, plotlines and inner-workings of his favorite show-- in Monk's case, he's fixated on the escapist Brady Bunch-like fare he preferred to his dysfunctional family growing up.

So similar to Brady Bunch that-- I could be mistaken-- but I believe the same music was used and more than a few faux "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" jokes were made with a new cast of characters and the catchphrase "shucky-darn," Monk finds himself living out his wildest fan fantasies after he becomes the bodyguard of one of the series' child stars.

Having just published a salacious tell-all book that Monk hasn't had time to read but Natalie has only to discover that it's so filthy that the book is filled with possible suspects, the woman that Monk still envisions as the character on his beloved series at first humors the detective by watching a few classic episodes with him but his groupie act wears thin fast.

Asking more questions about the show than who could possibly be trying to murder the actress, Monk's usual knack for detection is threatened by his blind worship of the woman. To this end he makes a few mistakes as a result including not only ignoring the motive that's just been printed hot off the presses by avoiding cracking the book open but also by letting the actress check into a hotel after her life is threatened one more time.

When a bullet rips into the fantasy and the book offers Monk a reality check, he realizes that he can't always believe what he sees on TV and intriguingly by celebrating Monk's surprising love of television comfort food, the show's producers are celebrating the idea of the series as comfort food as well.

Although it makes sense to kick off the closing set of episodes with some more of the show's instantly recognizable standalone formulaic work with a fun and innocuous beginning, despite this it's nonetheless a hardly memorable premiere in comparison to some of the previous openers of seasons past.

Yet, there's still a method to the brilliant writers' decision to open this way when you know they could've really thrown us for a loop if they'd wanted-- since by presenting Adrian in a state that seems to be pretty peaceful and contented and by giving him the chance to make us laugh, subconsciously it guarantees that the series will move into darker terrain later.

Likewise, even the title of "Mr. Monk's Favorite Show" seems to be a way to salute the fans. Thus, fittingly it applauds those who relish in the show's familiarity and non-challenging paradigm that's made this dysfunctional faux family feel like an extension of their real family. Of course, additionally it has significance since, while on the one hand it subtly thanks viewers for making it their favorite show... on the other of course, it reminds us via Shalhoub's Monk to remember not to get obsessed and realize that it's only a TV series after all.


Premiere Episode Review:
"Extradition: British Columbia"

PSYCH on USA Network - The Mentalist Spoof - The funniest home videos are here

I've never seen The Mentalist but it's been a fascinating week and a half since I was fortunate enough to view Psych's Season 4 premiere episode for review as I watched the media camps divide as though it was the newest and hottest battle since Seth Rogen took on the creator of Entourage.

Of course, when you begin taking into consideration which magazines, newspapers and other outlets are owned by which corporations and tie it all into a ribbon as they get tighter and tighter into a noose which leads to the CBS network that is home to The Mentalist, you understand where some of the (ahem) objective anti-Psych criticisms are coming from in this day, age and fear of downsizing.

Yet the bottom line is that Psych went the fake psychic route first and just saying the plotline aloud of a "fake psychic solves crimes" demands that you take a comedic approach which creator Steve Franks has done to masterful effect since the series began in 2006.

Likewise, the series has only gotten stronger with each passing year as it began incorporating rapid fire screwball dialogue we haven't seen since the days of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Amy Sherman-Palladino's Gilmore Girls. Furthermore, they've seasoned the ingenious scripts with a cast filled with entirely likable characters which in itself is amazingly rare as typically shows always seem to feel the need to utilize at least one jerk to be the generic "sarcastic guy" to generate laughter. And obviously the Psych trademark has become to do all this while filling it to chock full with pop-culture references that make it something truly special and downright joyous indeed.

A show that's so infectious and multi-layered with its reference heavy humor that even cast mates including this year's recurring guest performer Rachael Leigh Cook shared in a recent interview that she was a fan before even she appeared on the series-- season four's premiere makes the most of its British Columbia filming location by setting the typically Santa Barbara based series there.

With Gus tagging along on what he soon realizes was intended as Shawn's elaborately planned romantic vacation with his girlfriend (Cook) when her schedule changes at the last minute-- soon the two are brought on the trail of an art heist in this play not only on The Mentalist but also Entrapment, The Pink Panther and The Thomas Crown Affair as the guys cite everything from Miller's Crossing to Dr. Zhivago while pursuing the illusive thief played by Cary Elwes.

Forever disappearing off balconies or using a Baked Alaska as a diversion, Elwes' notoriously smooth criminal has long been an obsession of Detective Lassiter. Becoming an uncharacteristic man of action, Lassiter decides to use some of the 325 days of unused vacation time he has stored up to see the man in the flesh, bringing his partner Jules along in order to take advantage of her frequent flier miles.

Overall, while the elaborate heist set-up and cinematic look of the show feels a bit out-of-place as one of the traditional standalone episodes, it's also wonderfully welcome to shake things up as the cast acknowledges this directly joke-wise when for example Gus has to slither through security sensors a la Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment or Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels.

Similar to the unexpected and unpredictable re-introduction to Adrian Monk-- seeing Shawn and Gus on a romantic Canadian adventure pursuing an art thief was quite a surprise for a longtime fan. Yet likewise it was one that seemed to move beyond the "gimmick" of taking on another show whether it was via Monk's twisted Brady Bunch or Psych's play on Mentalist rather well. Moreover, it did so in a way that made the premiere feel much more polished and far more entertaining than Monk's this time around. And in the same token, it marked a great return for those viewers who are Psyched to play another round of catch that in-joke with Shawn and Gus once again.

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