As the fifth season of "Monk" continues, fans get to delve even deeper into the defective detective's psyche.
In November, viewers gained some insight into Monk's past after meeting his dad Jack (Dan Hedaya), who abandoned his son at a tender young age. Now as the hit USA show returns on Friday, Jan. 19, Adrian Monk reveals just how much his childhood loneliness affected him.
In the episode "Mr. Monk Makes a Friend," he laments, "I always wanted a best friend. I used to pray for it every Christmas. A best friend: That's what was missing. One friend would have made it all bearable."
At the local grocery store, Monk bumps into jolly everyman Hal Tucker (Andy Richter), and oddly enough, they hit it off. Before you know it, Monk is "hanging" with his pal Hal and even attending bloody, saliva-ridden hockey games all in the name of friendship.
"That's kind of the beauty of doing this part," says Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub about playing Monk. "Sometimes I open the script and I discover a thing about my reading that I hadn't really thought of. This whole notion of Monk wanting and needing a best friend, it was something that hasn't occurred to me, that there wasn't a friend from childhood that he'd have a great memory of."
Revealing more about Monk's backstory is one way the series' writers have kept the show fresh after four successful seasons. They're also continually sticking him into new situations that highlight his persnickety ways. In the upcoming "Mr. Monk at Your Service," a wealthy man (Sean Astin) mistakenly hires Monk to be his butler, a job for which he finds himself remarkably well suited.
Some of his duties include setting up a new housecleaning schedule, overseeing an upscale luncheon and scrutinizing other sundry details. Shalhoub didn't need to do any research into running a shipshape household though. "Basically, I was just doing in the episode what I do at home, you know, with my own family," says the actor.
Richter and Astin are just two of the guest stars gracing "Monk's" sound stage this season.
"Charles Durning is in an episode," says Shalhoub. "Ricardo Chavira who's from 'Desperate Housewives' is a kind of a farmer who's growing pot, and Monk stumbles on this big pot field. And we have Steven Weber, my old colleague from 'Wings.' He played the shock jock sort of a la Howard Stern in one episode. We have some really, really nice things coming up."
Even with all these new elements, certain aspects of the show are reliably the same from episode to episode: Monk's obsessive-compulsive disorder, his remarkable ability to solve cases and his love for his late wife Trudy. This is one of the reasons why it's unlikely that Monk will ever become romantically involved with a woman on the show.
"We've had conversations, the writers and the actors, about this," says the actor. "I would not rule [out a romance, but] I don't think it would be a kind of a permanent situation because I think we like to keep Monk in that sort of sad sack, lonely kind of mode. But ... we have done episodes where he is attracted to different women because maybe they remind him of Trudy."
Keeping his character consistent over five seasons, however, has taken its toll on Shalhoub, who finds it easy to get sucked into Monk's mindset.
"It does tend to make you think about things that never bothered me before, like shaking someone's hand," he admits. "I just had a revelation the other day. I was in a restaurant ... I was ordering and I thought, 'God, think of all the people who handle these menus day in and day out.' You can feel secure that they wash the silverware in the kitchen and the linens and all that stuff, but they don't wash their menus. Who washes menus? Now, I've got to worry about that for the rest of my life."
One way Shalhoub keeps Monk from taking over his life is to go on vacation with his family or take other acting gigs during his hiatus. This month, he and "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Patricia Heaton have been co-starring in Theresa Rebeck's off-Broadway play "The Scene," which runs through Feb. 11. The "angry, brutal comedy" stars Shalhoub as Heaton's husband Charlie, a bitter, has-been actor -- a far cry from Adrian Monk.
"I'm embarrassed that I haven't done a play in seven years," he says. "So it's a little tricky getting back on the horse. But it's been really healthy for me and it's kind of allowed me to sort of put Monk on the back burner for awhile and, you know, exercise my theater chops."
When all is said and done, though, the actor doesn't see Monk as that much stranger than the average person. We all know them: the aunt who carries antibacterial sanitizer in their purse; they guy who opens bathroom doors with paper towels or the child who will only eat sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
"In the five years that I've spent living with the character, I certainly see him as more and more normal," says Shalhoub. "At first, I think I thought of him as a bizarre, outsider sort of character. But, you know, the more time I spent with him and the more I think about his problem, which are now becoming my problem frankly, the more normal he seems."