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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Monk: Complete Series Limited Edition Box Set
Monk: Complete Series Limited Edition Box Set
Universal // Unrated // October 5, 2010
List Price: $249.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 8, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Show:
I only remember the date...
and what everyone wore...
and what everyone said....
and what everyone did. - Adrian Monk
Running for an impressive eight seasons and currently holding the record for the cable show that had the most viewers (the final episode, Mr. Monk and the End - Part II), Monk is a throwback to the more traditional 'brilliant investigator and his assistant' type of detective show.  Like Sherlock Holmes and his drug habit or Nero Wolfe and his weight (and refusal to leave his home) Adrian Monk is also hampered with a problem:  he suffers from OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  He has trouble functioning in society but that doesn't mean he isn't brilliant.  With amazing powers of observation and tenacity for seeking out that truth, Adrian consults with the San Francisco Police Department frequently and helps them solve their most stubborn cases.  Now the entire series, previously released in season sets, has been collected in one impressive boxed set:  Monk:  The Obsessively Complete Collection, a wonderful addition to any video library.
Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) was a detective with the San Francisco Police Department for years, and had a reputation of being one of the brightest guys around, though a little quirky.  That all changed when his wife, Trudy, was murdered.  Killed by a car bomb the Adrian assumed was meant for him, the guilt and shock caused the detective to have a nervous breakdown and triggered a sever case of OCD, as well as a string of phobias.
With the help of his nurse, Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), Adrian eventually gets up the courage to venture outside, and with her help he becomes a consultant for the SFPD.  He was naturally discharged from the force after his breakdown and one of his strongest desires is to be reinstated.  That wish takes second place only to one thing:  finding out who killed his wife and why, and bringing them to justice.
Monk's attention to detail and encyclopedia-like knowledge of trivia is invaluable when working a case, but as he often asserts, "it's a gift... and a curse."  He notices small, seemingly insignificant clues, but he also notices when a picture isn't hanged perfectly straight, or when silverware isn't quiet lined up, and that drives him to distraction.  In addition, his numerous phobias, 312 according to Adrian himself including germs, elevators, snakes, and even milk, frequently cause him to become sidetracked.   This is often played in a darkly comic fashion and the show does have a healthy dose of humor.  (When he takes a standardized test in one episode, for example, and can't get over the fact that the pair of No. 2 pencils he's been given are not the same length.  He sharpens one, then the other, trying to get them precisely even, until time is called.) 
Along with his nurse, Sharona, Adrian works with Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) head of the Robbery and Homicide, and his Lieutenant the goofy Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford).  Capt. Stottlemeyer was once partnered with Adrian and realizes just how brilliant the man is, though he's frequently exasperated by his phobias and seemingly pointless behavior.  Randy, on the other hand, always has an outrageous theory that's invariably wrong and spend a lot of his time trying to impress Monk's assistant.
Over to course of the series the basic plot changes very little.  The police will either have a tough case they can't seem to solve and call in Adrian or the detective himself will stumble across a mystery (almost always a murder).  Sometimes Monk discovers a crime only because of a single tenuous piece of evidence and he has to convince the police that there really is cause for investigation.  After all, he is practically insane, and it's hard to accept an errant piece of dirt as evidence of murder.
The one major change that does occur is the show happens in the middle of season three when Sharona is written out.  (It's rumored that she actress was holding out for more money, and the producers decided it would be easier just to replace her.)  That's traumatic for Monk, but he soon hires Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), a widowed mother, to replace her.  At first it was really hard to get used to Natalie.  Personally, I really liked Sharona and the way she wouldn't take any gruff from Monk and it was hard to adjust to the more submissive Natalie at first.  Howard quickly grew into the role however and after a few episodes the show was back to it's usual high quality.
It's mentioned somewhere in the extras that the casting for this show was very difficult, and it's easy to see why.  The show depends on viewers finding Monk likable, believable, and amusing while not thinking that he's just annoying or ridiculous.  Tony Shalhoub does a magnificent job, and it's hard to see anyone else in the role.  (It's been said that some of the producers wanted Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld) for the lead, and if that had come to pass, I would imagine that the show would have died a quick and painless death.)  Shalhoub makes Adrian come across as a real person. Viewers can feel his anxiety when Monk has to take off his seatbelt in a moving car to save someone's life.  It may seem silly to you or I, but we still empathize with the man.  He also portrays Monk as being very smart without making him come across as pompous or elitist.  Adrian is a tragically flawed character that viewers can still laugh at, and that's hard to pull off.
The only real problem I have with the entertaining show, aside from them occasionally trying to get a laugh out of something that's just not funny, is that some of the mysteries are a bit contrived.  Yes, murder mysteries are supposed to be complex and intricate, but a few of the cases Monk tackles are needlessly convoluted and elaborate, just to make them mysterious.  Also, there are a few times when the final clue that closes the case causes one to roll their eyes.  This happened when a nervous murderer hid a body in a barrel of wine, and then served that same wine to Adrian (who could taste the victim's aftershave in the wine.)  Why would they do that?  Sever from another barrel why don't you?
That complaint aside, the show is a lot of fun.  Some of the mysteries are truly baffling (like when Adrian knows a teacher killed someone but was in front of a classroom of 30 kids when victim was pushed off a clock tower and landed on the teacher's car... something everyone saw) and others are wonderfully comic (such as the episode where Capt. Stottlemeyer, vacationing in Las Vegas, solves a murder while he's drunk, but the next day he can't remember how he did it and calls in Monk.)  Over the seasons Monk slowly pieces together the circumstances of his wife's murder, and the whole show wraps up in a superb two part story.
The DVD:

The entire 8 season/125 episode series arrives on 32 DVDs.  These are exactly the same as the previously released season sets.  Each 4 disc season arrives in its own single-width DVD case and the cases are housed in a double slipcase that is hinged in the middle.   It's a nice package.
This show is quipped with just a stereo soundtrack.  Nothing too special but then again the show is mainly dialog based so that's not too bad.  The audio is clean and clear and the dialog is easy to discern.  A nice sounding show.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks very good.  The colors are solid and the level of detail is very good.  Through the 125 episodes there are some minor compression artifacts, aliasing in the background and some blocking, but overall the picture looks fine.
Unfortunately there isn't a bonus disc for people who shell out the bucks for this impressive collection.  All of the on-disc extras from the earlier releases are included though.  You can find a more detailed listing of them in the individual season set reviews.  (Season one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight.) 
The two things that are exclusive to this set are an 18-page episode guide that lists a synopsis for each episode as well as letting you know which disc it can be found on, and a 32-page book:  An Obsessive's Guide to Monk.   This is nice, though it's a little light on substance.  Mainly filled with pictures, the book lists Monk's pobias (well, the 38 that come out in the series at least), quotes from the detective, and it has some cleaning tips.  It was nice, but fans who bought the earlier releases aren't missing much.
Final Thoughts:
If you have the earlier season sets, there's no real reason to pick this up.  The exclusive book is ho-hum at best and the DVDs are exactly the same.  If you haven't been following the cases of this master detective though, this is a great way to pick them all up in one easy step.  All the episodes in one white, clean box.  Just the way Monk himself would like it.  Highly Recommended.
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