Is it Friday already? These short weeks bamboozle a person. You're thinking it's Monday and it's actually Tuesday. And this goes on all week. But that's just me, right?
Well, if it's definitely Friday, then I have good news for some people. That sweet, funny detective with all the phobias is back.
Monk (tonight, CHUM local stations, 9 p.m.) has become a much-loved show in its brief existence. It's made for the USA cable channel, so there aren't that many episodes, but it has an intense following and Tony Shalhoub won an Emmy a few weeks ago for playing the lead character, Adrian Monk.
Adrian Monk is a former ace detective. His wife was murdered and he's never been the same. He's an obsessive-compulsive and phobic about most everything. He can't stand heights and hates it when his vegetables touch the meat on his dinner plate. He wears tightly buttoned-up clothing and tends to stand and stare like a bewildered child. He's got a minder, Sharona (Bitty Schram), a gal in big hair and tight skirts. She coddles him and pushes him close enough toward normality that he takes on cases as a consultant to the police. Thus, he solves mysteries every week.
These mysteries are hoary old things, about as hardboiled as an episode of Murder, She Wrote. But what makes Monk special is the feel of the show. Its deeply sensitive hero is a representative character for these times. He's just more blatantly scared of the world than most people. There is humour too, and it's a goofy, breezy brand of humour.
In tonight's episode, you can spot the bad guy in seconds. The drama opens on a couple kissing in a car. He's an older man, very smooth and a little pushy. Soon, it's obvious that there is an affair going on and the young woman tells the guy (played by Andrew McCarthy, who has been playing oily no-goodniks since his time as a cool dude passed with the end of the 1980s) that he has to tell his wife about the relationship. "When 'tis done, 'tis well it were done quickly," she says, ostentatiously quoting from Macbeth.
It turns out that both are teachers at a posh school. The next day, the young woman is dead and Monk spends a frustrating time as a substitute teacher in order to crack the case.
Nothing original occurs in this plot, but the school setting is an opportunity to illuminate the childlike state of Monk himself. He and Sharona scurry about like little kids on the lam.
The pleasure in Monk comes from being immersed in the main character's childlike wonder at the unnecessary harshness and complexity of the world. From the opening credits, presented with a jaunty Randy Newman song, you know this isn't reality TV. It's an elaborately constructed, absurdist play. Monk is a ninny and a nitwit, but he's been allowed to see the world with highly sensitive powers of perception. Most of us are too busy and hardnosed to be so sensitive, but we'd like to be.
Also airing this weekend:
W5 (Saturday, CTV, 7 p.m.) starts a new season with a scathing, timely report on the insurance business in Canada. The hot topic in Canada right now is the perfidious methods of the insurance racket. CBC has been dealing with it for several days this week. Clearly, there is no end to the number of horror stories about everything from escalating premiums for car insurance to the refusal of insurance companies to pay up when a person is injured.
This episode of W5 has found several outrageous examples of insurers doing more than refusing to pay up. It has instances of outright mendacity and harassment. First up is the case of a Newfoundland man whose back was broken in a work accident. At first, he took consolation from his belief that he was well insured. Then he spent years suing the insurance company. He made a remarkable recovery, through strength of will, but his battle with the insurance company was as emotionally painful and frustrating as his struggle with his injuries.
Then there is the case of a house fire, which seemed a routine matter for the investigators of the cause. But the insurance company kept insisting, against all evidence, that there was reason to believe that the fire was suspicious and the claim could be denied. That case went to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The second portion of W5 deals with inventors being taken for tens of thousands of dollars by unscrupulous marketing companies. This is the start of the 38th season for W5, and the program faces a huge challenge getting viewers in its new timeslot, competing against CBC's Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday evenings.
Masterpiece Theatre: Goodbye Mr. Chips (Sunday, PBS 9 p.m.) is as heartwarming as all get-out. The story has been told on film before, with Robert Donat playing teacher Mr. Chips in a much-loved movie version in 1939; and then Peter O'Toole did it in a much-loathed musical version made in 1969.
Here, Martin Clunes plays the sweet-natured Latin master who educates and nurtures so many boys at the elite Brookfield boarding school. Clunes, still best known for the original British Men Behaving Badly series, is an amiable actor and ideally cast as the soft-centred Mr. Chips. But this kind of British drama -- sentimental about the old-fashioned hierarchies and the class system -- is an acquired taste. To a skeptic, much of Goodbye Mr. Chips is just woefully silly.
Finally, take note that on Sunday there are three mind-boggling alternatives: Vision TV has same-day coverage of the ceremony that beatifies Mother Teresa, starting at 9 p.m.; CBC has Shania Twain Up! Live in Chicago at 8 p.m., and, if you really want to go down-market, Hollywood Wives: The New Generation (CBS, City TV, 9 p.m.) features Farrah Fawcett, Melissa Gilbert and Robin Givens as shopping-and-bed-hopping wives in Hollywood.
Dates and times may vary across the country. Please check local listings or visit http://www.globeandmail.com/tv