Biggest Fan 1

A Monk Fun Page Episode Review

Actually this isn’t so much a review as my thoughts on the episode, some pertinent and some not.

Thar be spoilers ahead!

If you haven't seen this episode don't read any further, unless you don't mind knowing what's going to happen before it happens. In which case you probably don't like surprise parties, elections or awards shows either. I'm one of those kind of people.

As the premiere episode of season six, "Mr. Monk and His Biggest Fan" had a lot of hype and fan expectations to live up to. Four months have gone by since season five wrapped up with "Hospital" and we've had all that time to imagine the perfect Monk episode that might open the season. Inevitably a few fans, who may have had something more like "Mr. Monk and the Dragon's Lair" or "Mr. Monk and the Deathly Hallows" in mind, are disappointed. Emphatically, not me. "Biggest Fan" is all I could have hoped for and then some. Of course, Monk fans come in for a little good natured teasing in this episode, but if F. Murray Abraham can take it, so can I.

Monk creator Andy Breckman gets the writing credit for this one. As head writer Andy leaves his mark on every script. (If you think a joke is going to end... and it doesn't, that's probably Andy.) When his name is on it you know it's going to be funny... extra funny. And Monk will be just a tad more Monk-ish. "Garbage Strike" and "Bumps His Head" for example, stretch the character in a way that only the creator can.

Andy does a little interview on the official site in which he explains how long this particular episode has been in the making. The dead dog idea and the return of Marci Maven ("TV Star") have both been kicked around in the writers room for years. I could be wrong, but the maybe-not-so-famous lost/rumored episode "Mr. Monk and the Dead Dog" from season one might have been the source of the mystery plot for "Biggest Fan". Happily, the two concepts finally met and produced a delightful season premiere.

Randy Zisk, the Monk executive producer who does most of the work (according to the other executive producers), is also a brilliant director, who I'm betting will get an Emmy nod for last season's "Mr. Monk and the Leper." (I lost: he didn't, but he should have.) He's the director for "Biggest Fan." He doesn't get to spread his creative wings as much with this one, but there are some very nice touches, directing-wise, throughout the episode.

Sarah Silverman reprises her role as Marci Maven. She's now a hot property and there was even talk of her being considered for an Emmy nomination this week for her series The Sarah Silverman Program. (I'm guessing it was a little too edgy, shall we say, for the Emmy crowd, not to mention a big chunk of the Monk audience.) That wasn't so much the case when she first tackled the role in 2004 for "Mr. Monk and the TV Star." However, I don't think her current popularity was a factor in asking her back. She may have lured in a slightly younger demographic, something the network always likes to see, but a first run Monk routinely pulls in more than double, and usually triple, the ratings of any comedy central show, including Sarah's. The writers just had their hearts set on another Marci Maven appearance and when the opportunity came her way Sarah was eager to do it. They obviously stored up a slew of nice little Marci bits which finally get a chance to shine in "Biggest Fan."

I'm just going to have to bite the bullet here and acknowledge all the similarities between Marci Maven and Monk fans in general.... Well, maybe not in general, but on message boards in particular.... Well, maybe even more particularly, me. So when the episode opened with Marci updating her Monk website, something I spend a good deal of time on myself, I squirmed just a bit. When Marci wins a day with Monk at a charity auction, something Spinner and I did very recently, I squirmed a little more. When Marci brings Monk his favorite bottled water (which is apparently now "Summit Creek." Sierra Springs is soooo last year), something I picked up a case of just because it was Monk's favorite, I was starting to feel pretty darn creepy. When Marci knows all Monk's cases by name, something I also know better than my own phone number, I figured I was about ready for my own restraining order.... until they got to the "Three Pies" diorama. "Oh, my Gawd!" and the um... tribute song. That was just insane. Sure I'm obsessed... but, you know, in a good way. Marci is five cans short of a six pack.

Dear Fellow Monk-ophiles

So, Marci has a website, which she first told us about at the end of "TV Star." We don't know who her fellow Monk-ophiles are, or if they're imaginary or not, but we do know she's no fan of Natalie's. A little inept cutting and pasting and Natalie's out of the picture. Just in case you thought the writers didn't notice all the Natalie haters, whose ranks have thinned to almost nothing these days, Marci is here to represent.

The murder of the neighbor is so not a part of Marci's crazy make believe world. The juxtaposition is jarring: she barely seems to react. It's all topped off by the whimsical lettering on the dead dog Otto's grave. It's a classically bizarre murder, just right for Monk. As a matter of fact, I don't want to spoil anything, but just read the new Monk novel Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants. That's all I'm going to say.

Bachelor Auction

That's right, it's another classic concept in comedy: the bachelor auction. You saw it on Seinfeld. You saw it on Frasier. You saw it on Night Court (well, I did anyway). Now Monk's got one. And, boy, do they milk it. It's got everything romance, suspense, a shirtless Randy and a producer cameo.

The prelude to the auction is notable for another quintessentially selfish Monk moment when he learns to where the auction money will go: "It's always the widows. Why can't they just move on?" Natalie's reaction to that is yet another reason why I consider Traylor Howard such a good actress. When you convey that much with just a look, you're good. The interaction between the two of them is just so smooth now. It's a joy to watch. There's a wealth of talent, too when Marci comes to the front door. The subtext of the conversation is great and I particularly like the prickly relationship of the two women who barely tolerate each other, but smile politey.

The auctioneer was a very nice surprise for me. Anne De Salvo, who plays her, is a terrific character actress. She gives memorable performances in two of my all time favorite films, Arthur and My Favorite Year. She's got nice delivery ("Wrap this boy up. He's sold!") and timing as she bangs the gavel down during Monk's "beefcake" display.

This episode also marks the return of Sharon Lawrence as Stottlemeyer's girlfriend, real estate agent Linda Fusco ("Mr. Monk, Private Eye"). Linda hasn't lost much of her edge. She puts in the winning bid for "her man" and brashly reaches for his tush as they leave the stage.

Enter Randy Disher, who seems to be channeling "Officer Feel Good" Hondo, from the fourth season's "Mr. Monk Goes to a Wedding." More power to him. Now that's a bachelor auction. Randy is quite the exhibitionist. He was ready and willing to drop his pants in "Hospital" and he whips off his shirt in this episode with very little encouragement. No, I'm not complaining. His enthusiasm goes unrewarded when the winner just needs a babysitter/career counselor. Her name is Cameron Meyer. That's one of those little gift, which Andy says the writers enjoy giving out. In this case, it's producer/writer David Breckman's gift to his bride Cameron Meyer, who appeared in the Monk episode "TV Star" as the script supervisor.

The producer cameo I mentioned above is Anthony Santa Croce. If you've read Teresa and Spinner's Excellent Monk Adventure (If you haven't, I'll just wait here while you do that) than you'll know that I sat in Mr. Santa Croce's chair for a few hours during our set visit. I didn't actually get to meet him, but somehow I feel I know him. He's in the background behind Marci Maven as she bids on Monk. He's one of the few guy in the crowd, so he's hard to miss. He's listed as "Heckler" in the credits, but if he did do any heckling it's been cut out.

All of the Marci-Natalie bidding war and Monk's desperate attempt to avoid the inevitable (including the "beefcake") were very funny. I also particularly liked the little move where he shines his shoe on the back of his pant leg and looks like an awkward boy, while waiting for someone to bid on him. Marci's reactions are also extremely well done. After she's won, she looks at him like she's starving and he's her next meal. It's during this sequence we learn "there was a restraining order" and it's not hard to believe.

"Don't worry: I'm not crazy, just a fan."

Welcome to stalker-land: the hideous portrait, his glass, his rug, his lamp, his pants. "His pants?!" Monk showed great courage in continuing the visit from that point on, but I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to miss the "Three Pies" diorama... or the song. Of course, it was Sharona not Natalie who was assisting Monk during that case, but the episode would only have been half as funny without the Natalie-troll joke. It's also great that in the Monk universe Marci is the only one who knows what the cases are called and that she has absolutely no bobblehead boundaries. The song is also a hoot.

Lucky for Monk there is a case to solve. "So, to recap, dog dies on Monday and then three days later kills your neighbor." That's the gist of it. It's the kind of impossible mystery which makes for classic Monk.

Meanwhile back at the station, Randy learns that contrary to his mother's belief, young Sam does not want to be a police officer. "Who'd want to be a cop: you don't make any money and everybody hates you." I think Randy sucked it up and handled that blow to his self esteem rather well. (For the record, I’d like to play with Randy’s handcuffs.) He does seem to have a nice rapport with the kid as the scene goes on. They look like they’re having fun playing Timber.

By now Stottlemeyer should know if Monk says something is up, then something is up. Maybe he was just in too much of a hurry to meet his date. He does, however, take the file with him, so perhaps something about it was bugging him. I did like his “You need to get the hell out of there.” His concern for Adrian is genuine and almost brotherly. I also thought his last line in the scene was interesting, the one regarding Linda: “Do not need me. She’ll kill me.” I believe they’re laying the groundwork for her upcoming appearance in the episode “Mr. Monk and the Bad Girlfriend” formerly known as "Mr. Monk and the Captain’s Girlfriend.”

“I don’t kill the things I love.”

So, Marci wants Monk to work a little Monk magic and disprove the police theory of the crime like he did in “’Mr. Monk and the Astronaut’ or ‘Mr. Monk Goes Back to School’. Remember that one?”

“No. Where are you getting these names?”

Natalie tries to reason with Marci, but Marci has the upper hand. Framing a dog is not too far fetched for a Monk case. “It’s not totally unprecedented. What about ‘Mr. Monk and the Panic Room’? They tried to frame a monkey, didn’t they?” Technically it was an ape, but Monk has to admit she’s got a point. Since that’s not enough motivation she reminds him that she owns him for the day and he has to do what she says. (I had no idea that was a charity auction perk.) So off they go to investigate the scene of the crime, her neighbor’s garage. This is the scene of which we got the tantalizing sneak peek in March. The Marci/Natalie exchange as they walk up the drive is classic and it’s all in the delivery.

“You have the best job in the world.”

“Not today I don’t.”

The garage investigation reminds me a lot of the garage scene in “Mr. Monk and the Other Woman.” In fact the two episodes share a lot of the same plot elements: a murder in a garage, a mean dog, a woman who finds him attractive. If I remember correctly, Stottlemeyer, with almost the same words, but admittedly with more urgency, advises Monk to leave the woman’s house. I don’t think there’s more meaning to it than that. It just caused a slight feeling of déjà vu.

The best part of this scene is, of course, the introduction of “clue hugs.” What an inspired bit of business that is.

We also get our first up close and personal meeting with John Ringel who narrowly beats out Darrel Cain for worst neighbor ever. (Oh, come on, you remember: “Mr. Monk and the Astronaut”… He stole the dead woman’s fruit of the month.) It’s not hard to figure out that Ringel is the guy. Besides Marci and Otto there are no other suspects. And he’s got a messy hose. Bad guys have messy hoses, right? So the only real question, but it’s an intriguing one, is how.

I’ve got nothing on John Mese who plays Ringel. He has a long list of television guest appearances, none of which ring a bell, except for his small screen debut in Alien Nation back in 1989. He played “Lance Lott”. (All the aliens had been given slightly goofy names.) I know I saw it, because I saw all of them, but I don’t specifically remember him and he would have been wearing a lot of make-up in any case. He really doesn’t get a lot to do here. We never even find out why he killed his wife, unless Marci was right and he killed her for bragging about her gardenias. More likely it was something about adultery. Monk murders usually are.

The whole scene is nicely capped off with the sublimely funny second clue hug.

“Take it like a man.”

Don’t tell me Natalie isn’t funny. That’s funny. As is the monogrammed wipe debate and Natalie’s increasing jealousy and disbelief as Monk shows his first sign of succumbing to Marci’s flattery. I’m with Natalie here, monogramming defeats the purpose of sanitary wipes. They also look sort of dried out.

I can’t blame Natalie for getting all up in Marci’s face. “Here’s a little news flash, Marci, stalking someone and knowing someone: two different things.” The tug of war between the two of them continues at the lumber yard where Marci finds Monk’s weakness. “I’ll work for free.”

I don’t think he’s flattered or flustered, I think he’s the cheapest man in the world, but I like Natalie’s counter offer: “I’m not nuts.” Nevertheless, Natalie decides to step aside. She removes the buffer between Marci and Adrian. Once she’s gone they can see each other for who they really are.

In the next scene, Stottlemeyer’s date, the writers provide another little bit of foreshadowing. “What does a girl have to do to get your attention, Captain? Kill someone?” As a matter of fact, yes, that’s what it’s gonna take. Either that or a car wreck that puts you in a coma. Paying $2000 for him may turn his head, but it won’t keep his attention for too long.

"How about 'Mr. Monk is Friggin’ Awesome'?"

It doesn’t take long for Monk to become disenchanted with Marci when he learns she forgot her neighbor had a lumber yard. That’s probably not the sort of thing that would have slipped Natalie’s mind. I particularly liked his weary, “No, no more hugs.” Her reaction to the “he’s the guy” gives rise to a rare display of exasperation on Monk’s part: “Just shut it” And moments later, “There’s no hugging during the ‘here’s what happened.’” Natalie’s right, now they can compare notes. Marci’s over enthusiasm has alerted Ringel.

Meanwhile the Captain’s evening seems to be going well, but is his mind truly on Linda? Apparently not. The classic romantic strawberry moment turns into a much more interesting Stottlemeyer being a good detective moment and the date is cut short. After a call to Natalie to get the facts, he makes another call to interrupt Disher’s game of Timber. “Are you still playing that stupid game?” I loved Randy’s long pause. The comic pause isn’t a new invention, but they’ve just about perfected it on Monk.

At the lumber yard disenchantment becomes a two way street when Marci discovers she’s been shot. “This is no fun anymore. Why did you bring me here?” Apparently knowing someone isn’t nearly as much fun for Marci as stalking them. She always has been fickle though, just ask Brad Terry.

Marci proves once again that she and reality haven’t met yet when she tries to “pause” the scene and walk out past Ringel. She does manage to thoroughly confuse him for a moment or two, before his killer instincts kick in and he takes her hostage. Rather then let Ringel shoot her, Monk bravely gives himself up, which fails to impress the now disillusioned Marci. “I’m not his girlfriend. I don’t even like him anymore.” Maybe if Monk had known all it would take to dissuade her was a minor gunshot wound, he could have tried it years earlier.

Of course the cavalry arrives just in the nick of time: time Stottlemeyer, Action NatalieTM and Randy “Mad Skilz” Disher. You’ve really got to be hardhearted or a lumber freak not to cheer when Randy saves the day with his new found “Timber” talent. Yes, strictly speaking physics weren’t on his side, but I think most of the audience was. “Stupid game, huh?”

I love it when all the plot lines come together.

I’ve gotta say that the tag scene is perhaps the funniest one they’ve ever done. Did you notice that the original theme plays during the final scene. A tribute to Marci, I guess, who has now set her sights on a new celebrity.

“F. Murray Abraham, the actor”

“May god have mercy on his soul.”

(That's quite a shout out to for Tony Shalhoub's 13Ghosts co-star. I hope he was flattered... or at least flustered.)

But my favorite bit, even more that Natalie’s bobblehead reenactment of the episode, is Adrian pulling the Natalie troll out of the box: “Oh, hey, look it’s you”

And it was hard to beat, “Clue hug, clue hug, clue hug!”

It’s tradition now.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Except for this —


Biggest Fan 13

It's not exactly in depth, but Sarah answered a few questions by email for me.

What was it about Monk that made you want to reprise your role?

It's such a sweet, fun, obnoxious but earnest character and it's fun to play. I'm a fan of the show and always hoped to come back again as Marci.

Was the experience of working on Monk any different this time around?

Well, Bitty was there the first time and Traylor was there this time. I had fun with them both - and Tony is so funny and sweet and lovely and silly.

Did you get input into how Marci Maven was written? Was there any improvisation?

I sing a song that I partially improvised. It was so well written. I'm such a snob and it was so cool to read the script and giggle and not want to change stuff. I'm such a dick...

Do you prefer straight acting to the stand-up?

They are so different and I enjoy them both so much. It's like saying, "What do you like better, being a daughter or being a mother?" (I would say the former, but only because I don't have kids...)

What actors or comedians do you most admire?

So many, holy crap... living or dead? Steve Martin, Garry Shandling, Jimmy Kimmel, Ruth Gordon, Walter Matthau, Don Cheadle, Meryl Streep, Dick Van Dyke, I'm a fan of Steven Weber's, Todd Glass, Mia Barron...I could go on and on... Zach Galifinakis, Nick Swardson...

What's the philosophy behind The Sarah Silverman Program?

Absurd as you want, if you play it real. True to the characters and what makes us laugh.

As a woman have you encountered much discrimination or bias in the comedy world?

I don't know. I've only ever been a woman. I don't have anything to compare it to.


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