As USA's flagship series "Monk" continues its eighth and final season, the biggest question on the minds of "Monk" fans concerns the series-long arc of whether Mr. Monk (played my multi-Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub) will finally resolve the murder of his wife and move past his OCD behavior? Who better to answer that and other pressing questions than Shalhoub himself? What has "Monk" meant to him? How will the resolution of Trudy's death be solved? And, of course, what's next for the versatile actor? Shalhoub gave all those answers and more and our Jim Halterman was there to take it all in.
"If I had to choose one thing," Shalhoub said in regards to what lasting impression he'd like the show to have made, "I would say that I would want people to take away this idea that sometimes people's problems or neuroses are really the things that are kind of a blessing in disguise, and even though there's sometimes pain associated with these things that sometimes in the face of adversity with obstacles to overcome, people can really kind of soar and find their higher selves. I think that's what we've tried to do on the show is we've portrayed this character as someone who turns his liability, his liabilities into assets per his life." In terms of the character of Monk, his portrayer has an idea as to where he will be emotionally after the final episode. "I hope when we get to the end of season eight that we'll have seen some real healing from Monk and I believe in that. I believe that there is healing and that there is change, and that all of those things are just really, really key to all of our lives."
While "Monk" is primarily light in tone, dramatic moments happen on occasion and, as evident from his long career, Shalhoub is just as adept with drama as he is with comedy. Does the actor have a preference? "My only preference is to have a lot of variety and diversity in the material that I work on. I've been so fortunate throughout my career, when I was doing theater, more theater than anything else, and when I was doing films that I got a chance just to do a broad range of things. In fact, a lot of my choices that I made were about that very thing. Every project that I had an opportunity to do or chose to do, I wanted it to be different from the last thing I did, and I think that's why I had kind of a diverse kind of r�sum�. It's what I set out to do as an actor originally."
Shalhoub reflected that over the last eight years, he and Monk have become less different than they were when the series premiered in 2002... but he personally didn't take the increasing parallels lightly. "I resisted it for a long time," he shared. "I wrestled with it. I fought with it. I was in denial about it and all of that but inevitably there have been some... I feel like I've been infected in some way by this character. Tendencies, you know, minor tendencies that I've had in my life prior to �Monk' have just kind of ballooned and expanded and it's inevitable. I mean, I just, there's no point in trying to � I've given up trying to resist it. I've had to just surrender to it. I mean, I'm hoping that when �Monk' is over that I'll have some period of recovery, but I'm not holding my breath."
The final "Monk" season is not going to forget to solve the biggest mystery of the series though, from what Shalhoub said, it may take a while in the coming episodes to really dive in. "What the writers have in mind is to do our normal standalone episodes for the first, I would say, 11, because we're doing 16, as usual. So the first 11, I would say, are going to be standalone and then the last 5 is when we'll be kind of connected. They'll have a connected tissue and we'll start to get into the wrap up, not just of Monk, but of some of the other characters as well. Then what they want to do is the final two episodes, number 15 and 16, it'll just be one story, a two-part aired in two segments... [and] that two-part will involve the solving of Trudy's murder."
With ratings still strong for the police procedural, was there ever talk of continuing beyond the eighth season? "Long conversations that I had with Andy Breckman, one of the co-creators and the main writer... we've been talking all along about how many seasons to do, how many episodes that he had in him as the writer. He, at one point, said that he didn't think really he had more than six seasons and then he kind of got a gigantic second wind and we did the seventh and we weren't sure when we were doing the seventh if the network was going to go with us on the eighth. But to make a long story short, we all kind of agreed that the eighth season would be it for all of us." Shalhoub said that the time is right for one major reason. "We certainly don't want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we feel that we're doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high."
Expect to see familiar faces throughout the new season, including Monk's long-missed assistant from the early episodes of the series. "Bitty Schram is going to come back for episode � I believe it is episode number 12 - which will start shooting in September. And they want to bring that character back and kind of wrap it up and kind of give that a good send off. A lot of people really missed that character and the dynamic between Monk and Sharona. And so we're all looking forward to that." One of Monk's rivals will also be returning. "We'll see Harold Krenshaw comes back, one of my favorites. He's the other OCD patient who is always kind of in competition with Monk, played so brilliantly by Tim Bagley. He's going to return for at least a couple of episodes."
Unfortunately, one character whose absence is still felt by Shalhoub is Dr. Charles Kroger, played by the late Stanley Kamel. "We all speak... it's almost as if he has never left us," Shalhoub said with a hint of emotion creeping into his voice, "because his name comes up in stories, and anecdotes come up about him all the time on the set. And he's missed, but we try to sort of keep him alive in our � keep [him] in our midst. He was there from the very, very beginning, from the pilot episode, and I have to say those scenes, those Dr. Kroger scenes in the pilot were so important, just in terms of my process, my discovery of who Monk was." The actor said that the memories of Kamel still pop up often, especially "when I'm in these sessions, these scenes with Hector Elizondo, who plays Dr. Bell, I can't even go into these scenes without just this little � I sort of do this little internal toast, as it were, to Stanley Kamel because he was the original doctor. I like to think that he's kind of there in those sessions with me. He is missed."
While Shalhoub dared not claim a favorite guest star over the years, he revealed, "The most thrilling for me was last season working with Gena Rowlands on 'Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door.' She was such a tremendous influence on me when I was a student and studying acting. I was a devotee of John Cassavetes movies and the movies she did even separate from him... working those eight days with her was just... I felt really... when we finished that episode, I felt like I could retire, that I had done everything I needed to do now. She was so gracious and so good, and of course she's been nominated for an Emmy for that episode too, so I will hopefully see her at the Emmys in September."
Any chance we'll see Adrian Monk pop up in future TV movies or any other form? "I've given that a lot of thought," Shalhoub admitted. "I feel like I'm ready to put this character to rest but, by the same token, I never say never, and circumstances could change, and I could change my mind. Certainly I've been known to change my mind. I just think time will tell. I would never ever rule something like that out."
For now, as he finishes shooting the last episodes, Shalhoub is hoping for one thing after the show wraps � a rest, albeit a short one. "I don't want to take too long a vacation, although I do think I need a break. Whenever I take too long a break or don't work a while, all my demons start to resurface, and I go a little nuts... but beyond that, I want to really, really take some time for myself to decide which direction to go next. I might do some theater for a year before I do any more television. I think I need a break from hour long episodic for a while."
The final episodes of "Monk" continue tonight on USA at 9:00/8:00c.