The new Monk movie is more like Mr. Monk’s Hallmark movie

Adrian Monk has always been consistent. He’s never been a fan of germs, heights, loud noises, crowds, elevators, milk, or plenty of other things. But he knows how to solve a murder. Monk, the 2000s USA Network procedural centered around the fictional detective played by Tony Shalhoub, was not as consistent; after a few seasons, the show seemed to reverse-engineer its mysteries from the most uncomfortable situations they could put Monk in for an episode. The quality of the show suffered for it, but Shalhoub’s compassion and meticulous care always tethered the show to something.

Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie, the new Peacock special bringing back Shalhoub, Monk, and most of the show’s cast of characters, throws away what little consistency Monk maintained. It’s a decade-plus since he finally solved his wife Trudy’s murder, and post-COVID living has not been kind to him. With his memoir canceled, Monk can’t afford to pay for his step-daughter Molly’s (Caitlin McGee) wedding, prompting him to feel depressed and contemplating suicide. He delays his plans when he gets roped into solving one final case on Molly’s behalf, but throughout the movie Monk feels broken, so much so that the ghost of Trudy (Melora Hardin) has to step in numerous times to talk him through low moments.

Unfortunately, what Mr. Monk’s Last Case is built on — the sadness underpinning Monk’s whole situation — falters because it doesn’t feel true. And worse yet: The straight-to-streaming movie revival is a glaring imitation of what Monk did better elsewhere.

The special suffers from a lot of the traditional problems that come with this kind of reunion. The central mystery he’s here to solve sprawls in a way the show couldn’t, a casualty of a longer run time without a real backbone to bolster it. It’s trapped somewhere between concluding Monk’s story (it’s his Last Case) and rebooting it (he got pulled back in for one last case!). Your mileage may vary on the stuff in the movie that plays on the nostalgia such reboots are built on: Randy (Jason Gray-Stanford) is still a goober, and real fans still remember his music “project.” Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) is still brassy and doubtful of Monk’s logic. “It’s a gift. And a curse.”

Monk (Tony Shalhoub) sitting and holding hands with the ghost of his wife Trudy (Melora Hardin) Photo: Steve Wilkie/Peacock
Monk (Tony Shalhoub) holding Trudy’s pillow and looking sad while her ghost (Melora Hardin) sits in front of him smiling
Mr. Monk and Trudy in the new Peacock movie, versus in one of Monk’s best-ever episodes.
Image: NBC Universal

But such nostalgia seems to simply retread Monk’s primary arc from the show. Notably, this isn’t the first time Monk has seen Trudy’s ghost. In season 3’s “Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine,” Monk is particularly despondent about his limitations and pulls Trudy’s old pillow out of a plastic bag in the closet and she appears, ethereal and brightly lit. The conversation they have is a speedrun of everything Mr. Monk’s Last Case is trying to build its emotional throughline on: His fear of change (and his fear of “not changing”), how much he misses her, how he’s afraid that his life is always going to feel this hopeless.

Over the course of that episode, he tries medication — which alleviates his anxieties, but also turns him into an asshole and a bad detective — and resolves to keep muddling through the treatment plan he was on. These could be recurring problems for someone like Monk, and indeed Shalhoub’s portrayal has a graceful, endless weariness to it. But Mr. Monk’s Last Case feels trite in comparison to what a 42-minute episode was able to encompass already.

In that third season episode, Trudy’s heavenly presence just feels much more true; Monk wasn’t bringing the real Trudy in off the spectral plane, but rather Monk’s imagination of what Trudy could’ve been there to say to him. Coupled with Shalhoub’s cracking voice and bone-deep despair, the moment between them is heartbreakingly earnest and speaks to his connection and conviction better than any cut corners in the movie. By the end of the special, it’s more like he’s wandered into Mr. Monk’s Hallmark Movie than an episode of Monk. This is particularly true when it hamfistedly tries to tie his reflections with Trudy into the case at hand: He bemoans the never-ending crime statistics, but Monk was never driven by his impact, or his legacy, and certainly not by “ending murder.” He was good at puzzles, a damn good detective, and just as rigid when it came to righteousness as he was with cleanliness.

Aside from the obvious comfort of revisiting the Monk crew, Mr. Monk’s Last Case feels wholly built on providing him with closure and a future. But that’s something the final episode of the series already offered him. While “Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine” was about ultimately maintaining the status quo for the series to continue, the series finale introduces him to Molly, which prompts him to finally resolve to live his life, not simply weather it. Mr. Monk’s Last Case throws that out the window for a post-COVID world, but it has nothing new, insightful, or even comforting to offer Monk or the viewer.

There was always a tragic undercurrent to Monk’s whole schtick, plunky jazz soundtrack aside. The central cliche of Monk’s life — a brilliant detective who could solve everything except his own wife’s murder — was as much a plot device as it was a trap, crystallizing his growth and keeping him (as he would repeatedly admit) from believing he would ever be truly happy or free from his OCD symptoms again. Driving Monk to the brink, only to be held back by the ghost of his wife, isn’t the solve the special thinks it is.

Mr. Monk’s Last Case is now streaming on Peacock.