Monk: Season 8, Episode 9 “Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk” (B+)
There’s a point where Monk tries to hide and then eventually recounts some tragic experience from his past, and it seems like he’s already covered some similarly traumatizing base in a number of episodes already. Yet the fabulousness of this series is its ability to make it always seem fresh and entertaining, and a big part of that is due to the effective over-dramatization of Monk’s storytelling thanks to the talents of Tony Shalhoub. Natalie’s determination to throw Monk a surprise party and legitimately catch him off-guard was a great thread, and I really enjoyed each of her attempts. The ultimate way she tricked him into attending was spectacular, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting it, though clearly something was up when Natalie boldly announced that she had something to say when the would-be hitmen asked her if she had any last words. The way she uttered her happy birthday wish to Monk was simply stunning delivery by the lovely Traylor Howard. Virginia Madsen was nothing short of wonderful as a woman barely related to the case who quickly won the heart of Captain Stottlemeyer, and I’m really looking forward to seeing much of her, especially because Stottlemeyer seems to step up his game every time he spots a lady he likes. The tie-in of the miracle vacuum to the case was fun, though this is one of those cases where having a well-known actor playing the villain makes his identity obvious from the start. When the no-name janitor and patent lawyer were knocked off at the beginning of the episode, it was clear that the supposed inventor, played by John Carroll Lynch (“The Drew Carey Show”) would ultimately be revealed as the culprit. I love how Monk hardly even has to try to establish that he was the villain, and that his “here’s what happened” speech comes to him while he’s at his own birthday party. Monk really is brilliant and he’s going to be severely missed when this show goes off the air in December. Even Cowboy Hank likes him, and that guy seems pretty cool.