Bitty Schram, Tony Shalhoub, ...
Credit: Monk: Alan Zenuk

In the aftermath of his wife’s death in a car bombing, detective Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) develops an extreme case of obsessive-compulsive disorder that enables him to analyze evidence in mind-boggling detail.

Shalhoub, familiar to USA viewers from years of endless ”Wings reruns, stars in Monk, a TV vehicle that displays the dazzling talents he’s shown in big-screen roles from slithery alien Jack Jeebs in the ”MIB” movies to silver-tongued lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider in ”The Man Who Wasn’t There.” He doesn’t overplay Monk’s OCD symptoms for cheap laughs; instead, he subtly conveys the quiet misery of a man who’s trapped in vicious cycles of irrational behavior. Deftly shifting between scenes of pathos and physical comedy, he renders Monk as an endearingly original hero, a germaphobe who’s fighting to clean up the gritty streets of San Francisco without getting his hands dirty.

The series’ supporting cast isn’t so uniformly spotless. ”A League of Their Own”’s Bitty Schram, who’s like a less strident Debi Mazar, plays off Shalhoub amusingly as Sharona Fleming, Monk’s tough-tawkin’ nurse/gal Friday. But Ted Levine (”The Silence of the Lambs”) deserves better than the half-note role of the hotheaded police captain who’s eternally skeptical of Monk’s unorthodox methods.

And while ”Monk”’s pilot, penned by ”Rat Race”’s Andy Breckman, was fresh and funny, the second episode felt like a rerun, right down to the shadow-of-the-Golden Gate Bridge epilogue.

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