THE SHOW "Monk"
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m. on USA.
REASON TO WATCH Bitty Schram comes home for one night.
WHAT IT'S ABOUTMr. Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is vacuuming his apartment when he accidentally sucks up a nickel. Must have that nickel! He upends the device, takes out the hose, turns it on and suddenly his face is covered in dust - which, in Monkian terms, is catastrophic. The doorbell rings. Someone familiar walks in and hands him a towelette. Suddenly, a glorious reunion - although Monk would very much like to know what Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram) did with a laundry ticket from five years earlier. Seems she had dropped off a favorite shirt ("shirt no. 4") before heading back to New Jersey.
Yes, Sharona has been long gone - she became Monk's assistant right after the murder of his beloved wife, Trudy - but it still feels like yesterday. (When she meets current assistant Natalie Teeger, played by Traylor Howard, the two size each other up like a pair of prizefighters.)
Sharona's in town to sue a golf club where her uncle died in an accident. Or . . . was it an accident?
BOTTOM LINE Beginning with the opening scene, there are two - maybe more - inside jokes about money in this episode. They have to do with Monk's parsimony, but viewers might wonder whether these jokes also refer to the show's tightfistedness. Natalie discovers that Sharona was making all of twenty bucks more a week than she is - demands a raise, and gets one. Didn't Schram do the same thing five years ago, according to published reports? At the time, she did not get a salary bump and left one of the most successful shows in cable TV history. The departure was a huge deal, but the show went on, as shows must do.
There's no bitterness Friday night - it's a sweet, gentle, good-hearted episode. Sharona's back, if only for one night, and fans will rightfully rejoice.