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'Monk' starts final run

For you non-"Monk-aholics," this is the eighth and final season, concluding in early December with a two-parter that will probably resolve the one case that pretty much launched the whole series - the murder of Monk's beloved wife, Trudy.

Tony Shalhoub, as Adrian Monk - the detective who both suffers and thrives from his obsessive-compulsive disorder - became a three-time Emmy winner (and he's up for another best-actor-in-a-comedy statue this year). Bitty Schram, who played Monk's loyal assistant, Sharona Fleming, before leaving the cast in 2004, returns for a late-season cameo.

WHAT THIS EPISODE IS ABOUT

Did you know, oh loyal and loving "Monk" fan, that Mr. Monk has a favorite show? A surprise, yes, because the detective really doesn't watch much TV, though he remembers every detail, every line of dialogue from that show, even 35 years later. It was called "The Cooper Clan," and resemblances to "The Brady Bunch" are purely intentional. It starred "Christine Rapp" (Elizabeth Perkins), who years later has written a tell-all book - and resemblances to Maureen McCormick are probably intentional as well. Monk hasn't read the book yet but stalwart pal Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard) has. It's a shocker, filled with the lurid details of Christine's many (ummm) adventures, earning her enemies and death threats. Rapp's assistant (Rena Sofer) hires Monk as her bodyguard. He's thrilled, at first.

Watching this episode, it occurred to me that USA without "Monk" will be like losing the "U" in its name. This show made USA. Other faves like "Psych" and "Burn Notice" will remain, but the fact is, "Monk's" departure will be a loss for TV, period. This is one of the tube's most reliable and familiar franchises. Its Randy Newman theme song (" . . . it's a jungle out there . . . ") is a TV jingle for the ages.

The formula is, and Friday night remains, ironclad. Fans know this show and its comfortable rhythms as intimately as Mr. Monk knows his "Cooper Clan"; some may even feel the loss he feels Friday night just as keenly. Welcome to the bittersweet final season.

GRADE: A

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