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37° Good Morning

Slay bells ring in series finale of 'Monk'


WHEN | WHERE Friday at 9 p.m. on USA

REASON TO WATCHSeries finale

CATCHING UP In last week's "Mr. Monk and the End, Part 1," the remorseless killer who murdered Monk's wife, Trudy (Melora Hardin), has ordered a hit on Monk (Tony Shalhoub) because he's afraid the Defective Detective will catch him now. Monk is poisoned, and the race is on to find an antidote. Meanwhile, Trudy gave Monk a Christmas gift years earlier, just before she was blown up in the parking garage. She had forbidden him from opening it until the holiday. But Monk's last case draws to a close, and if he can't solve Trudy's murder, "Then I've wasted three years of my life washing these hands."

FRIDAY'S EPISODE Monk decides to finally unwrap the gift, and the secret - Trudy's secret - is revealed. There's a surprise ending and . . . sorry, we can't tell you any more than that, except to say that Monk gets a new obsession.

MY SAYMany years ago, when we were much younger or not even born and the world seemed - seemed - like a more innocent place, there was a show called "The Fugitive." Stoked in Kafkaesque paranoia, it was about a man wrongly accused of killing his wife, and how he spent four highly charged (and highly rated) seasons looking for the "one-armed man" who had killed her.

Fast-forward to 2002, when Andy Breckman, a former writer for "Late Night With David Letterman" and "Saturday Night Live," had the bright idea of updating this concept for the post-9/11 age of heightened fears and dread. But Breckman - whose larger inspiration was "Columbo" - had the even brighter idea of making his hero funny. What if a detective was so devastated by the death of his beloved that he became a tic-ridden obsessive-compulsive - which made him an even better detective?

Tony Shalhoub brought it all home - winning three best-actor Emmys and earning seven nominations. So did a wonderful cast, notably gruff / lovable Capt. Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and Monk's loyal and equally lovable assistant, Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard).

"Monk" also went back to the future with basic beginning / middle / end storytelling, which was deeply comforting to viewers who wanted meat and potatoes, and not necessarily the foie gras of "Lost" or "Heroes." "Monk" helped turn USA from a muddled, off-network repeat dumping ground into a jewel of the otherwise tarnished NBC crown.

BOTTOM LINE And after that long drumroll . . . the finale is disappointing. It lacks the snap and humor of the best "Monk," while the payoff feels lackluster. But do catch the final Randy Newman song.

GRADES A (series); B- (finale)

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