Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive detective played by Tony Shaloub on USA Network's "Monk," hates change. Just look in his closet. His shirts are all the same color, same brand, even all inspected by the same person in the same factory.
If something as simple as a different shirt shakes up Monk, it's nothing compared to what he will have to face this week when he confronts change in the most personal, intimate part of his life — his therapist.
Actor Stanley Kamel, who played Monk’s therapist throughout the show’s fist six seasons, died in April. Dr. Kroger had helped Monk cope with the death of his beloved wife Trudy, with losing his job on the force, and with the increasing frustration that Trudy’s killer still remains at large. He also was there every week to counsel Monk through his latest phobic flare up, whether it was an aversion to heights or a fear of milk.
Now Kroger is gone. But Monk needs therapy like he needs wipes, brown suits and Sierra Springs bottled water, so the July 18 seventh-season premiere will introduce Hector Elizondo as Dr. Bell.
Kamel’s deadpan delivery and priceless expressions (from exasperated to amused to caring in a matter of moments) will be missed. But it will be fun to see how Elizondo, who has flexed his comedy chops mostly on the big screen in Garry Marshall movies, uses his kind face and smirky grins to spar with Shalhoub.
Cybill Shepherd, shrink
Elizondo won’t be the only new therapist arriving Friday night. Right after the “Monk” premiere, the hyper but charming “Psych” launches its third season by introducing Cybill Shepherd as mom to lead character Shawn. Her occupation? Psychologist, of course.
Shepherd’s larger-than-life on-screen personality is a good fit for the wild antics of “Psych.” But giving her a job that gets inside people’s heads should set up some fun comedic sparring with her son, who as a fake psychic pretends to do the same thing.
Shepherd and Elizondo’s new roles also are evidence of something that has made abundantly clear this season: TV shows love therapy. Cable channels, broadcast networks, dramas, comedies — all of them have embraced the trend this year.
Blame “The Sopranos.” After all, if a tough guy like Tony could sit through therapy every week, anyone can, right?
Shrinks also popped up this year on comedies “Ugly Betty,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and, most notably, “Two and a Half Men,” which featured Jane Lynch as Charlie’s wry therapist.
Through several episodes, Lynch’s Dr. Freeman coaxed Charlie farther away from his self-destructive lifestyle — albeit through a series of insults and wisecracks. Their scenes together were funny, certainly, but they also offered Sheen something he hasn’t had much of on this show — a bit of character development.
“Two and a Half Men” isn’t the only show to use therapists as a quick and easy way to write character-developing stories for their lead performers. It’s become the bread-and-butter of TV dramas.
When Meredith’s post-ferry accident life had turned her so mopey that not even Derek could McRevive her, “Grey’s Anatomy’s” writers sent her to a shrink. And after a few episodes telling guest star Amy Madigan how much therapy won’t help, she finally broke out of her emotional funk in May’s finale.
On Fox, the delightful if grisly crime drama “Bones” knows the character-building power of therapy well. First, viewers got under Booth’s skin when the strait-laced FBI agent had to visit guest star Stephen Fry’s couch for clearance after an on-the-job shooting. Now the show has made a series regular out of Dr. Sweets, the young but confident shrink who treats Booth and Brennan like they’re in couple’s counseling.
HBO recently debuted two series that put therapy front and center. “Tell Me You Love Me” focused on three couples linked by a common therapist, who herself was forced to confront the relationships in her own life. The show made headlines for its graphic and frank depictions of sex, but it was the Jane Alexander’s Dr. Foster who became this show’s most fascinating feature.
“In Treatment” took it one step further. The show, told in half-hour daily doses featuring a different patient each day of the week, even sent its therapist to a shrink of his own every Friday. Getting inside Dr. Paul Weston’s head proved to be one of the most rewarding endeavors of the year for the fans willing to devote the time to joining him in therapy – both his own and his patients.
And perhaps that is the reason therapy has become such an effective storytelling device in recent years. It celebrates personal choice. For therapy to work, you have to be willing to show up. Whether you are the chronically sexist Charlie Harper, the chronically wounded Meredith Grey or the chronically phobic detective Adrian Monk, some part of you must want to change to sit down on that couch in the first place. And TV has proven that that journey to change can be powerfully funny, touchingly dramatic and all-around entertaining.