It’s been ten years, but Monk is as entertaining as ever.
Mr. Monk’s Last Case let us catch up with our favorite police consultant with OCD and his friends. Everyone’s lives have changed, and they all look older — and it felt to Monk like they’d all left him behind, leading to a powerful story behind the lighthearted mystery.
[Note: If you are sensitive to discussions of suicide and other serious mental health issues, please be aware that this review will talk extensively about them.]
Although Monk was always primarily a comedy, Monk’s backstory was tragic. The original series centered around how he was coping (or not) following his wife’s murder, and his OCD symptoms had gotten out of control after her death.
In this sense, the movie was no different. It balanced some extremely serious stuff with the lighthearted moments we’re all used to, and one never overshadowed the other.
Monk’s suicidal feelings were handled with sensitivity, respect, and accuracy — three things that media too often gets wrong about mental health.
Throughout the movie, Monk kept talking about how lonely he was and how much he longed to be with Trudy again, but it didn’t hit me until after it was over what the issue behind his issues was.
I’m sorry, Adrian, it’s been ten years. The name Adrian Monk used to mean something.
Monk resented everyone for moving on when they first reunited. And that was one of the big problems he had difficulty dealing with.
Everyone had moved on to new jobs, relationships, and places to live while he was still in the same old place, doing the same things he had always done.
And to make matters worse, his publisher backed out of his book deal and told him to his face that his story was no longer relevant — people didn’t know who he was anymore. He had no support whatsoever besides Molly, and she was soon to move on with her own life.
No wonder the promise of reuniting with Trudy after death felt so appealing to him.
I also appreciated that the movie incorporated the COVID lockdowns as a new trigger for Monk’s mental health issues.
This is one of the pandemic’s effects that isn’t discussed much. People were isolated for over two years, not knowing if they’d ever be able to see friends and family again, and even today, life has not gone entirely back to normal.
This is difficult for a lot of people — depression and anxiety rates are still at all-time highs.
For someone like Monk, who struggles with a fear of germs and disease at the best of times and has difficulty with deviations from his routine, the lockdown and the fear of exposure to disease had to be impossible.
It surprised me that he didn’t mask up, if not put on his hazmat suit, in his daily life, but he did carry around his own hand sanitizing station, so I guess he felt that was good enough.
Monk gave off so many signs of planning to end his life that I was frustrated that no one picked up on it.
The people who loved him were worried about him, but it didn’t occur to anyone that he might kill himself. Even when he told Natalie that the dog she wanted him to adopt was tired of living and wanted to be put to sleep, it didn’t register.
But sadly, that’s the way it often is in real life. When someone successfully takes their own life, their loved ones look back and kick themselves for the obvious signs they missed, wishing they’d realized in time to save that person’s life.
I appreciated that Monk’s work on the case didn’t fully solve his problem. It was a distraction and gave him a temporary sense of purpose so that he could put off his plan to end things, but a distraction is never a real solution.
While I knew that it wasn’t likely the movie would end with Monk achieving his goal of committing suicide, I wasn’t sure. I thought it might be called Mr. Monk’s Last Case for that reason, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Monk put away all those pills he planned to overdose on.
Who else teared up when Monk had that vision of all those people whose cases he’d solved and the one woman who was waiting for him to get her justice?
Trudy’s ghostly presence was a creative way of externalizing Monk’s ambivalence about continuing to live. His love for Trudy has enabled him to keep going ever since her death, and despite this too-close-for-comfort wobble, she saved him again in the end.
But not just her. By realizing how many people he had gotten justice for, Monk rediscovered his sense of purpose, allowing him to put on his police pass and return to the station to work on a new case.
It was a beautiful moment that reminded me that telling the stories that need to be told can truly impact others in ways we don’t even realize.
Despite the heaviness of Monk’s depression, the movie didn’t lose its lightheartedness. There were a few cringy comedic moments — Natalie’s failure to make a three-point turn without crashing into every car on the street was ridiculous — but most of the jokes worked.
Monk has always been at its best when it shows the lighter side of OCD as well as Monk’s struggles, and that’s where the comedy gold was here, too. Monk’s inability to let anything be out of place always gets him in trouble, with hilarious effects.
That sequence where he made the lights flash on and off, signaling Rick Eden to come get him because he couldn’t deal with a switch being down when the other three were up, was worthy of Leslie Nielsen’s Naked Gun movies.
At least that switch only controlled the lights and didn’t electrify the fence or something else equally dire!
The funniest moment, though, was when Natalie and Randy were talking to the newscaster and argued about the order of Monk’s fears. That newscaster had no idea what he’d gotten into and didn’t know how to get his show back on track. That almost made up for Randy’s theory of the case, which was almost more ridiculous than usual.
The case was typical Monk fare, though not the most challenging of any case he’s ever investigated.
I appreciated that it was a how-done-it rather than a whodunnit, turning the usual mystery trope on its head. I very nearly solved that when Monk discovered the garage break-in, though.
I figured someone had broken into the garage to sabotage Griffin’s bungee preparations, though I assumed they’d swapped out his cord. Leave it to Monk to figure out the truth after meeting two weirdos with slightly different head sizes.
I’m not sure how identical twins could be non-identical in that respect, but it gave Richard Kind a bit part as well as providing Monk with the key to the solution, so I’ll go with it.
There were one or two disappointments, but those were minor. I’d have loved for Sharona to return — I always liked her far better than Natalie.
And given that Monk didn’t want to leave his house following the end of the COVID lockdowns, it would have been a great time for him to reconnect via Zoom with his agoraphobic brother, Ambrose.
Still, this was an entertaining movie with a meaningful, empowering message, and best of all, it left things open for future installments.
I remember when I was a kid, and Raymond Burr would do a new Perry Mason TV movie about once a quarter. I’d love for Monk and the rest of the cast to do the same.
In the meantime, the entire series is available on Peacock, so I might revisit it.
What about you, Monk fanatics? Did Mr. Monk’s Last Case live up to your expectations?
Hit the big, blue SHOW COMMENTS button and let us know. For more on Mr.Monk’s Last Case discussion, check out our article on how Monk paved the way for neurodiverse characters on TV.
Mr. Monk’s Last Case is streaming on Peacock. It premiered on December 8, 2023.
Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on X.