December 7, 2009

Monk Finale Breaks Records - But What Sloppy Writing for a Series about an OCD Detective

Even before all the numbers are tallied, the farewell episode of USA's Monk last Friday night has set new records for cable television audiences -- it grabbed the largest numbers for any drama series ever appearing on basic cable with a total already reaching 9.4 million viewers.  So, I guess it's safe to assume that you may have watched the show. 

Now, here's the big question -- did you like it?

This is a blog dealing with fiction writing, and I'm pondering the conclusion of Monk with that in mind.  And while I had warm and fuzzy feelings as the show's final segment ended, as a viewer and Monk-fan, as a writer I thought - wow, there's gonna be some unhappy folk out there.  Maybe I am one of them. 


I think that the finale may be disappointing to all those who were following the thread of Trudy murder hints all these many years.  You know, the ones with Dale the Whale in them.  Or the shady union dealings she was investigating.  As well as the idea that maybe she was investigating something else in her job as a reporter.  All these things that lent themselves to scenarios explaining who killed Trudy and why.

Heck, the USA website even had Trudy's "file" on the site, with forum boards discussing items left on her desk and in her files. 


And here's the thing -- you could have watched the series finale and never had seen anything about any of these early red herrings and been just fine.  Because the finale all of a sudden has a video of Trudy (never mind the techno questions that pop to mind regarding video recordings made 12 years ago and the comparison to what was used in the scene) giving us an entirely NEW backstory. 

I think the writers were sloppy and many loyal viewers will have a growing disappointment with the finale

Suddenly, there's the new Trudy story.  Where her law professor (law? did she go to law school? did she take a law class as part of her undergrad courses at Berkeley where she and Monk met?) knocked her up and where -- surprise -- her baby has surprisingly survived to become a 25 year old pseudo-daughter for Adrian Monk.  In the words of Natalie Teager, now Monk "has someone to love."  Awww.

Then - wow! Bam! Pop!  The revelation we've waited 8 seasons, side by side with Monk, to learn:  the adulterous law professor killed Trudy and the midwife who delivered the baby.   Wait for it:  he then handily kills himself when Monk finally confronts him as being Trudy's killer.  Neat and tidy, right?  Wrong.

A disservice to a loyal following

Neat and tidy would be taking all those earlier years and tying them together into a cohesive ending.  The writers did a disservice to their following when they took this alternative path.  Personally, I would rather have had Trudy reappear after being in a witness protection program to protect Monk from Dale the Whale than this last-minute resolution. 

I mean, how OLD was Trudy when this affair was supposed to have happened?  I mean really. 

Then there's a math problem.  Monk and Trudy graduated in 1981 (remember the college reunion episode shown within hours of the finale), so in 2009 you already have 28 years that have passed.  Yet the new character, daughter Molly, says she is 25.  And in the video Trudy says she had the child before she met Monk.

Sloppy stuff. 

The lesson for writers here -- writing a good series means keeping track of the details.

On Friday night, as the finale ended and we saw the camera pan back from the Captain, Monk, and Natalie all entering a building where another murder awaited its solution, I was bittersweet.  I was happy Monk was sleeping in the middle of the bed, I was happy to see the "Trudy and Leland" pillow. 

But now it's Monday afternoon.  And I'm experiencing a growing disappointment.  Because part of the fun of Monk was going through all those clues in my head, to see if I could figure things out.  I feel gipped.  Over the years, the writers made me care about all those little details and now all those ponderings have been for naught.  There's no point in thinking back to the clues about Dale the Whale, etc. because they don't matter ... and wouldn't it be more fun if they did? 

So, lesson learned.  Writing a series is creating a growing world of facts that must be organized and controlled by the writer.  Because a successful series will need a writer who can be trusted.

I think the bottom line is a failure of plot continuity -- more than the usual that Monk fans came to expect -- and we Monk fans deserved better. This makes me sad. 

My only hope -- Goldberg can fix it with one of his upcoming Monk books. 
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