January 16, 2004
Neurotics, hand-washers, and obsessive counters—lend me your wet wipes!

Tony Shalhoub and Ben Stiller are very, very nervous.

Suddenly, neurosis is hot— v. hot!

How else to explain today's strange pop culture confluence? The return of USA Network's one good show, Monk, starring the insanely brilliant Tony Shalhoub as a detective with O.C.D. and Along Came Polly, starring Ben Stiller as an uptight neat-freak whose world gets turned upside-down (or at least a bit messier) by bra-less free spirit, Jennifer Anastassakis. (I once saw a German video called Along Came Poly, but I assume it's unrelated.)

I cannot go on enough about how excellent Tony Shalhoub is in everything he does. (He was even good in that execrable waste of celluloid, Life or Something Like It, starring Edward Burns' accent and Angelina Jolie's big hair.) Shalhoub has personally supplied some of the most quotable lines in the Coen Brothers' canon: "Talk to another writer... Jesus, throw a rock in here, you'll hit one. And do me a favor, Fink: throw it hard."; "I litigate. I don't capitulate." He's great in small roles in big movies like Men in Black and even better in big roles in small ones like Big Night, but Monk is all his.

Monk is one of those show's that so good, you can't believe it made it out of development without the addition of a talking dog or a sassy robot butler. The supporting cast of MonkBitty Schram playing Sharona like a grown-up Dead End Kid, Ted Levine (aka, Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs) lurching around as Capt. Stottlemeyer with a world-weary lugubriousness, Jason Gray-Stanford dorking it up as Lt. Randall Disher, Jimmy Olson reborn as a cop—and the sharp writing make Monk (to echo the estimable blurb artistes of TV Guide) the best show you're not watching. It's on Friday nights at 10PM EST.

Weirdly, Monk has been compared to a 1998 movie starring Polly's Ben Stiller: Zero Effect also about the comic conceit of a detective (Bill Pullman) with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (An attempted TV version with Alan Cumming had, well, zero effect and never made it past the pilot.)

I don't know Polly from Adam, but the commercial (and its use of the Bellamy Brothers' "Let Your Love Flow" accompanying a toilet overflowing with shit) annoys me every time it's on—which is a lot. Stiller's done better, he's done worse. I still like him—especially since he portrays himself as the most conceited Hollywood asshole ever on the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Probably a self-parody that hews very close to truth.) Stiller rises above even the worst material, and I'll always respect him for it.

Monk or Along Came Polly? Watch 'em both—but don't forget to wash your hands.

Posted in a Shallow fashion.

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