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'Monk' finale: Did it end the way you hoped it would?

Monk closed out its eight-season run last night, making the long-awaited solution to Adrian Monk’s greatest mystery – who killed his wife? – the centerpiece of the finale.

But you could have watched Monk for years without ever thinking much about poor dead Trudy (Melora Hardin). This was a series that put its OCD-eccentric detective first. If Tony Shalhoub’s Monk came out of a TV tradition of bumbling brilliant men such as Peter Falk’s Columbo, he started a trend for cable-TV “character” crime-solvers that continued into the present day on everything from The Closer to Psych.

Last night concluded a two-part episode, “Mr. Monk and the End.” I’m sure you felt the same way I did when, 17 minutes into last week’s first installment, a figure shot in shadows made a phone call in which he said, “Twelve years ago, I killed [Monk’s] wife.” The voice and outline of the man was so clearly that of Craig T. Nelson, playing judge Ethan Rickover, that I figured, well, there must be a twist here, right? Creator (and finale writer) Andy Breckman must be putting one over on us, right?

Um, nope. Rickover dunnit. The finale started cramming in other complications, though. Trudy had left behind a tape of herself, for Monk to watch should she die. In it, she told him that, before they met, she’d had an affair. (Monk reacted with wracked agony – and not just because he was suffering from another subplot: he’d been poisoned. But why the angst? He didn’t even know Trudy when she had her earlier relationship. I know he was obsessed with her, but… )

Anyway, Trudy had broken up with the guy – Ethan Rickover, of course – and had her baby, which she thought had died. Another light went off in my head: Who in TV-world has a baby that dies the day it’s born, never to be heard about again? No one.

So, of course, during the last hour, while Monk solved the “mystery” of Trudy’s murder, as well as the cure for hthe poisoning that was supposed to kill him in a matter of days, it was also revealed that Trudy’s daughter was alive, a pretty 26 year-old named Molly.

In general, the finale summed up the reasons why lots of people loved this series, and why I and other people thought it had all become repetitive and silly. In that sense, it was a Monk that was true to its essence to the end. We had ridiculous scenes such as what looked like half the staff of a hospital holding down the squirmy Monk when he had to have a needle-shot, or one near the end in which he shows his police department pals over 600 pictures of Molly he’s taken over just a few days, so joyful is he that he’s compelled to chronicle her every move. (The only truly unbelievable detail in the current media age? Molly is a film critic for a small newspaper, and gets to go to the Toronto Film Festival instead of being laid off.)

So in the end, Monk went on solving crimes, with many of his OCD neuroses seemingly abated. Tony Shaloub won multiple Emmys for his Monk work, and he did a consistent job to the end. Monk itself is comfort-food TV – you always knew what you were getting, pretty much. Its mysteries tended not to be hard to solve (such as this final one), which sort of undercuts the notion of Monk’s genius. And the show had some fine guest stars, including John Turturro and Steve Zahn.

The series ended with a montage of the sort of slapstick moments that reminded me why I didn’t watch Monk much after its first few seasons. Randy Newman, who recorded the show’s theme song, provided a pretty, rueful closing-credits tune that said, “I think you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”

Are you going to miss Monk?

(You can follow me on Twitter.)

Originally posted December 5 2009 — 8:37 AM EST

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