Season 8 Episode 9

Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk

Aired Friday 9:00 PM Oct 16, 2009 on USA

Episode Fan Reviews (3)

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out of 10
387 votes
  • Mr. Monk Is Older Than He's Ever Been (and Now He's Even Older)

    I've watched all seven and a half seasons of this show so far, and I've noticed that episodes generally fall into one of two classes. You've got the increasingly uncommon mystery episodes, where the writers actually bother to put together a half-decent puzzle. Then there are the character-driven episodes, where we focus on some event in the life of a certain character, usually Monk, almost always at the expense of a good mystery. But then there's a very rare third grouping that tries to have it both ways, to varying degrees of success. "Happy Birthday, Mr. Monk" tries to serve up some clever murders and some interesting character moments for Monk, and it's a moderate success at both.

    A maintenance man, Bradley Foster, meets his demise at the hands of his garbage compactor. The one other man in the building at the same time, patent attorney Richard Meckler, soon experiences an untimely death of his own, having been poisoned - and nobody has any idea how. Against this grizzly backdrop, we find Natalie struggling to put together a surprise party for Monk's 50th birthday, against his wishes. A third storyline has Stottlemeyer falling for a consumer reporter, and it's unquestionably the weakest part of the episode. Ted Levine deserves better. It seems we'll be seeing this woman again, and I can only hope the tale of Leland's romance is more interesting in those episodes.

    As for the more major storylines...Monk's birthday is handled well enough. The childhood event that made him hate birthdays is actually really minor, but ultimately, all the more believable for it. And the way Natalie ultimately succeeds at surprising her boss is funny simply because it's directly parodying all the ridiculous "let's put Monk in mortal danger simply to pad out the script" moments they've been overdoing in recent seasons. If there's one big complaint I have about the birthday stuff, it's that Monk is written too cartoonishly near the middle while he's overly paranoid about Natalie surprising him. The morgue stuff just seemed like overkill.

    The mystery is a mixed bag. On one hand, it's great fun to piece together the motive. For once, the "whodunnit" aspect is actually a little bit puzzling, especially with two characters being involved in the murders. However, the actual pivotal question - how could Pressman drink from a poisoned drink and live? - is just a shameless rehash of the ages old "poisoned ice cubes" riddle. And when the writers have to resort to old riddles to craft their clever murders, you know they've pretty much run out of ideas. If the "how he did it" was more original, this could've very well been the best mystery of the season, with the other aspects being so well-done.

    In fact, that's the same problem any long-running show faces. After seven and a half seasons, it's almost impossible to come up with any original ideas anymore. As much as many fans would refuse to admit it, it's probably a good thing the show's ending after this season. In fact, I'd argue that it should've ended several seasons back while it was still in its prime, but obviously I'd expect disagreement there. As for this episode, despite the shameless rehash of an old riddle and excessively cartoonish behaviour in parts, I'd say this was still decent enough, especially compared to last week's abomination.
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