Well, that was certainly...interesting. It's been a point of major hype for this season. Sharona's returning! Surely it's a wonderful thought for anyone in the Monk fandom - or, at least, anyone like myself who watched the series from the very beginning and misses her presence on the show in a big way. But, being intricately familiar with the fluctuating quality of the show's more recent offerings, I had my doubts. The concept of Sharona's return was a great place for this episode to start, but could the writers actually follow through on it? Well....yes and no.
Sharona's back in town to deal with the legal matters concerning the death of her uncle, Howie. It looks like an accident - and Sharona's walking away with a healthy settlement from the incident depends on it - but Monk, as usual, suspects otherwise. Very much to her annoyance. Actually, that's one of my more major complaints with this episode. As others have mentioned, Sharona is greedy here in out-of-character proportions. Yes, I know, you only met him twice in your life...but still, he's your uncle! This episode definitely starts to pick up as she starts to get over this.
The mystery is simple and sort of predictable, but I have to applaud its pacing. In a move that's becoming increasingly rare nowadays, Monk doesn't solve the case with one big, unrealistic deduction, but rather a few smaller ones. However, the scene where Monk gives the summation in the closet, letting the killer overhear, was probably the low point of the episode: unrealistic, and the gimmicky fast forward gag felt completely out-of-place in a semi-serious series like this. And then there's the question of why our murderer du jour would keep a piece of crucial evidence lying around, just waiting to be discovered, especially with the knowledge that someone's on to him.
As for Sharona, the episode does pretty much nothing to address her extended departure, weirdly enough. We're told Monk was a basketcase for several months after she spontaneously left him, and all he wants to ask about is laundry? I'm not buying it. I'm sorry, but you can't just pretend that she hasn't been gone for four and a half years. It's all pretty underwhelming - the two main scenes where the show actually does address some of the emotions regarding her absence are flashes of greatness that showcase what this episode could've been. The scene where she talks with Natalie about leaving the "best job she ever had" is handled nicely, and if you ever need a reminder of what a terrific actor Tony Shalhoub can be, just watch the final scene. It's amazing how much he's able to convey with a simple hug.
That's how I'll remember this episode. A few moments of brilliance weighed down by too much averageness. While it's certainly nice to see Bitty Schram back, I'm left wishing it was in a more well-rounded episode. At least it proves a theory of mine: as much as certain parts of the fandom would like to believe otherwise (and as much as I prefer Sharona over Natalie), you can't blame the show's declining quality on Schram's departure. As this episode proves, the show's perfectly capable of being merely average even when she's around. It all comes down to the WRITING.