It must be a really tough time to be a writer on this show. Like any series that has existed past the one hundred episode mark, there just aren't that many original story ideas left to do. Such was especially evident here, with a story that shamelessly rehashes season three's "Mr. Monk and the Kid". Though they have some success with some decent character moments, the fact remains that nearly everything here has already been done, better, in the aforementioned episode.
Monk is called in to investigate the "mysterious" disappearance of Amanda Castle, an artist who apparently had a close relationship with her dog, Shelby. Monk's first encounter with the animal is awkward in ways anyone familiar with the series would expect, but when an animal control officer informs him that Shelby will be killed in a month if no one claims her, the ever-lonely Monk makes the shocking decision to adopt the dog on a temporary basis. From here, the episode takes the obvious turn with Monk finding himself beginning to love the dog...just like "Mr. Monk and the Kid", except furrier.
Surely this supposed mystery is the least mysterious in the entire history of the show. By the end of the cold open, we know who did it, why he did it, and precisely how he did it. All we're left with is finding the evidence to prove it, and said evidence becomes readily obvious as soon as our killer, Steven DeWitt (who looks vaguely like a much older Kevin Dorfman), tries to run down Shelby in his car. So...yeah. Not mysterious in the least. The writers do make an attempt to shake things up a little by giving us a somewhat sympathetic killer, and while we can never actually bring ourselves to feel for the guy, it does at least lead to one of the highlights of the episode, with Monk cleverly manipulating this fact to unravel this week's apparently now mandatory "potentially deadly confrontation with the villain" scenario.
Mystery was obviously secondary to character development again this week, with the focus squarely on Monk's interactions with Shelby. She's one of those "perfect" Hollywood dogs, able to perfectly understand the English language, and never do anything particularly destructive or disgusting, aside from the always obligatory drinking-from-the-toilet scene. Then again, Tommy (from "...the Kid") was eerily well-behaved, too. The nature of the dog humour here really brings the episode down, being more or less the same kind of thing we've seen countless times in other TV shows. Especially the toilet drinking. (On that note, am I the only one who thinks it's weird that Monk would leave the toilet seat up?) This episode is just not original in any sense of the word. However, I will admit to liking the final scene here nonetheless - like the hug in last week's episode, Monk finally petting Shelby without gloves showcases Tony Shalhoub's marvelous knack for saying a lot with a small gesture.
We've already seen Monk adopt a helpless creature (for lack of a better word) and then learn to love it, only to give it up for its own good in the end. This episode gives me no reason to want to see this again. It just doesn't work. "Mr. Monk and the Kid", on the other hand, was a surprisingly good episode, and I would gladly recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind spending an hour with a similarly weak mystery, because Monk's character development there makes great efforts to overcome that particular downfall. Ah, season three. Now that must've been a pretty good time to be a writer on this show...