Not a fidget or a wince too soon, Tony Shalhoub returns for a second season as Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive detective so brilliant he can solve almost any crime but so weird, especially after the murder of his wife, that the San Francisco police would rather muddle on without him. Except, of course, when they can’t, and a flummoxed Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) must seek the help of Monk, the neurotic Sherlock, and Sharona, his Watson (flamboyantly embodied by Bitty Schram). From heights to germs to crowds, everything frightens Monk, a one-man frazzle with moist towelettes. And so each week he will be plagued.
It’s possible to think of Monk as Philoctetes, the legendary archer with the smelly wound. The Greeks never wanted Phil around unless they were in trouble and needed his magic bow and arrows, which is how he became symbolic of neurotic art. Or we can think of Monk as a cable equivalent of Vincent D’Onofrio, the creepy Method mannerist on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, who enters into antisocial madness as if he were an exorcist and who stops just short of head-butting perps in order to sort of inhale them. But neither Phil nor Vincent is ever funny, at least on purpose, whereas Shalhoub’s Monk is a comic character out of Beckett, carrying his own urn.
On Friday nights to follow, we are promised parachutes and comas and the murder of the world’s oldest man. First up is Andrew McCarthy as a vainglorious science teacher in a fancy private school whose pregnant mistress somehow falls from the campus clock tower directly onto a car next door to a classroom full of test-takers who seem to have ironclad alibis. But Monk’s beloved wife was once a student at this very school, so he goes undercover as a substitute teacher, and even before he has to climb the tower, you must imagine his trying to write his name on the blackboard with all the letters just so, and then see him stricken by chalk dust.
Also returning, for part one of a two-part sixth and final season, is Sex and the City. We will get twelve new half-hour episodes every Sunday night through September 14, and then eight more starting in January 2004. We have been promised, in Entertainment Weekly, the return of Big (Chris Noth) and Aidan (John Corbett) plus “a wedding or two.” But before anything as drastic as matrimony occurs, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is almost profound on the subject of investing—emotional and financial; stocks, bonds, and bondage; mutual fun and mutual funds—when sex with her new boyfriend turns out to be soporific, while Samantha (Kim Cattrall) eats cactus in order to vamp the hottie waiter in a raw-food restaurant, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) contemplates converting to Judaism just like Liz Taylor, and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) develops a significant relationship with her TiVo.
“What kind of man passes up pussy for Purim?” Samantha wants to know. On the other hand, raw food deserves every wisecrack it receives—“like lawn in a bowl,” we are told. And just how soporific was the sex? “So quiet,” says Carrie, "at one point I heard the M11 bus.” Those of us who have actually waited for the M11 bus know that this remark is very witty. You never hear it because it’s never there, only a rumor, maybe a phantom tollbooth.
There will be six hour-long Wednesday-night episodes of Boarding House: North Shore, and I don’t know what to tell you. Seven hard-bodies with names like Sunny, Holly, Danny, Veronica, Damien, Chelsea, and Myles play at night and surf all day on the North Shore of Oahu, where they are also competing for a half-million wet dollars in hang-ten prize money. For dudes only. • Flag Wars (June 17; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; Channel 13) spent four years following the gloomy story of the gentrification of a run-down part of Columbus, Ohio, by white gay men and women looking to renovate the old Victorian houses, at the expense of African-Americans who can’t afford to fight the newly energized building inspectors and zoning boards. Keep your eye on Chief Shango Baba Olugbala, by day a plumber, by night a Yoruba priest, on weekends an artist.
• Public Schools Inc. (June 19; 9 to 10 p.m.; Channel 13) gives Chris Whittle, Benno Schmidt, Channel One, and the Edison Project the Frontline treatment, in which it is suggested that, just maybe, running our public schools for profit is a bad idea, not only for the investor but also for the Republic, which used to think the education of our children was a civic duty and a prideful joy.
• Reel New York (June 20; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) bulldozes a public garden on East 7th Street to make room for luxury condos, but not before filmmaker Yaël Bitton talks to many of the old-timers about what used to be a lower-class immigrant neighborhood.
• Second Nature (June 22; 8 to 10 p.m.; TNT) stars Alec Baldwin as a very tough guy who wakes up from a plane crash to discover that he just can’t kill people the way he used to, which still doesn’t explain why his government employer, Powers Boothe, is out to kill him, and his very own shrink, Louise Lombard, isn’t telling him the whole truth about his dead wife and happy childhood. This is better than it needed to be. Bully for Baldwin.
• Project Greenlight (June 22; 10:30 to 11:30 p.m.; HBO), in which neophyte directors and screenwriters compete for the affections of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon plus $1 million from Miramax to try to make a movie, returns for a second season of high hopes and low humiliations. The first two of thirteen episodes air back-to-back, winnowing us down from 7,000 candidates to ten writers and four directors, who must go to Sundance to lick the boots of their bored betters, after which a photo op and shopping spree.