Bad Apple

Nurse Fleming (Bitty Schram) and Monk (Tony Shalhoub), with a preacher.Photo: USA Network.

Having had nothing but nice things to say about Monk (Fridays, starting June 18; 10 to 11 p.m.; USA) for two seasons running, wincing, weeping, and sneezing, I consider myself entitled to issue a word of warning. “Repent” is one such word that comes to mind. “Shame” is another. “Why?” is a third. The new season opens with Tony Shalhoub’s obsessive-compulsive Sherlock, Bitty Schram’s flamboyant Nurse Fleming, Ted Levine’s dyspeptic Captain Stottlemeyer, and Jason Gray-Stanford’s hysterical Lieutenant Disher acting out in Manhattan instead of San Francisco. We see skyscrapers. We hear Gershwin. And then almost everything that can go wrong with a script does.

The team has traveled to New York to track down a lead in the long-ago murder of Monk’s wife, Trudy. Never mind how come the Feds are determined to keep this witness incommunicado, or why New York cops can’t solve the murder of the Latvian ambassador in a hotel elevator by themselves, without the help of the Golden Gaters. What goes awry is not so much the middling mystery as the series gestalt. No Left Coast visitors would ever gawk about this city as if it were Plato’s Republic or Kafka’s Castle, especially not a delegation from a competing criminal-justice system. Even if they felt like rubes, they’d pretend otherwise, behind a screen of smart remarks. Then there’s our hero, his very own cloud chamber, a supersaturation of gas and vapors and accelerating particles. Yes, there’s a lot about New York—sirens, pigeons, and rubbish; Third World cabbies, three-card monte, pneumatic drills, and pissing in public—guaranteed to cause neurotic fidgets or paralytic seizures in unstable types like Monk. But so is every other city known to modern man a snake pit and a war zone. Believe me, San Francisco is intimately acquainted with gridlock, drug traffic, race tension, high-rise suicide, and cacophony. Monk ought not to be any more traumatized on our mean streets than on his native ground, and yet he is shattered.

Not funny, nor believable, and a disservice to a fine ensemble that’s got its comic timing down to a trapeze routine. There will be a lovely moment at the end of the hour with an IV morphine drip that suggests the writers are capable of recovering in time to save our summer Fridays. I hope so. We need Monk. Last time out I called him Philoctetes, the legendary archer with the smelly wound whom the Greeks never wanted around until they were in serious trouble and needed his magic bow and arrows, after which he became symbolic of the relationship between art and neurosis. This now seems to me too fancy. Monk instead is our Chaplin, our Gump, and our Zelig, a one-man frazzle with moist towelettes for an open wound.

Only if you must: In The Simple Life 2: Road Trip (Wednesdays, starting June 16; 8 to 8:30 p.m.; Fox), Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie leave Miami Beach for Beverly Hills in a pickup truck and a trailer, with their stuffed animals, blonde hair, half wits, and brand-name accessories—but without cash, credit cards, or cell phones. This means that for everything from highway tolls to gas money to junk food, they must cadge their way across country, relying on the goodwill, exasperated decency, morbid curiosity, or smitten stupidity of the lesser folk not born to fortunes. To be sure, Paris and Nicole occasionally stoop to gainful employment, twinkle-toes in cow patties, or, briefly, motel-maiding, and later on they will make sausages and scenes. Still, how convenient it is that a Fox camera crew is along for the larky ride, so when Paris actually falls off a horse—“It really hurts!”— here will be a helicopter to take her to a hospital before she meets the media.

“We seem to be stuck with two kinds of reality shows, not counting Iraq.”

We seem to be stuck with two kinds of reality shows, not counting Iraq. One is the gong variety, designed to make us feel better about ourselves while everybody else is ambushed and humiliated—while the horny, greedy, doleful, and dumb all have to sit around in their underwear eating icky things. The other consists of such rich people as Paris Hilton and Donald Trump treating the rest of us like peasants. I confess I’m mystified. I’ve never even understood why the homeless on our city streets don’t smash the smoked windows, slash the radial tires, and strangle the backseat passengers of every stretch limo they see. The trouble with this country isn’t that the peasants have money—that would be socialism—but that money seems to turn too many people into peasants.

Think of Michael Bennett, the used-car salesman John Landis spends a Memorial Day weekend with in Memphis in order to bring us Slasher (Saturday, June 19; 10 to 11:30 p.m.; IFC), as the anti–Paris Hilton. He actually works for a living. He and his team are hired mercenaries brought in for a fixed fee by worried lot owners with too much inventory, employing every trick in the dodgy business to move the machines. Slashed sticker prices! Colored helium balloons! Local-talent dancing girls and even a beer-drinking goat! The clinched deal on both sides amounts to a kind of ecstatic conversion. The true believers are seen to rapture up from the lot and the bargain into an empyrean of fluttering pennants and escapist dreams.

Meanwhile, as if Willie Loman had done time as a speed freak, there is Bennett with his pencil mustache, Hawaiian sports shirt, and nonstop patter, a wiry jump-start, a chain-smoking Slinky who leaves the lot for the strip club, the strip club for a honky-tonk, and the honky-tonk for a hotel room where he still can’t sleep, calling home incessantly instead to the wife and daughters back in Orange County. “People just move too slow,” he says. “I vibrate.” So much so, in fact, that we reel away from the small screen, vowing perhaps an anchorite stint of silence, abstinence, and wild berries.

Jack (June 20; 8 to 9:45 p.m.; Showtime) is a careful, confident, and finally convincing TV-movie version of the A. M. Homes novel about a 15-year-old boy (Anton Yelchin) whose father (Ron Silver) leaves his mother (Stockard Channing) for another man. Jack, of course, will find out that every family has guilty secrets, even that of his best friend, Max (Giacomo Baessato), whose mother (Wendy Crewson) gets beaten by his father (Erich Anderson). If, like the novel, Jack is a bit preachy, its cause is just and its footwork savvy, and when Max gives Jack a pack of condoms for his 16th birthday, if you can’t smile, who would want to know you?

La Femme Musketeer (June 20, 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Hallmark) asks us to admire at mini-series length Susie Amy as Valentine, the gorgeous, headstrong, and swashbuckling daughter of D’Artagnan, who seems to be auditioning for the role of Catherine Zeta-Jones. And to forgive Gérard Depardieu, Michael York, Roy Dotrice, and John Rhys-Davies, who must have needed their checks in a hurry. Also, to root against Nastassja Kinski’s Lady Bolton, who has a sick investment in keeping France at war with Spain in a seventeenth century with more than its fair share of harps and feathers.

Bad Apple