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5 Shows like Monk: Quirky Genius

James Thomas itcherGenius always seems to come at a price on television as in life. I find that the best stories try and explain this by making genius characters something close to superhuman with ample flaws. Every good writer knows that the fun of any story is in rooting for the put-upon underdog. TV shows like ‘Monk’ make it very clear that even the most socially and mentally ill-equipped hero can become massively popular. If you like your detectives weird then check out ‘Psych’, ‘The Mentalist’, and ‘Columbo’. ~ James Thomas

Sometimes It’s Better to Stay Inside

The genius detective trope has been with us since before there was even radio. But I think that today the most popular detectives and crime fighters are either quirky or distracted with personal problems.

I always found Monk to be an entertaining if slightly cruel show. The premises of putting an obsessive compulsive agoraphobic around crime scenes, in hippie town San Francisco, seemed like the most sadistic thing in the world. Somehow the people at USA network, managed to redeem themselves by giving this quirky character wit and a lot of agency in his own right.

Adrian Monk is an expert detective aside from his disorder if you look at the details of the show. Not every person with his condition is good at solving crimes, but giving him a very Batman-like story arc somehow validates his competence as a detective.

Another great thing about the shows is the relationship he has with his caretaker/assistant Sharona Fleming.


Shows Similar to ‘Monk’…

‘Columbo’ (NBC, 1968-2003)

In a dramatic twist, this detective show features a grizzled sleuth who unlike the audience has no idea who the guilty party is. The show opens with the criminal committing the crime, typically a violent murder, right before the audience’s eye. Later, Detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk, comes in and finds the body and all the other detectives around him are completely perplexed.

Throughout the show, Columbo questions the possible subjects and associates of the deceased asking unassuming questions in his unassuming manner and for much of the show it seems like he’s getting nowhere. Until out of sheer frustration with this stumpy little man in an overcoat the murder lets something slip and “Bam! Got ya! You’ve been Columbo-ed!”

Similarity Match: 95%
‘Columbo’ has a main character that even looks a little like Adrian Monk. Even though it’s a little more serious, this show still has its own quirky sense of humor.

‘Psych’ (USA Network, 2006-2014)

‘Psych’ is a show that does its best to make psychics look like frauds and the police who trust psychics to look like fools.

The show revolves around Shawn Spencer, who possesses all of the traits you would expect from a police officer, a sociopath, or a private detective; coupled with a knack for lying. Honestly, I found that was the charm. The show takes place in a city called Santa Barbara which is not known for having a high crime rate.

Fortunately, what Santa Barbra does have is butt-load of psychics and plenty of sun, giving hustlers like Shawn and his put-upon, friend with the cool name “Gus” Guster a sunny backdrop to play their harmless and deceptive trade.

Similarity Match: 90%
‘Psych’ does the same procedural work that you see in ‘Monk’, but without the drama or serious awkwardness and the addition of outright deception.

‘The Mentalist’ (CBS, 2008-2015)

When I first watched ‘The Mentalist’, I was convinced it was the typical psychic detective show, but it turns out that the main character Patrick Jane is so experienced at faking his abilities and being handsome, I didn’t notice he was a fraud! In the show, Jane made his money convincing the masses of his psychic powers until he ran afoul of the evil killer Red John who ruined his life.

To get back on his feet, Jane joins the CBI (California Bureau of Investigation) and starts taking out murderers like garbage and bringing down crime syndicates left and right. Just when things are going good, however, Red John shows up again and goes all butcher-happy on anyone close to the mentalist just to get Jane’s attention.

Similarity Match: 80%
Patrick Jane is a character who is suave, personable and clever, making him the opposite of Monk. However, they share a similar tragedy and talents of observation.


If You Like ‘Monk’, You Will Like…

The next two shows both deal with detectives who are seemingly effective but much less vulnerable than Monk, one of them is an author who started  working with the police for fun and the other worked with the police out of sheer boredom to exercise his massive genius intellect.

‘Castle’ (ABC, 2009- )

As with most TV series like ‘Monk’, ‘Castle’ plays the fish-out-of-water scenario for comedic effect. Richard Castle had been writing about crime all his life until he ran out of ideas. So he did what any person with a lot of money and influence does and bought his way into an observer’s position in the NYPD.

After being treated the way any entitled “brilliant” writer should have been, he proved himself by using his exaggerated imagination to nail down a tidy number of criminals. The only problem is he’s about as good in a fight as a wet noodle in a log cutting contest. Thankfully he has the backup of the brilliant detective Kate Beckett. Beckett has her own agenda, as ambitious people do, and she’s enlisted Castle’s help to track down her mother’s murderer.

Even though Richard Castle isn’t the best detective, like Adrian Monk his insights are useful. However, he is a talented and well-adjusted character.

‘Elementary’ (CBS, 2012- )

Essentially ‘Elementary’ is the story of what would happen if you took Sherlock Holmes with all of his best and worst traits turned up to eleven and dropped him right in the middle of Brooklyn. This version of Sherlock Holmes is an ex-heroin addict in recovery and a fun-loving high-functioning sociopath.

At his side is Watson played by Lucy Liu, who in this version of the story is not just a sounding board for Sherlock’s brilliance but a detective in her own right. What makes this a series similar to Monk is its attention to the detail of each crime. This Sherlock is unlike any other, in that he sees this fellow human being as viable companion worthy helping him on his quest for redemption.

Where Monk is an unknown who seeks to be left alone in San Francisco, the Sherlock Holmes of ‘Elementary’ is ambitious and relishes his duty. This sensibility makes for a very different show.


I Spy a Private Eye

Detectives of all stripes have made television the home of inquisitive entertainment.

Who is your favorite television detective?

Let me know in the comments down below.

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