From Dragnet to All Rise, most TV cop or mystery procedurals have a Christmas episode. Two of my favorites were episodes of Monk
Monk starring Tony Shalhoub has a special place in my heart. I suffer from OCD and I empathize with “the defective detective”, Adrian Monk. Shalhoub portrays him as an annoying yet sympathetic character. His dysfunction helps him solve the murders. These two episodes originally aired on The USA Network in 2005 and 2006. They can be found on Amazon Prime.
First is Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa. I love the ironic use of Brenda Lee’s Rockin Round The Christmas Tree while the killer puts poison into a wine bottle with only his gloved hands shown. He then addresses a Christmas card to Captain Stottlemeyer (played by Ted Levine who also was Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. Talk about range.) Stottlemeyer often gets very frustrated with Monk but he values Monk as a detective, colleague and close friend.
I have never been to a Christmas office party. I have been only to a few non-family Christmas parties. I am a lot like Monk in that regard. Social anxiety can be very difficult. As Monk said, “I don’t go out often during the holidays… because I’m so alone.” Christmas is always tough for Monk because his beloved wife, Trudy, died around Christmas time. He never even opened up the last Christmas present she gave him and holds it every Christmas like a totem. Her death was the trigger that made his OCD so disabling that he had to give up his badge.
I have never lost a loved one but being single and suffering a mental illness over the holidays is difficult. Seeing commercials of loving families celebrating together reminds us of what we don’t have.
Only Monk would love getting a dust broom/dust pan combo as a Christmas gift. The gift that Captain Stotylemyer was going to give as a secret Santa present is missing, so the Captain, who hates Port, gives the wine instead. Which ends up killing a young detective. I won’t spoil who did it or why. But I will say, classic case of misdirection.
I also have to admit I have always had a crush on Traylor Howard’s Natalie Traeger. I feel this way because she is super cute, but also because she understands Monk’s mental illness and encourages his talents.
These special episodes have a history of the main characters playing Santa Clause. Monk, the biggest germaphobe in America, needs to get information from a little girl whose father may be the culprit. To do this he poses as Santa Clause, enduring little germ factories on his lap. One of the little tykes is named Trudy and Santa Monk tells her, “My wife’s name was Trudy. She was killed by a car bomb.” It is both funny and tragically sad. Monk threads the lines between annoying and funny, sad and hopeful, bitter and sweet. This does that perfectly.
The next episode is Mr. Monk Meets His Dad which starts with death by tacky Christmas tie. His father, a long haul trucker, gets arrested in San Francisco for speeding and then asks Adrian to help spring him and invites Adrian to go with him on a Christmas run delivering gifts to orphanages in his big 18 wheeler truck.
He is played Dan Heyeda who also portrayed Carla Tortelli’s husband on Cheers and Richard Nixon in Dick. You can honestly believe that he is Monk’s father. There is a physical resemblance and some mannerisms are the same.
Childhood wounds are deep. They are deep hurts that take years to heal. Adrian is not eager about letting his father back into his life after he walked out on the family decades earlier. But Captain Stottlemeyer convinces Adrian that he will regret it if he doesn’t go. On the road Adrian learns he has another brother. He mournfully looks at the picture of his father teaching another boy how to ride a bike.
The mystery isn’t a mystery itself. We know who the killer is. It is Jack’s boss at the trucking company. This is a road journey with Adrian and his father zig zagging across the southwest. I will not spoil the ending but the zig zagging and the crappy toys are a key plot point. Monk’s boss chose the wrapped “gifts” they are delivering, Who gives kids Q-tips, dog food, or Karl Marx’s Das Capital as Christmas presents but an evil bastard?
Monk realizes that this does not make sense and tries to reason with his father that something nefarious is going on. Jack will not listen, and angrily says the reason why he left was because Adrian was “impossible”. He kicks Adrian off the rig and leaves his son again.
Jack Monk hears of his boss’s death and starts to think that Adrian was right. He returns to pick up his son. They then, to Adrian’s surprise, actually have a good time traveling and being truckers together. In the series Monk always has a “This is how it happened” moment. This time involves a ticking clock and a runaway truck. The episode ends with the Monks catching their man and then Jack, who bought his son a bike, teaches him how to ride it. I am a sucker for family reunions. The joy of father and son warms my heart. Sometimes in TV shows, the family reunion is not earned. It happens too fast. But Shalhoub’s Adrian and Heyeda’s Jack, through the portrayals and the honest and well written dialogue, earn this moment.
There were three other Monk Christmas episodes Mr.Monk and the Man Who Shot Santa Claus and Mr. Monk and the Miracle. The series finale, Mr. Monk and the End also is set around Christmas. In that episode, Monk learns who killed his wife and we the audience learn what was in Trudy’s last Christmas present.
It is rare to have a TV hero who has the same mental illness as you. Yes, Monk’s rituals and germaphobia were often played for laugh but his discomfort and emotional pain were real and grounded. The show also shows how difficult it is to love someone with a mental illness. But while his mental illness was disabling and made it hard to function, it also gave him insights that other detectives do not have. My depression and anxiety likewise makes it very hard to function in society but it enhances my empathy and my creativity. That is the trick of anyone who suffers from a moderate to severe mental illness, to learn how to minimize the bad and maximize the good. Just like Monk.