In this peak TV period, I thought we could use a thread on TV like we do the "Movies I Have Watched Lately" thread. I'll start with two:

ALTERED CARBON: Stupid name for a good sci-fi concept.

In this far future, humans can download their brains/personality/soul/what-have-you into chips called "stacks" that are located at the top of the spine. Nearly everybody has these stacks, and if your body fails you can load the stack into a new "sleeve," or body. The richer you are, the better body you can get. And the ultra-rich clone their own bodies, so they are effectively immortal. They are called "Meths" -- as in Methuselah -- and are just as awful as you can imagine. In the end, the rich win. Imagine that.

The Meth we get to know best is played by James Purefoy (Rome, John Carter, Solomon Kane) and he thinks he's become a god, or at least the difference between him and a god is so minor as to not be important. His stack is backed up every two hours to his own satellite, and if his body dies the stack is automatically downloaded to a clone. But when he is killed in a locked-room mystery in the two-hour window -- he doesn't remember how it happened, because his current stack didn't experience it -- he pulls the stack of a great warrior (an "envoy") who has been dead (and the stack preserved) for 250 years to solve the murder.

There's a whole mythology behind the envoys (as well as everything else -- the show is based on a series of novels) and we constantly see past lives, where the protagonist is usually Asian. We also see his lover and his sister in these past lives, where of course their appearance isn't static, either, so there's a little hurdle at first figuring out who the players are every time the Envoy has a flashback. 

There are some people who think the whole stack/sleeve business is an affront to God, and mark their stacks to not be resuscitated. They are called Neo-Cs (Neo-Catholic) and the cop who is A) gorgeous and B) immediately attached to the protagonist at the hip by the plot is one (or her family is, anyway). The ethics of this technology is explored through these characters.

The rich live up in the clouds, of course, in graceful spires that top out above the clouds, so they don't have to see how the other 99 percent live. which evidently is in Blade Runner. Seriously, Bay City (San Francisco metropolitan area) looks just like that movie, with the constant rain, the explosion of neon signs and people scraping by with food carts and such .

Sex is very straightforward in this show. There's frontal nudity for both men and women. Once I got over being surprised I came to appreciate it. Sex is pretty meaningless in this world, and it's presented that way. Once you get over the taboos being broken, you take in stride and don't think much about it. Which is consistent with how the characters view it. But if you're into boobs, trust that every pair in the cast will be naked sooner or later.

My wife enjoyed this more than I did. The F/X and writing are top-notch, but I found the acting a little substandard. The guy playing the Envoy also played Rick Flagg in Suicide Squad, and his acting varies from bland to blander. His sister, played by a thin Asian actress who's been in a bunch of other stuff I've seen, is even worse. I'm no actor. and even I could tell she was mis-delivering her lines. Purefoy just looked bored with the whole enterprise. The actress who plays one of the Pussycats on Riverdale -- the one that briefly dated Archie -- in in here, too, so you'll probably recognize her.

I enjoyed it well enough despite my misgivings, due to the cool concepts and great future world on display. And, as I said, my wife really liked it.

THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES: We just started watching this, and have only seen the first three episodes. I like it because I love history, and the show does a great job of depicting 1820s London. I guess. Anyway. It's pretty sooty and poverty-stricken, which is probably true.

The story here is about a "Runner" -- what cops are evidently called -- who is hired by a lord to find out who is killing children and sewing their dead bodies together. This threatens a bill he has in Parliament to make doctoring a profession and regulate it -- putting out of business holistic practitioners, body snatchers, barbers and a host of other dodgy types. 

Our hero is played by Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship, Game of Thrones), a guy mourning the deaths of his wife and child, evidently from syphillis, which he gave them. So he's not doing so hot, either, as syphillis isn't curable in 1827, when the show begins. 

I'm not really sure how policing works in this age. They don't call themselves police, and they only arrest people when the victim can afford a prosecution. As noted, our protagonist is paid directly by a lord, and a local police station ("court of magistrates") is at his disposal. I know our police at the time were basically escaped-slave catchers, so I find this situation likely. I just don't know the rules of the game.

Our Runner meets William Blake, who dies, and Mary Shelley, who is an integral part of the plot. (She's about 30 here -- Percy Shelley's been dead for 4 years, Frankenstein has been in print for about 12 years, and she won't die of a brain tumor for another 20 years or so.) I'm not sure what her game is yet, but she is clearly lying to our hero.

There is a lot of super-religiosity on this show. Some of it I think is a bit too modern; our hero and his assistant are shocked and totally against it when a street urchin girl says she's pregnant and she's going to "take care of it." I don't know what the attitudes about abortion were back then, but I doubt anybody would give a toss what happens to a street urchin's pregnancy. If our heroes had expressed concern about HER safety I'd buy it -- most people who tried to prevent pregnancies in back alleys up until the 1920s died of sepsis. Anyway, they find her a place to stay that will keep her until the birth. Lucky street urchin!

There's a lot of super-religiosity on display I have no problem with, as it was no doubt mainstream at the time. Not being part of a church would be very suspicious. 

They also have cast as our hero's assistant a black actor. I know that this is almost a necessity now, especially at the BBC, but I have to physically swallow my disbelief every time he's on screen and nobody seems to notice that he is black. I don't know how many black people there were in London in the 1820s, but I imagine whatever that number was they were all domestic help, or in some other subservient position. Here, our black guy is a Runner, a position of authority, and nobody even blinks. I would think he'd be such a novelty among the common folk that they'd turn and stare when he walked down the street in his middle class clothes, and I'd guess no white guy, criminal or not, would suffer being interrogated by a black guy. I just have to pretend he's white for his scenes to work.

I don't know where this is going, but my wife and I are enjoying it so far. Bean's his usual craggy, muttering self, albeit less physical than in previous roles. (He's not getting any younger.) We'll see it through to the end of the first season, anyway.

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Thanks to the Sundance channel and the H&I (Heroes and Icons) channel, I've been doing a deep dive into Monk, a USA show I didn't watch much, if at all, when it was live. It stars Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk, a former homicide detective with the San Francisco P.D. who retired on a medical disability, distraught over the murder of his beloved wife Trudy in a car bombing.

Monk is in the vein of detective shows like Columbo; Murder, She WroteMcCloud and such like. And Adrian Monk the character is very much in the vein of genius detectives like Sherlock Holmes ... if, instead of a cocaine habit, Holmes had obsessive-compulsive disorder and hundreds upon hundreds of phobias (312, it is said in one episode).

Despite having brutal murders in almost every episode (save two: one was a kidnapping, and one appeared to be an attempted murder but was really an act of sabotage), Monk leavens the proceedings with humor, mostly stemming from detective Monk's skittish reactions to, well, everything.

A man that bad off desperately needs therapy, and he does: He has multiple visits a week to Dr. Charles Kroger, played by Stanley Kamel of The Legion of "Hey, It's That Guy!" Character Actors. Unfortunately, Kamel died after the sixth season. Consequently, the Season 7 premiere has a grieving Monk seek new counsel, Dr. Neven Bell, played by longtime character actor Hector Elizondo (whom I think is a little too well-known to be a member of The Legion).

Monk is assisted in the field by Sharona Fleming, a nurse who nursed him out of his catatonia after Trudy's death. Sharona is a divorced single mom who is the only person to call him by his first name, Adrian. However, Sharona reunited with her louse of a husband and moved back to New Jersey in Season 3 because actor Bitty Schram left the show because of a murky, not-well-explained contract dispute. In her stead came Natalie Teeger, played by Traylor Howard, for the rest of the series run. Natalie is a widowed single mom whose husband was a Navy officer killed in Afghanistan.

Monk does his investigations on behalf of SFPD Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, his former partner. Stottlemeyer was the Inspector Lestrade to Monk's Sherlock Holmes, and although he was the closest thing to a friend Monk had (and vice versa), he often got annoyed with Monk's ways -- like how on McCloud, Chief of Detectives Clifford would always chew him out instead of thinking, "He was right the last 47 times he had a hunch; maybe I should believe him this time."

Then again, the gimmick with Monk was that, in more and more episodes, the cases seemed impossible at first look, with many variations on that old classic, The Locked-Room Mystery. One featured a man who was lifting weights and died, seemingly accidentally, from losing his grip on the barbell, which crushed his windpipe; Monk discerned () the killer was in the floor below with an industrial electromagnet.

Other episodes featured impossible crimes, like a serial bomber who sent packages by mail; the problem there was booby-trapped packages were sent a week before they were delivered and the suspect Monk identified had been in a coma for four months.*

Over time, Stottlemeyer got more trusting of Monk's hunches, but needed more and better proof. Especially as, in most episodes, Monk figured out the who early on, but didn't figure out the how until later. So Stottlemeyer had to stick his neck out with skeptical higher-ups who couldn't believe this goofy, nervous guy had the answers.

This goofy, nervous guy, however, could be tough and even mean sometimes. One overarching thread through the show was his pain in losing Trudy, and occasionally he'd find clues to her murder, which was resolved in the series finale. In one episode, he finds the guy who planted the bomb (but not who hired him). Left alone in the guy's hospital room, Monk pointedly says to him, "This is me, turning off your morphine." After a minute, he says, "... and this is Trudy, turning it back on."

*How did he do it? 

He mailed the packages four months previously, using glue to attach them to the inside roof of the mailbox and figuring -- after tests -- the glue would dry out and the package would drop and be collected with the rest of the mail. As for the coma, he wasn't figuring on that; he was planning to get himself arrested on a dumb charge and be in jail. Unfortunately, after he pulled the dumb stunt that would have gotten him arrested -- in front of Capt. Stottlemeyer, of course -- our killer crashed his car.

The wife and I watched Monk pretty much from when we discovered it until the end, primarily because of Tony Shaloub. I had only known him previously as the guy who had sex with the octopus-like alien and liked it in Galaxy Quest. But he really inhabited that role, and maintained the fine balance between humor and drama.

And once I became familiar with the face of the actor who played Stottlemeyer, I started seeing him everywhere, and he joined my own Legion of Perenniels. My wife has grown accustomed to me saying, "Hey, it's Stottlemeyer!" as she has become accustomed to me saying, "Hey, it's ..." about a couple dozen other actors.

As to the nurses, I didn't mind the first one leaving, because I liked the second one better. I don't remember the specifics, but I want to say the first one's humor leaned on Brooklyn abrasiveness while the second one was more of an earnest, Midwestern, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening funny? And I prefer the second? I could be wrong about that; it's just me trying to make sense of vague impressions from almost 20 years ago. All I remember about her now is that she vaguely favors the actress who plays Dot on The Tick, for no other reason than they are both petite with short blonde hair, which may or may not be a category in my brain.

As to our binging, we just finished binging The Last Kingdom season 4, and have begun Star Trek: Discovery.

The Last Kingdom is based on a series of novels about Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who is entirely fictional, but in the books and on the show a major factor in shaping events in 9th century Britain. His absence in history is explained by establishing that he was left out of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle by Alfred the Great, who didn't like acknowledging how much he owed to a man born a Dane.

The Danes, of course, occupied most of Britain when Alfred was king of Wessex, the last (Saxon) kingdom of the series' title. If you don't know much about this era in history, it was during Viking times, who were generally referred to as Danes (or, generically, Northmen), regardless of what part of Scandinavia they came from. The Danes had conquered Britain by the time of Alfred, with only Wessex, Wales and Scotland as the remaining major kingdoms, and the latter two were Celtic, not Saxon. And they didn't come into play much, historically. (I assume the Vikings either couldn't conquer them, or didn't want to, for pretty much the same reasons the Romans didn't -- it was hard to do, and the land wasn't worth it, not with green, arable Mercia beckoning.) 

Alfred's great achievement was helping beat the Danes back to a formal border -- the "Danelaw" on one side and Saxon England on the other -- and envisioning a single Saxon kingdom -- what we call England today -- with himself, of course, as its king. Also, at one point the Vikings more or less conquered Wessex while Alfred and his ragtag army hid in a Cornish swamp for half a year, while raising the "fyrds," or local militias, and reclaiming Wessex. Pretty amazing tale, and it's true!

Alfred was the brother of the king of Wessex when that kingdom stood alone, but by the time the Saxons won the Battle of Edington, the king (whose name I don't remember, but he was probably one of the many Ǽthel-somethings) had died and Alfred was on the throne. Alfred then negotiated with the Danes to create the Danelaw, which chilled the hot wars that had raged for about a century and gave Wessex breathing room.

Despite his grandiose vision, Alfred was really only the king of Wessex and about half of Mercia. The rest belonged to the Danes. However, his grandson Ǽthelstan did, in fact, chase the Danes out and become king of all seven Saxon kingdoms.

I have to say that I don't much care for the lead character on Last Kingdom. He has a weird, sing-songy delivery of his lines (whether natural of affected I don't know), and he looks like the kind of guy who would have bullied me in high school. Which means I spend a lot of time watching the other characters, paying attention to the history, admiring the terrific sets/production values and otherwise enjoying aspects of the show I might have overlooked if I was enamored of the lead. So it's really kind of a blessing.

Other cool bits:

  • I really like the take on cerebral, sickly Alfred by David Dawson, who was also excellent in Ripper Street as a conniving reporter. (He's also in Peaky Blinders, but I haven't watched that yet.) Alfred dies on the show when history says he did, and I miss his presence. Alfred's son Edward is now king (his son is the aforementioned Ǽthelstan), and he's not nearly as interesting.
  • I love how when the show establishes a location, they show the Medieval name for it, which morphs into the modern name. So a scene will begin with, say, "Witanchaester" on screen that then becomes "Winchester," or "Eoforwich" becomes "York." Uhtred's Babbenburg is a real place, now called Bamburgh.
  • The name bit is really educational, without hitting you over the head with it. For example, a "witan" is a gathering of important Saxons to decide things, and "chaester" is a suffix on a lot of places, so it probably means "town" or something. Anyway, Winchester -- or rather -- witan-chaester -- is where the Wessex king had his court, so the name is almost a function, rather than just a name. And that's how we get modern-day Winchester. Similarly, when the Danes occupied what is now York, they called it "Jorvik." The Saxon pronunciation was "Eoforwich," which was, over time, simplified to York. I gathered all that from the show, and then when I looked it up, discovered it was right. That's damn good writing.
  • The events on the last several seasons of Vikings takes place in the same time period, so we get to see the Dane-Saxon conflict from both sides!

But that was last week. Now we're watching Star Trek: Discovery, and really enjoying that, too.

Yes, it's been around for a couple of years, but we didn't have CBS All Access. With the arrival of Star Trek: Picard we broke down and got it.

And we watched Picard, which was pretty good. My wife -- a lifelong Trek fan -- pronounced it the best Star Trek since the original series, which is high praise in this household. But she has now revised that opinion, declaring Discovery the best since TOS.

And there's a lot to recommend it. For one thing, it's got the best F/X of all the Treks, bar none (as you'd expect). Yes, the tech is more advanced in Discovery than TOS, which begins 10 years later, according to the producers. But I'm OK with that. For one thing, we accept when historical shows depict an era more accurately now than in the past, and don't whine about that -- enjoying The Tudors without whining that the "tech" is better than it was in Henry VIII and His Six Wives. Secondly, it just looks cool as hell.

This is true of the Klingons as well, who look far more alien here than in any other portrayal. Again, cosmetics. I can easily overlook it, especially since it looks so cool.

One thing Discovery isn't doing is screwing with established canon, like Enterprise did. (We hated Enterprise for that.) Yes, you kinda have to overlook this or that element now and then for the sake of drama, but the timeline remains more or less intact. (And it's the original timeline, not the Kelvin one.)

And, while we've only reached the end of the first season, I know enough about the show to know that by the end of the second season, events will unfold to explain why the USS Discovery and its star, Commander Michael Burnham, have never been mentioned in any other Trek shows, all of which (except Enterprise) take place after it. They didn't have to do that -- I can accept that Starfleet is a big operation, and most people in TOS, TNG, DS9 and VOY might not know about Discovery, or don't mention it because it's not relevant to this week's episode. But I'm glad they did, just to free up the writers.

And the writers -- and actors and directors -- have been doing a bang-up job. This series is the most action-packed Trek since TOS. The first episode launches war with the Klingons -- mentioned in TOS as having ended 10 years previously, so accurate -- and the whole damn war, plus a trip to the Mirror Universe, is packed into the first season!

The second season begins with a rendezvous with the USS Enterprise, so we get to meet Captain Pike before the accident that informs the events in "The Menagerie" on TOS. (We haven't met Spock yet, but we know it's coming.) Pike takes temporary command of the USS Discovery, whose captain has just died, and is played with Kirk-ian brio by Anson Mount, who's a lot better here than he was as Black Bolt on Inhumans.

That's another indicator of how fast this show moves. We've just watched the first episode of the second season, and we're already on our third captain!

Which brings me to another point: An advantage Discovery has over its predecessors is that this is the era of Peak TV. Audiences these days are less accepting of the formulaic, episodic nature of old TV shows, and Discovery accepts that. Instead of having a standing cast who have one-hour adventures every week, the show is relating a more overarching story with each installment advancing various plots and sub-plots instead of telling discrete adventures with problems introduced and solved in an hour, with everything and everyone returning to status quo by the end of the hour.

Discovery eschews all that. Whereas nothing permanent really ever happened on, say, Next Generation, Discovery is nothing BUT change, with our star, Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha on Walking Dead) as really the only permanent fixture.

As you can tell, we're enjoying the heck out of it.

Oddly enough, I'm also binging Discovery right now, having picked up the 1st two seasons in a BOGO deal while on lockdown ... and I'm also enjoying the heck out of it.  Knocked off the Season 1 last weekend, and half of Season 2 yesterday.

Not having seen any new Trek in awhile, it's  reminding me just how much I enjoy this fictional universe.

It doesn't take them too long in S2 to start addressing some of the "gaps" between what we knew from TOS and what we saw in S1 Discovery.  ("Why wasn't everyone using holograms?  Why don't the Klingons have hair ... and look like Michael Ansara? Etc.)

Two fun Captains, Lorca and Pike.

By the way, Cap .. Did you notice the fortune cookie fortune Pike picked up in Lorca's Ready Room.  A little on the nose, but it made me smile. (Enough that I'm not going to wonder why the hell nobody vacuumed the Ready Room since Lorca took a permanent leave of absence.  Jeez Louise, guys, this is frickin' StarfleetI  Whatever happened to shipshape and Bristol fashion?)

Captain Comics said:

The wife and I watched Monk pretty much from when we discovered it until the end, primarily because of Tony Shaloub. I had only known him previously as the guy who had sex with the octopus-like alien and liked it in Galaxy Quest. But he really inhabited that role, and maintained the fine balance between humor and drama.

And once I became familiar with the face of the actor who played Stottlemeyer, I started seeing him everywhere, and he joined my own Legion of Perenniels. My wife has grown accustomed to me saying, "Hey, it's Stottlemeyer!" as she has become accustomed to me saying, "Hey, it's ..." about a couple dozen other actors.

As to the nurses, I didn't mind the first one leaving, because I liked the second one better. I don't remember the specifics, but I want to say the first one's humor leaned on Brooklyn abrasiveness while the second one was more of an earnest, Midwestern, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening funny? And I prefer the second? I could be wrong about that; it's just me trying to make sense of vague impressions from almost 20 years ago. All I remember about her now is that she vaguely favors the actress who plays Dot on The Tick, for no other reason than they are both petite with short blonde hair, which may or may not be a category in my brain.

The first nurse, Sharona, came back for one episode -- naturally, because a relative got murdered -- and it was fun to see the contrast between her and Natalie. As noted previously, Sharona was the only one to call Monk "Adrian"; by contrast, Natalie unfailingly called him "Mr. Monk."

And yes, Sharona was more the brash big-city girl from New Jersey and Natalie was more earnest and sweet. Natalie was more deferential to Monk and Sharona pushed him harder.

I didn't mention one more member of the cast: SFPD Detective Lieutenant Randy Disher, played by Jason Gray-Stanford. Mostly comic relief. He was a good cop and could, sometimes, be a take-charge leader. But most of the time, he was a dim-bulb. 

Captain Comics said:

The wife and I watched Monk pretty much from when we discovered it until the end, primarily because of Tony Shaloub. I had only known him previously as the guy who had sex with the octopus-like alien and liked it in Galaxy Quest. But he really inhabited that role, and maintained the fine balance between humor and drama.

We watched Monk from beginning to end. Just before he did Galaxy Quest, I discovered Tony Shaloub in the 1998 movie The Siege. He played an Arabic FBI agent* who was tired of being racially profiled. The movie, five years after the first attack on the World Trade Center and three years before 9/11, presents a story of multiple bombings in NYC, followed by martial law. Denzel Washington was the hero with Bruce Willis playing an atypical role as an abrasive, unlikable Army general. Shaloub was also very prominent as the funny alien Jeebs in the Men in Black movies.

*Shaloub is 100% Lebanese

And once I became familiar with the face of the actor who played Stottlemeyer, I started seeing him everywhere, and he joined my own Legion of Perenniels. My wife has grown accustomed to me saying, "Hey, it's Stottlemeyer!" as she has become accustomed to me saying, "Hey, it's ..." about a couple dozen other actors.

I first noticed Ted Levine, who played Stottlemeyer, when the 1991 San Diego Con had a special showing (in our hotel rooms) of The Silence of the Lambs.* He played the serial killer Buffalo Bill.

*Gayle claims not to like horrific movies but when I make her watch one she enjoys it.

And we watched Picard, which was pretty good. My wife -- a lifelong Trek fan -- pronounced it the best Star Trek since the original series, which is high praise in this household. But she has now revised that opinion, declaring Discovery the best since TOS.

Last year we watched the first half of season 2. Now that we’re running out of series we watch regularly we’ll be watching the rest of season 2, followed by Picard, as I understand they connect at that point.

This is true of the Klingons as well, who look far more alien here than in any other portrayal. Again, cosmetics. I can easily overlook it, especially since it looks so cool.

I am slightly annoyed that the Klingons keep changing appearance. Listening to their language almost hurts my ears and then having to stare at the screen to read the subtitles isn’t my favorite, either. I like Stan Lee’s old footnote “We’re translating for you!” These are quibbles, not deal-breakers.

One thing Discovery isn't doing is screwing with established canon, like Enterprise did. (We hated Enterprise for that.)

I also hated Enterprise. They had everything hundreds of years too early.

Which brings me to another point: An advantage Discovery has over its predecessors is that this is the era of Peak TV. Audiences these days are less accepting of the formulaic, episodic nature of old TV shows, and Discovery accepts that. Instead of having a standing cast who have one-hour adventures every week, the show is relating a more overarching story with each installment advancing various plots and sub-plots instead of telling discrete adventures with problems introduced and solved in an hour, with everything and everyone returning to status quo by the end of the hour.

I think I’ve mentioned this before. Peter David wrote a couple of episodes of Babylon 5. He was going to have the status quo return at the end of his episode but was told he didn’t have to do that. Babylon 5 would be a great show to binge-watch. It was ahead of its time. I think the over-arching story probably hurt the show in its day (no jumping on point) but in our streaming world would help it. Good time to stream it, when a lot of current shows are ending seasons or interrupted. I understand that the entire series and its special movies are all streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. It's important to watch the movies at certain points in the run, the first being the pilot movie. Here's a handy guide to doing that:

https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/10009/what-order-should-t...

I watched Picard and generally enjoyed it, but there was something kind of "off" about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I read the coverage on Bernd Scheider's Star Trek site (Ex Astris Scientia) and that helped bring the problems I had with it into focus. Be prepeared if you go there, though; a hardcopy of the coverage of all ten episodes is 45 pages.

Speaking of Monk, the Peacock streaming service released a charity video that reunites the cast and shows what he's up to in COVID-19 era. It's pretty good. Here's "Mr. Monk Shelters in Place":

In the same vein, Vulture,com asked several TV writers to imagine what their characters are doing today under COVID-19 restrictions, "If I Wrote a Coronavirus Episode." It includes contributions from RiverdaleStar Trek: Picard30 Rock, Veep, Elmo from Sesame Street, The Boys, and more.

Among the best are FrasierBrooklyn Nine-Nine, detailing Capt. Raymond Holt's day; Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; and a video from Rogelio de la Vega from Jane the Virgin:


Captain Comics said:

The wife and I watched Monk pretty much from when we discovered it until the end, primarily because of Tony Shaloub. I had only known him previously as the guy who had sex with the octopus-like alien and liked it in Galaxy Quest. But he really inhabited that role, and maintained the fine balance between humor and drama.

***

As to the nurses, I didn't mind the first one leaving, because I liked the second one better. I don't remember the specifics, but I want to say the first one's humor leaned on Brooklyn abrasiveness while the second one was more of an earnest, Midwestern, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening funny? And I prefer the second? I could be wrong about that; it's just me trying to make sense of vague impressions from almost 20 years ago. All I remember about her now is that she vaguely favors the actress who plays Dot on The Tick, for no other reason than they are both petite with short blonde hair, which may or may not be a category in my brain.

I'm watching a bunch of Season 5 episodes in which Traylor Howard, who plays the aide Natalie Teeger, is very visibly pregnant. They do a pretty lousy job trying to hide it. She wears coats a lot, and carries boxes and suitcases, and stays in the car when she should be following Monk around. Still, she looks very visibly pregnant.

In one episode, they were a little clever with it. They had Natalie pretend to be pregnant. When Monk asked her "How did that happen?", she said, "Sometimes when people fall in love, they express that love -- it's a pillow!"

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