For this detective, there's a method to his madness

He's a Sherlock Holmes just one jump ahead of the men in white coats.

Charming and droll Tony Shalhoub ("Galaxy Quest") stars as an obsessive-compulsive detective in the absorbing new dramedy series "Monk" (USA Network, July 12, 9-11 p.m.).

Adrian Monk is trying to get back into the San Francisco Police Department after a personal catastrophe. In the meantime, he consults on a variety of murder cases.

He may need to keep his house tidier than the rest of us do. He may be afraid of crowds, heights, and failing to count all the light posts in his path, but he can connect dots other detectives can't even see.

"Monk is trying to make some kind of order out of the disarray of his life," says Mr. Shalhoub in a recent interview. "But Monk is a fighter, too. He wants to get better. He doesn't want to live under this yoke, he strives to shrug it off and to move forward – he really does. He's not one to get addicted to suffering."

The two-hour pilot episode is directed by Dean Parisot ("Galaxy Quest") and bears his wily, offbeat stamp. The movie introduces us to Monk and his ersatz Watson, his practical nurse, Sharona (Bitty Schram), whose constant reassurance keeps the genius focused on work.

The platonic relationship is psychologically intimate, but strictly professional, making possible another engaging male- female partnership ("The Avengers," "Moonlighting," "The X-Files").

Naturally, the other cops are jealous and skeptical of Monk's abilities. Not only does he have to fight his own impulses, he has to stay savvy enough to protect his own back from fellow officers.

The role suits Shalhoub like a Cosa Nostra tailor. He can toss away lines lesser comic actors would punch up and never make as funny. His is a comedy of modesty, of understated poignancy that makes one smile to the core, but not always laugh out loud.

While it's hip to see the meanness in comedy right now, Shalhoub swims against that current. His is an observant, heartening kind of humor that mocks human foibles without despising the human.

Shalhoub's particular form of humor, modesty of expression, comes partly from being the second youngest of 10 children, he says. "The pecking order – you have to defer eight times before you can actually have a voice. There was an unspoken rule, an emphasis on patience – as chaotic and fun as it was – you waited for your moment to strike. I always felt more like the freshman rather than the senior."

Shalhoub got his master's from the Yale School of Drama and then continued his education as a member of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., under Robert Brustein.

He was well grounded in the theater before he made the transition into film and television. But he still loves returning to the theater. He performed in Off-Broadway's "Waiting for Godot," by Samuel Beckett, with John Turturro a couple of years ago.

"I like the challenge and variety of doing all three," says Shalhoub. "Each medium has its strengths and its pitfalls. TV is done very quickly – too quickly – which is why sometimes the quality is not what it should be. It's a bottom-line issue and it has to be that way. So the writers are really jamming to turn out 22 or 26 episodes on network TV. But for an actor, that can actually be freeing because you can't over-worry [a role]. It's sort of like doing summer stock."

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