Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fear of Milk: Part 1

Me - “I hate having OCD.”

My friend - “Yours isn’t as bad as Monk’s.”

Me - “I never really watched Monk.”

My friend - “It’s hilarious…he’s afraid of milk.”

This exchange happened in my living room a few days ago. I found it a bit upsetting, but quite fascinating. I initially felt insulted because my very real illness was being compared to that of a fictional, USA Network detective played by Tony Shalhoub. I almost spoke up, but decided against. The reason being…I had never seen Monk.

I had heard very good things. It ran for eight years after all (2002 – 2009). I like Tony Shalhoub as an actor, and I am always interested in how popular culture addresses mental illness. It just so happens that I agreed to write monthly blog posts, for Erasing the Distance, on this very topic. What better place to start than with a show that won eight Emmys, one Golden Globe, and one Screen Actors Guild Award.

This is my first of two posts about mental illness in Monk. Each post will focus on my reaction, as a person living with OCD, to part one and two of the pilot episodes.

“Mr. Monk and the Candidate” (Part One)…the TV series opens with what many do these days…a dead body. Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is standing in the living room of a well decorated suburban home, surrounded by police and a dead body. He has on rubber gloves, and is simply observing. The first word spoken in the show and by him is “Stove.” He then talks about how he thinks he may have left is stove on. I had to admit, it was a funny moment.

His checking compulsion is one of the many ways his OCD manifests. He also arranges push pins by color, sanitizes his hand after being greeted with a handshake, attempts to hide from germs in a classroom of coughing kindergarteners, and manically searches for his car keys. It seems Monk was a brilliant detective, very much akin to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.  Monk suffered a family tragedy that brought on his mental illness.

This particular episode involves the famous Adrian Monk consulting on two separate murder cases he believes to be connected. One is a burglary gone wrong and the other is the attempted murder of a candidate for mayor of San Francisco.

Monk’s character is treated with sincerity by Tony Shalhoub. He is completely authentic. I appreciate this very much. The show does not state his character has OCD. The writers play it safe by saying “anxiety disorder.” This bothered me. It is a true statement, but I would have liked them to commit to the term OCD. This information feels like a footnote in the scene in which it is revealed. It’s sneaky almost, like the writers are ashamed to address what is really going on. My gut tells me this will change in part two, but I shall have to wait and see.

Monk’s illness is the foundation for the show’s comedy. I don’t have a problem with that…yet. I believe it's important to use laughter to cope with stress. There are instances where his OCD causes outlandish things to happen. For the most part, the situations are funny in a way that doesn’t seem to make fun of OCD directly…for the most part. There is a scene where Monk is counting peas, individually, for a chicken pot pie. That felt insensitive to me. I felt writers were winking at me saying, “See…isn’t that weird and funny?”  No…no it’s not. It’s upsetting and painful. That was, however, one of the few scenes that felt that way.

Adrian Monk is a brilliant detective. There clearly is a direct Sherlock Holmes influence. He can deduce almost anything. His OCD helps him with details, which is very interesting. I know many people that talk about how OCD can be a positive thing…this is not my experience AT ALL. However, I do understand the idea. It is implied, however, that Monk was brilliant before his family tragedy that brought on his OCD. To me, that makes the correlation between the “positive” aspects of his OCD and the Holmes-like deduction skills a bit weak. I get it, but given my personal experiences, I need more.

I am curious to see part two of “Mr. Monk and the Candidate.” I know the show wouldn’t have continued if it openly mocked people who suffer from OCD. Next, I’ll focus on how, I assume, the writers turn his mental illness into a heroic quality. I’ll also comment more on how, in my opinion, Monk communicates OCD to the audience, and where the responsibility lies of mental illness education through TV.

Thanks for reading!  I’ll see you in a month.

   -Chris Weise 

Chris Weise is ETD's Production Manager and a member of the Ambassador Council. He also wears a directing hat for ETD from time to time. Click here to read more posts from Chris.

1 comment:

  1. Nice Blog Chris! I've never watched Monk but heard a lot about the show. I'm looking forward to hearing about part two.

    Howie Mandel is also a notable celebrity with OCD. I recently saw an episode of "America's Got Talent" where a contestant asked him on stage and then balanced on Howie's head. Needless to say, Howie didn't like it at all! I'm curious what your thoughts are about him:)