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Monk's Theme

The demise of the TV theme song seems to be an emerging meme in the blogosphere, including here at the Beachwood. The reasons for this alleged trend are vague, though one writer blames Frasier for putting its breakfast-touting theme song at the end of the episode, thereby hopelessly confusing and alienating legions of TV theme song fans.

I'm here to tell you that, like Mark Twain, the reports of the TV theme song's death are greatly exaggerated. Randy Newman, today's best-known composing Newman (Alfred, Lionel, Emil, David, Thomas, and Joey are the others) has single-handedly saved the day with his ingenious theme song for Monk.

I'm a big fan of Monk, the comedy detective series starring Tony Shalhoub as a former cop named Adrian Monk who has the mental acuity of Sherlock Holmes and the worst case of obsessive-compulsive disorder since Captain Queeg started counting his strawberries in The Caine Mutiny. In this standard-issue detective show, Monk frequently (and hilariously) goes undercover to solve crimes, with his trusty assistant/nanny Natalie (Traylor Howard) near at hand with a box of wet wipes and reassurance that he can, in fact, pass for a normal human being.

What makes the program so great is that Shalhoub gets us to sympathize with the socially disastrous Monk not because he's so good at solving crimes, but because he's actually very vulnerable and human. In the most recent episode, he infiltrates a cult to solve a murder against the advice of police captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), who knows how impressionable the lonely Monk is. Once there, Monk does, in fact, form a bond with the cult leader because Father (Howie Mandel) lets him name his many fears (heights, spiders, sand, milk, etc., etc.) and gives him the strength to cope with them.

So, now on to the theme song. "It's a Jungle Out There" describes Monk's world view to a T:

It's a jungle out there
Disorder and confusion everywhere
No one seems to care
Well I do
Hey, who's in charge here?
It's a jungle out there
Poison in the very air we breathe
Do you know what's in the water that you drink?
Well I do, and it's amazing
People think I'm crazy, 'cause I worry all the time
If you paid attention, you'd be worried too
You better pay attention
Or this world we love so much might just kill you
I could be wrong now, but I don't think so!
'Cause there's a jungle out there.

The visuals that accompany this very catchy tune capture Monk at his happiest (in a clean-room space suit) and his most terrified (having filthy water dumped on him in a sewer). When he crawls his face into his turtleneck sweater, he looks like a kitten in a bundle of laundry hiding from the world. In the end, we see him walking across a lamp-lit San Francisco street - alone. This is one of the most successful marriages of image and music I can think of, one that should give us the audacity to hope that we can resurrect this noble art form.

See if you don't agree.


Comments? Please provide a real, full name and join the discussion!


And check out the latest from Marilyn Ferdinand and her crack team of cinema specialists at Ferdy on Films.


Posted on January 15, 2008

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