For a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, someone who can't resist straightening a picture or cleaning a window smudge, you could scarcely find a more challenging - or unhygienic - surrounding than a murder scene.
The blood, the bodily fluids, the rummaging of the scene!
The disorder cost private detective Adrian Monk his job on the San Francisco police force, but the department still relies on his expertise at such scenes, despite his fear of germs, heights, crowds and general chaos.
It makes for a TV series so quirky that it qualified its star, Tony Shalhoub, as a Golden Globe winner for outstanding comedy. Monk became such a standout on USA Network, where it was the highest rated original scripted series in the history of basic cable, it had its reruns picked up by a broadcast network, ABC.
Monk begins its second season tonight on cable, and from the looks of the initial episode, there's even more of the comedy bits Shalhoub develops in the character of Monk, spending as much time arranging chess pieces as playing them; stopping to even the levels on a pair of coffeepots (whatever their caffeine content) and spending a lifetime writing his name on a chalkboard as a substitute teacher so he can get it just right.
"I have to be careful not to go way over the top in every role I do," Shalhoub says via e-mail while on location for the new season. "But there are those rare times when doing Monk when I'm actually given license to go over the top. And most of the time it works."
Shalhoub, who had a variety of roles in TV and movies before he landed the gig as Monk, calls the role fun but challenging.
"It affords me the opportunity to play serious moments and comic moments back to back," he says.
Co-created by Andy Breckman of Saturday Night Live and Late Night With David Letterman, the USA Network hit has been a comedic bonanza for Shalhoub.
"I am given a lot of leeway," he says. "I go as long as I possibly can with the `business' such as the chalkboard, and then they cut it down in editing."
At the same time, he's taken care not to exploit or poke fun at what is a very real disorder.
"We're always sensitive about portraying [obsessive-compulsive disorder] as a real illness, which can be quite funny at times but also sad," Shalhoub says.
"Monk is a character who takes his flaws and uses them to his advantage," he says. As such, he says he's received "only positive feedback from the OCD community."
In fact, he says, Monk has "become sort of a poster boy or hero for the OCD community."
The success of the show has been a surprise to him. He said he was stunned when he won a Golden Globe in comedy over such popular shows as Friends and such critically acclaimed comedies as Curb Your Enthusiasm. And it doesn't matter to him whether it pops up again this summer on ABC.
"I'm fine with the fact that the show runs first on USA," Shalhoub says. "If other networks want it, that's OK, too. The venue isn't really important to me."
Being known for playing such a quirky character doesn't worry him either. "I didn't get typecast after six seasons of Wings," he says. "It's not a concern for me."
Besides playing Antonio Scarpacci in the series Wings, he's played roles in Quick Change and the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, Alexander Minion in the Spy Kids series and Jack Jeebs in the Men in Black movies.
Shalhoub's New York Theater resume includes roles in Waiting for Godot, Conversations With My Father, The Heidi Chronicles and The Odd Couple as well as the New York Shakespeare Festival productions of Henry IV Part 1 and Richard III.
Born in Green Bay, Wis., and a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Shalhoub, 49, spent three years in the master's program at Yale University.
"It was a very intense and creatively fertile time, and I worked very hard," says Shalhoub, who says he still supports the Yale drama program and its cabaret, where he frequently performed.
All he'll hint about the new season of Monk is that the stories get deeper.
"We start to delve more into all the characters' back stories, meet their family members," he says. Among them will be the wife of Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and the mother and ex-husband of his sidekick Sharona Fleming, played by Bitty Schram.
"There are some significant surprises this season that are truly exciting," Shalhoub says. But like the ace detective he portrays, he adds, "we simply can't give them all away."
Roger Catlin writes for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
When: Tonight at 10
Where: USA cable network
In brief: Fleshed out, but as germ-averse as ever.