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Can a germaphobe function in a COVID world?

It’s rare for a reboot to capture the magic of the original. But sometimes familiar characters come back years later and “Mr. Monk’s Last Case” (on Peacock) is one such opportunity; Tony Shalhoub returns as the obsessive-compulsive crime solver he played on the US series “Monk,” which ran for eight seasons from 2002 to 2009.

Monk’s germaphobia has always been a central issue. So what does her life look like now in the midst of an ongoing pandemic caused by an airborne virus? Do the ideas behind the character’s idiosyncrasies work in this new context?

In short, no.

Creator Andy Breckman acknowledges Monk’s obsession with hygiene (which is often met with eye rolls on the show) and says it makes perfect sense. (signs broadly) everything. But here I am, wading through the pleasant, low-stakes vibes of a brief “Monk” flashback, noting that the story now requires you to believe the character can go anywhere post-2020 without a face mask.

That’s because you can’t make a satisfying story if your lead actor is delivering lines behind an N95. So we get Adrian Monk making a fuss about hand sanitiser without any concern, but still heavily involved. Certainly. OK. (Hands go up in defeat).

But I like how it is: Mr. Monk’s Last Case” begins with a clip from an old episode where he focuses on his old stove. The scene turns into a voice-over monologue about how many times the six-burner flat-top has been recalled. “I had this for 22 years. “It was one of the longest relationships of my life and definitely one of the happiest.” Wonderful!

It turns out that he was reading from Monk’s manuscript. He got a book deal to write about his career, but his editor won’t buy what he’s selling.

“There are two paragraphs here in Chapter 4 about the suspect and” — he flips through the stack — “seven, eight, nine pages about his vacuum cleaner.”

Monk: “We had the same vacuum cleaner!”

Sorry, he says, you are violating the contract. We want the advance we paid to you back. This is a problem because Monk earmarked the money for his stepdaughter Molly’s wedding.

Wait, my stepdaughter?

If your brain has been filled with more pressing information since the last episode of “Monk” aired in 2009, here’s a reminder: Trudy was Monk’s late wife. She had a child before they were together and was later adopted by others. This detail is revealed in the series’ two-part finale, “Mr. The Monk and the Son” and a backstory that is questionable to trust as viewers have no emotional connection (and likely no memory) to this character.

(Can we pause to consider Monk’s financial situation? He’s no longer a police consultant, how can he support himself if his book money is going to that wedding? He’s in San Francisco, no less? I’m stressed!)

Tony Shalhoub as Adrian Monk "Mr. Monk's Last Case."

Molly moved in with Monk during COVID — with Monk in his kitchen in a hazmat suit — and her fiancée’s death brings her out of retirement. The old gang reunites once again, including onetime assistant Natalie Teeger (Traylor Howard), police chief Leland Stottleyener (Ted Levine), and Leland’s dopey colleague Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford).

They all moved on with their lives but came back together for the cause.

Despite its cool tone, the film takes place in surprisingly dark places. Monk is contemplating ending it all, and while I don’t think the idea of ​​suicide works tonally, it feels like a genuine effort to seriously consider the character’s ever-present pain and what it means to lose your partner and be disconnected from the world forever. after this.

If the main mystery is unsatisfying, Shalhoub remains reason to watch. He imbues this difficult and ridiculous man with so much humanity in a performance that is both tough and goofy. At one point, Monk disguises himself as a pool bartender with a straw hat and mustache and insists that every drink be made to perfection as the thirsty crowd glares on. This is a classic Monk moment, and Shalhoub finds a very light and fun way to play with it.

The end of “Mr. Monk’s Last Case” leaves the door open for another movie. Or for a reboot of the show. You never know. Outside Forest.

“Mr. Monk’s Last Case” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: peacock

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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