"Monk" star Tony Shalhoub won three Emmys and only lost twice because he usually has two advantages over his rivals in the race for best comedy actor. Tony Shalhoub stars in a one-hour program ("Monk" is twice as long as the sitcoms competing against it) and he gets to wig out in big, grandstanding scenes thanks to his character being a nut job.
This year Tony Shalhoub is a major contender again, but has three serious rivals. Lee Pace may be the front-runner because he has the one-hour advantage too, and gives a full-bodied, sensitive performance in the pilot episode ("Pie-lette") of "Pushing Daisies." But, beware: two-time past loser Steve Carell gave Emmy judges a special one-hour eppy of "The Office" too ("Goodbye Toby" — read our analysis HERE). Alec Baldwin doesn't reveal much emotional range in his 30-minute "30 Rock" submission, "Rosemary's Baby," but he sure does wow Emmy judges with his audacity as he launches into jive-pumped imitations of Redd Foxx/Fred Sanford ("Hey, dummy! I'm mad at you too!") and Jimmie Walker/J.J. ("Dyn-o-mite!") that might offend African Americans if the imitations weren't so over-the-top ridiculous.
Frankly, Forget the fifth nominee. Charlie Sheen submitted the superb "Is There a Mrs. Waffles?" episode of "Two and a Half Men." It's his best perf ever, but, considering the shallowness of the role, that's not saying much. Besides, it's creepy too -- it portrays the scum-bum rascal as a hero to kids when he becomes a hit singer of their favorite, silly ditties.
One of the biggest questions looming over this Emmy race is how that wild card Tony Shalhoub will play out. On one hand, it's tempting to dismiss him now because his episode, "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man," doesn't have the same gravitas as episodes that resulted in his three previous wins: "Mr. Monk and the Airport" (2003), "Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine" (2005) and "Mr. Monk Bumps His Head" (2006).
But it does have one touching scene before it explodes into utter absurdity. In this episode, Monk is so freaked out by the sight of skin that he can't solve the murder of a girl on a nude beach. When he sits down to sort this out with his therapist, he grabs a Kleenex to prepare for a teary chat, then he reveals, "Something I never told you. Something happened when I was a boy. There was an incident with a man. I'd never seen him before, a stranger. I was young, so small , I remember, I remember, I was naked, so naked. I hated being naked. I was crying. He hit me. There was blood, blood everywhere. I was screaming, wanted him to stop. My mother was smiling. Why didn't she stop him? She was supposed to protect me. He kept hitting me. Swinging me around, upside down. I never wanted to be naked again!"
Now here comes the absurd part when his therapist interrupts, noting, "That man was a doctor. You're remembering your own birth."
"Oh, come on!" I gasped at that point of viewing this episode. Emmy voters too?
As if that scene's not ridiculous enough, consider the scene that TV academy voters see a few minutes earlier, one so preposterous that it may dash Tony Shalhoub's newest Emmy hope.
Monk is so antagonistic toward nudists that he's determined to pin the murder on an innocent beach bum (the naked man in the episode's title, portrayed by Diedrich Bader — "Oswald" from "The Drew Carey Show") who was in jail on vagrancy charges when the slaying occurred. Monk paces around the cell where he was locked up that night, desperately trying to imagine how the naked man might have slipped out to commit the murder. Monk blasts all nudists to his colleagues: "It's a cabal, a secret society! Sometimes they're naked, sometimes they go around dressed to confuse us. Have you read their literature? I have. They want to convert us all and they won't stop until we're all like them — on beaches, in parks, hanging out, everything hanging out, hanging and hanging!"
To its credit, this is a flamboyant performance and voters often like that. Or will they pooh-pooh it like I do because it's so stupid?
Check out the screen grabs below. When Monk encounters the naked man for the first time, the man is in a jeep. Monk insists that he put on a shirt. He does so, but, of course, that doesn't conceal what Monk finds so upsetting.
In the final scene of the eppy, the naked man exonerated by Monk is packing up to leave the beach forever, but stops to demand a hug from his reluctant hero. Thus the awkward stand-off. Monk caves and gives him the hug, but then walks out into the ocean to clean off.
(Photos: USA Network)