Here’s what happened: With the final episode of ‘Monk‘ airing Friday at 9 PM, we wanted to get some inside dope on the Obsessive Compulsive Detective’s last case. Fortunately, Jason Gray-Stanford, who plays Lieut. Randy Disher on the USA series, answered our call. With Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) barely clinging to life after being poisoned in the first half of the series finale, there was plenty to discuss. Gray-Stanford was happy to drop a few spoilers, dish about the finale theme, and hint at big changes for all the characters—provided we didn’t ask one dreaded question he’s heard a few too many times: “What happens in the last episode?” (Watch full episodes of ‘Monk’ here.)
So, you’re going to love this: What happens in the last episode?
This interview is over. [Laughs.]
No, really. We know Monk’s been poisoned by Craig T. Nelson’s evil judge. Are we really going to see the end of Adrian Monk? Is he going to die?
Well, I tell you what, as we left off we know that he is in definite peril, and I believe our good Dr. Schuler gave him only three days to live. I’ll leave you with that right now. But I think he’s getting progressively worse.
But that’s only three days if they can’t identify the toxin.
Which we have not done yet! If we remember, the one guy who could do it is now laying dead on the train tracks.
So generally, what can we expect in part 2?
In part 2, it is actually a very fast-paced, race-against-the-clock atmosphere, which is not very common for our show. We’re not a big action show. We kind of usually live in the character-driven stuff. But as you can see, if part 1 was any indication, there’s lots of good action and the action just keeps amping up. Because Monk is so ill at this point time is of the essence, so we’re all racing against the clock. The climax is fantastic! Then, like with all great Monk episodes when they turn out the way we want them, you get to see a lovely bit of comedy mixed in with some high-wire tension, which is one of the things we’re very proud of with the final episode. Then everything gets solved. Everything gets wrapped up.
Including resolution to when Randy said in part 1 that he “can’t do this forever?”
Without giving anything away about any of our four main characters, each one of us winds the show up with a big change in his life.” *BEEP* Can you hold on for one second?
Are you there? Sorry about that, that was my mom. I’m like, ‘Mom, I’m doing a phone interview. Can I call you back?’ Then she’s like, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ She’ll get on and talk to me for an hour! But anyway, by the end of the finale you will see a significant change to each one of the characters, and Lt. Disher in particular.
You sure you can’t tease just a little bit?
I won’t tease you, but there is a previous episode, maybe a few back now featuring a previous character on the show, that might give you a few hints about where Lt. Disher might be going with his life.
So perhaps the episodes in October, with Bitty Schram guest-starring as fan-fave Sharona?
Perhaps that might have something to do with it. I’ve already said too much!
What was filming the final episode like? Were you thrilled? Bittersweet?
Bittersweet is actually a great word for it. Honestly, in reference to what you said earlier, when Randy says “I can’t do this forever,” it was actually kind of an inside joke from the writers to ourselves, kind of going, wow, all good things come to an end. Eventually it’s got to stop. In the final episode, we had all really accepted it, but it did not make it any easier. We choked back tears doing that last couple of lines. And we end in the same season together, so it was actually really quite touching. But it is time for Monk to say goodbye for a little while, which doesn’t rule out Monk coming back one day.
You just implied that Monk doesn’t die, Jason.
Did—did I say that? You think that I actually—I tell you what, you’re right, maybe Monk doesn’t die, but he also goes through a couple of thrilling changes, and you will be so surprised! We’re going out in style, and that’s the best way to go.
Does the series wrap up the way you’d have liked?
I have to say, about halfway through the season I was a little nervous that we weren’t going to be able to pull it together. I was kind of going how’s this going to happen? I was so pleasantly surprised, especially for Lt. Disher. It was very fitting.
But Randy and Monk’s assistant Natalie aren’t going to end up together.
I think Randy always had kind of a love/hate crush on Sharona back in the day, and I think with Natalie (Traylor Howard) that really developed over the years. They kind of, once again, started out a little adversarial. I heard that come down the pike, that Randy and Natalie might’ve wanted to end up together, but that did not happen. I think Randy had more respect and admiration for Natalie than schoolboy love.
You mentioned Bitty Schram. As a fan, I have to tell you it was nice to see her, Melora Hardin, Tim Bagley, and Hector Elizondo back in the last season—still I miss the late Stanley Kamel.
We miss him terribly. He was such a big part of the show, almost the grounding force on the show, both as a man and as an actor. But Hector’s been a wonderful actor to come in and take over that mantle. But we’ve been very, very lucky with our guest stars. Tim Bagley is truly one of the best—all the guest stars we’ve been able to get in. We have the lovely Virginia Madsen in, she’ll be with us in the series finale. And to have Bitty back was absolutely fantastic.
To name a few of the others, you’ve had Sarah Silverman, Adam Arkin, Amy Sedaris, Rainn Wilson—are there any that stand out as favorites?
Oh yes, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, and David Strathairn. Those three friends of Tony are three actors I’ve completely admired for so long. But those three really come to mind. And honestly, we talk about these actors who are really familiar to us all, but truthfully, every actor that comes through the door—the unknown working actors—are the ones who really make the show, as well.
How about episodes? Which ones will stay with you?
The 100th episode. I couldn’t imagine as a young actor being on a television series and getting to 100 episodes. The pilot will always stand out, because that really shaped our show. Dean Parisot, who directed it, he really set the tone for what Monk was. And then, there’s an episode way back in season 2 called “Mr. Monk and the Sleeping Suspect,” which was, in my opinion, the episode where we all really realized it was an ensemble, that some of the best scenes were the ones where all four of us were in it together. And then, I guess I have to say the two-part finale, which is capped off by this phenomenal Randy Newman song—he did our theme song and now he’ll do our finale song.
There’s a finale song?!
Yes, there is, and you have it first. If you are a true fan of Monk it will break your heart. It’s fantastic.
You’ve done everything from “Hamlet” to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How did you learn to do comedy?
It’s just working with those other great actors. You learn the level of where you need to be. You work with Tony Shalhoub every day and you get to be kind of good at it. He’s a very, very gracious actor. And it’s one of those things people say: We have chemistry. We’ve had it from the very beginning. We had to be doing something right.
So what are you up to next?
I actually have a movie coming out called Kerosene Cowboys, which is kind of the poor man’s Top Gun. I’m just trying to see what’s out there. It’s the great unknown, it’s kind of exciting right now. I’d love to do more television. I’m an actor and I like to act. We’ll see, if it even half lives up to the great run of Monk, I’ll be happy.
Monk did have a great run, essentially creating USA’s “characters welcome” identity. What impact do you think the show’s had on television?
It’s such a tough question—there’s so many shows that changed the face of TV. But I thought it brought more of a family aspect back to television, where you can sit and watch a show with your grandmother, and your mother, and your father, and your daughter. And it was a show that covered all the bases. It was touching, it was funny, it was dramatic, it had action. It had all these elements wrapped up in a nice hourlong show. But most importantly, it came along at a time when cable wasn’t really known for getting A-list talent. So if it’s going to be known for anything, it’s going to be known for opening the door to a lot of other great programs that got a chance to breathe.
Well, we’ll be holding our breath Friday night for the series finale.
Me too! I’m going to sit home and watch it on Friday night. I’m having a few friends over, and we’re going to sit around and watch a little Monk.
The final episode of ‘Monk’ airs Friday, December 4 at 9 PM on USA.