Image from 'Mr. Monk and the Miracle'
The USA Network’s latest comedy-mystery Christmas specials succeed in conveying not only the trappings of Christmas but also the more serious themes.

Continuing what has become an annual tradition for the popular cab/sat channel, the USA Network premiered its latest Monk and Psych Christmas special episodes last Friday. The shows will continue to be seen throughout the month; viewers should check their listings for dates and times.

Both episodes were very good, with the Monk special edging out the Psych one in terms of overall quality, though each was quite entertaining and enjoyable. In both cases the episode followed each show’s usual formula while incorporating familiar trappings of Christmas holiday celebrations.

The Psych episode involved a strong emphasis on family relationships, concentrating on minor transgressions by the various members of Gus’s family while Shawn and Gus track down a dangerous character who has turned a confidence game into murder. In addition, the con artists include a father-daughter team whose redemption Shawn pursues by attempting to turn them to better pursuits. That ties into directly theological Christmas themes, of course.

The Monk episode dealt even more explicitly with such themes, to impressive effect. The story revolves around the murder of a homeless man, which Monk very reluctantly agrees to solve for the victim’s likewise homeless buddies for the not at all princely sum of $14, which the men raised by selling all the soda bottles they could find. The analogy between this and the Gospel account in which Jesus praises the poor woman who gives all she can to the church is made very clear.

It’s a very solid mystery (in fact one of the best on the show in recent years) that also revolves around a fountain in a San Francisco monastery, where people are being miraculously healed after drinking the fountain’s water.

Captain Stottlemeyer, who has endured some personal problems since we last saw him, including a bad back that pains him greatly, drinks some of the water, and sure enough, he is healed. Monk is rightly skeptical, however, and investigates further while Stottlemeyer decides to leave the police force and dedicate himself to God by joining the holy order in the monastery.

That all leads to much amusing activity, as we’ve come to expect from Monk, including one of the show’s typically brilliant comical mystery-solution-explanation scenes, in fact one of the best ever.

The resolution involves a couple of entertaining though easily anticipated twists that tie the central theme together nicely. The miracle of the title may well be taken as referring also to the episode’s final moments, in which Monk stands at the fountain contemplating whether to drink the water.

Altogether, it’s a very strong episode and even better than last year’s Christmas special.

USA Network is going from strength to strength in its original programming, and is reaping the benefits in solid ratings.

On a sadder note, USA has announced that the forthcoming eighth season of Monk will be the last.

Of course, it makes sense to end its run while the show is still good, and we may well be justified in hoping that there will be more Monk specials and occasional TV movies after the series is finished. Undoubtedly Monk‘s myriad of fans will be sad to see it go away, but perhaps the producers will make it worthwhile by solving the central mystery of who killed Monk’s wife, Trudy, and why.