One of the earliest episodes featuring Monk’s new assistant Natalie Teeger is called “Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra.”
It’s only our second time seeing her, but that’s how long it takes before Natalie wants to quit, mainly because like her predecessor Sharona, she finds that Monk won’t reimburse her for work-related expenses.
When the actor playing Natalie was first hired to replace Sharona, Traylor Howard had no idea that Monk fans had grown so attached to the detective’s original assistant.
“I was naïve when I took on this part,” Howard told The Tribune in 2009. “I didn’t realize the cult following of the show and Sharona. I didn’t know it was such a big deal.”
All Howard could do once she fully understood what replacing Sharona would mean was think to herself, “Gosh, I hope it goes OK.”
Howard served as Monk’s assistant through the end of the show, so you can definitely say that it went more than OK.
Over time, fans came to appreciate Natalie’s down-to-earth approach to dealing with Monk.
But in “Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra,” Natalie is still being shaped, and by carrying over Sharona’s baggage of unpaid work-related expenses, it might be the episode where Howard is closest to mimicking on the show what Bitty Schram did to such comedic effect with Sharona.
When Howard got cast on Monk, she said she was naïve, never having had success with starting up a show on her own, and she didn’t know what to expect joining a fully-formed show like Monk.
What she discovered was that joining Monk was not just a great accomplishment for her in her acting career, but being on set became what she felt was the perfect way to raise her son Sabu as a single mom.
“I have a little boy who’s almost 3,” Howard said. “He’s been on the set since he was born, and everyone’s so lovely with him. And it’s been a huge impact on his life. He’s a really social, curious little boy.”
As Sabu grew up, year after year, behind the scenes of Monk, Howard and Sabu found family in the rest of the cast.
That’s why when the show ended, it became not just about wrapping up one of Howard’s biggest onscreen roles, but also about separating her son from their TV family.
All she could think at that moment was how she could get cast on another TV show, thinking, “I’ve got to get another job, so he can be in this environment again.”
While some parents sit their kids down to explain things like life isn’t always fair or you can’t always win, Howard had to have a sit-down with her son to explain, life isn’t just making a TV show.
“I was trying to explain to him today that it was ending,” Howard said. “But he doesn’t really get it.”
By the end of “Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra,” Natalie has confronted Monk about what she considers a major unnecessary expense: the rent for his wife Trudy’s office. Painfully, Monk learns to let go of the office, and this frees up the funds to pay Natalie not to quit and prevents Howard from ending her run on Monk before it barely began.
The bond between Howard and Shalhoub grew strong over the next five seasons, just as Shalhoub had bonded with Schram in her three seasons on the show.
“It’ll be weird not to work with Tony a lot,” Howard said. “He’s such a lovely man. And I adore him.”
Any Monk fan who wished the series never ended can certainly sympathize with Howard’s son, who had his own special reasons at the tender age of 3 to feel the same.