TV's defective detective Adrian Monk returns to fight crimes -- and his own compulsively neat inner demons -- provided he can find a new nurse to hold his hand when he leaves his germ-free, well-vacuumed apartment.
In the "Monk" season premiere Friday, we find that our hero's long-suffering nurse, Sharona, has left him, and he must now find a new companion to act as his lifeline to the world.
Sharona came into Monk's life five years after his wife was killed in a car bombing, a tragedy that turned a quirky-yet-effective San Francisco police detective into a broken man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Monk boils his toothbrush after each use, stores his socks in plastic baggies and vacuums everything, including the ceiling.
In his three years on the USA Network, Monk (Tony Shalhoub) has only been able to shake hands when Sharona (Bitty Schram) is there to hand him an antiseptic pre-moistened towelette.
"Don't worry. He thinks everybody is dirty," Sharona tells a black person who interprets Monk's handshaking ritual as racist.
Despite his weaknesses -- actually, because of them -- Monk is San Francisco's most effective crimefighter, even though the police department kicked him off the force and uses him only as a consultant.
Those hypersensitive germ-phobic tendencies give Monk a Sherlock Holmesian ability to absorb every clue at a crime scene. He can tie a killer to a crime scene by identifying the brand of cigarettes he smokes.
Strangely, Monk is just one of many iconic -- sometimes, even heroic -- characters who are compulsively neat. On Friday, Jennifer Garner hit the big screen in "Elektra." She plays the titular superhero who, when not kicking bad-guy butt, relaxes by hand-scrubbing her floor and counting each step she takes.
On Sunday, the Golden Globes honored Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Howard Hughes in "The Aviator." The bizarre billionaire revolutionized air transportation and the motion picture industry, when he could find time from scrubbing the dirt from under his fingernails.
In real life, Hughes spent his later years locked in hotel rooms, and by some accounts went through 12 boxes of Kleenex a day. And he's not so different from some contemporary neatniks.
Another real-life legend, soccer god David Beckham, might be more of a perfectionist off the football field. In Beckham's closet, each shirt is filed according to its color. In his refrigerator, each can of soda has to be lined up, like soldiers standing at attention.
"Everything has to match in the house," his wife, Victoria, formerly known as Posh Spice, told "People" magazine three years ago. "If there are three cans of Diet Coke he'd throw one away rather than having three because it's uneven."
So, as Monk gets ready to wipe the streets clean of grime and crime, how does he stack up against TV's other obsessively clean characters? Is he more of a control freak than Bree Van De Kamp of "Desperate Housewives"? Does he make Felix Unger look like Oscar Madison? Can he out-scrub Monica Geller Bing?
It's time to consider who is really TV's Mr. (or Ms.) Clean. Take a look at the candidates below and vote in The Wolf Files survey of TV's neatest neat freaks.
1. Bree Van De Kamp
Bree Van De Kamp, the domestic goddess of "Desperate Housewives," has the greenest lawn on Wisteria Lane. Her cupcakes are always baked to perfection. And when she plans a dinner party, she even upholsters the dining room chairs herself.