Tony Shalhoub and Sarah Silverman, <EM>Monk</EM> Tony Shalhoub and Sarah Silverman, Monk

Outrageous twists! Shocking revelations! Not on Monk!

Most returning hits feel compelled to tinker with success, even when doing so only screws things up. Monk, the USA Network series back this Friday, July 13 (at 9 pm/ET), for its sixth season, stays true to its quirky title character by playing it safe. Obsessively, compulsively safe.

"People expect us to try to keep Monk fresh, but I think freshness is highly overrated," cracks Tony Shalhoub, who plays the hyperphobic, OCD-afflicted detective Adrian Monk. "I believe in fermentation, and we're fermenting like a cheap wine." Monk creator Andy Breckman admits he's "quite frankly scared" to mess with this proven, family-friendly formula. "We're still playing by strict 1974 TV rules and have no desire to push the envelope," he says, words that couldn't be any sweeter to the show's satisfied devotees. "We're just looking for new ways to push Monk's buttons."

The season-opener pushes plenty with the return of comic Sarah Silverman as Monk's most devoted groupie, Marci Maven.

"It's a real nightmare for Monk," Breckman says. "Marci bids $800 and wins a date with him at a police-department charity auction." But the nutsy stalker doesn't have lovin' in mind — her dog is accused of mauling a neighbor to death and she wants Monk to clear the pooch's name. "What complicates things is that she's right — her dog has been framed — so Monk is forced to help her."

Another guest star rocking Monk's world this summer is rapper Snoop Dogg. "Snoop plays the owner of a record company who is accused of murder," Breckman says of the July 20 episode. Adds Shalhoub: "Monk meeting Snoop Dogg is the ultimate case of two worlds colliding."

A collision of a different sort awaits Monk in the July 27 episode, when the sleuth investigates a murder at a nude beach. "We get to explore Monk's aversion — make that loathing — of nudists," Shalhoub says. "He thinks they're disgusting, degenerate, evil. It becomes a really serious prejudice for him."

"A lot of stars won't do that because they're insecure," Breckman says. "Tony's not afraid to play boorish and insensitive, so we have a blast writing scenes where he avoids paying his assistant Natalie [Traylor Howard] or makes her carry his luggage. Monk's the most self-absorbed character on TV. Well, [he was] until House came along."

As for romance, don't expect any this summer — or maybe ever. "Fans write and say, ‘Can't he have just a little happiness?'" says Shalhoub, aghast at the very idea. "Monk getting on with his life would knock the wind out of the show's sails."

But one of Monk's longtime psychic demons will be addressed, if not exorcised, when the series returns for its shortened winter season later this year: The detective will finally finger a suspect in the murder of his wife, Trudy. Alas, the suspect soon turns up dead and all suspicions fall on Monk.

Think The Fugitive... with issues.

Let our new Online Video Guide find some Monk-y clips for you.

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