Monroe (James Nesbitt) - First episode reviewed
Review by Jack Foley
IT’S hard not to view new ITV drama Monroe as the British House – damn near impossible in fact.
But as British television increasingly looks to try and start emulating the success of its American counterparts, some comparisons are inevitable. And on the evidence of Thursday (March 10, 2011)‘s opener very welcome too.
Monroe is a slickly written medical drama built around an enigmatic central protagonist that has all the sharpness of a surgeon’s scalpel.
It’s hardly groundbreaking but it is well done and, for that matter, similar also in nature to Grey’s Anatomy and Nurse Jackie in its depiction of egotistical central characters who struggle to balance personal lives with career demands.
In the case of James Nesbitt’s central character, however, the work-life balance is compromised because he appears to care too much about his patients.
Rather than being hands-off, borderline cruel or wholly superior to those he operates upon, Monroe is at pains to make them feel comfortable. He builds music playlists to put them at ease in his operating room, while counselling them before and after the procedure – even giving them (and us) insights into his personal life.
In that sense, the differences here are refreshing and give Monroe the hook upon which to hang our interest.
And yet he’s also deeply flawed as all good life-savers are. His son has left for university and his wife has just plain left (a late bombshell delivered towards the end of the episode to heighten the emotional content).
He has had an affair, he has lost a child to a tumour in the operating theatre and he likes to torment and play with lower-level colleagues while goading his peers. He’s a risk-taker whose medical brilliance allows him to get away with flouting the occasional rule. All genre stereotypes, for sure, but convincingly sold by Peter Bowker’s witty script.
Nesbitt, too, has the mix of charisma and insecurity to pull it off, balancing bravado and brash self confidence with a darker, more melancholy side that should be interesting to expose more of.
He may be Hugh Laurie-light in the gruff stakes, and doesn’t quite exude the free-flowing sexual energy of George Clooney’s Doug Ross (despite several gestures of homage), but he has a likeability about him that makes for an arresting screen presence – and is strong enough to repay the trust placed in him to anchor the series.
Support, thus far, is interesting – whether from Sarah Parish’s fellow surgeon (who specialises in the heart rather than the brain) or Tom Riley’s anesthesiologist (probably filling the Robert Sean Leonard role from House), or even Susan Lynch as Monroe’s put-upon wife.
Sarah Smart was also good value as the patient of the week, even though Shaun Evans was one of the few people short-changed by the script as her boyfriend – someone who professed his undying love on several early occasions, only to walk out once the going got tough, and then accept a flimsy lie he knew would be exposed upon his return.
But then Monroe‘s first episode wasn’t all perfect. Some of the camera angles and flashy techniques threatened to detract from the main drama and felt like an obvious (but backfired) attempt to inject the slickness inherent in the US shows it seeks to emulate, while there were also occasions when everyone was caught acting.
The moral and ethical grey zones in which the likes of House and Nurse Jackie operate, and which make them so riveting, are less pronounced here, too, placing question marks over Monroe‘s long-term ability to hold our attention.
But as a first taster in a short series of six Monroe did more than enough to grab our interest and make the prospect of seeing how Nesbitt and co continue to operate one worth tuning in to see.
Monroe is on ITV1 on Thursday nights from 9pm.