ITV’s Monroe was one of my favourite drama series of 2011. The cast were all superb, the storylines emotional and engaging and let’s just face it, James Nesbitt can do no wrong. The series, which revolved round the life and work of Neurosurgeon Monroe was bound to draw inevitable comparison to Hugh Laurie’s House but to make such a comparison is unfair and narrow-minded. Peter Bowker’s scripts are both emotional and poignant but not to the point that they become soppy or over the top. Every character here feels real and substantial and the series has a genuine feel about it. What I liked about Monroe’s first series was the careful balance between the cases Monroe dealt with and the time we spent in each character’s home life. It’s become a cliché for medical shows to feature scenes were a patient fights for their lives while a devastated family member watches it all unfold, but with Monroe I felt we were seeing things as they would likely happen in real life. As I say nothing feels too over the top or sensationalized for the sake of drama. James Nesbitt is perfect as Monroe. I believe him, I feel for him and I trust him. It’s not exactly hard hitting or innovative but there’s something about this series I find really interesting.
For series two Bowker has decided to bring in more well known faces to make Monroe a more ensemble piece don’t fret though as all the faces we remember from Series 1 are all still there too. Episode one begins in a somber fashion as Monroe narrates the story of Terry. Terry was a car mechanic before the onset of Parkinson’s disease made work too difficult. With Terry still wide awake, we watch as Monroe performs what he describes as “one of the few genuine miracles of this world.” He switches on the electric current and after a few nervous seconds Terry finds his uncontrollable shaking has stopped. I found this opening scene uncharacteristically melodramatic which isn’t something I would have said about a scene in series 1. The scene seemed to paint Monroe in a sort of superhero light and I can see that new viewers may have found it a bit too sickly and may well have switched over before the opening credits ran and the infectious theme music began to play.
Cardiac surgeon Jenny Bremner (played brilliantly by Sarah Parish) was mainly used
as Monroe’s sparing partner in the first series. Most of the scenes to feature
the two of them in series one saw them bicker and one up the other in putdowns.
Toward the end of series 1 viewers saw a different side to Bremner’s character
as she embarked on a relationship with Monroe’s trusted anesthetist Lawrence
Sheppard and discover she was pregnant.
As series two begins we meet an exhausted and emotional Bremner as she
returns to work after maternity leave. Brememer bumps into new “Head of Clinical Services”
Alistair Gillespie (Neil Pearson) and from their first frosty exchange it’s
clear that Bremner hasn’t changed too much, at least not in the way she treats her work colleagues.
Monroe’s first patient this series is a 31yr old man
(Jody Latham) who has an AVM (an abnormal connection between arteries and
veins in the brain) and though two pervious surgeons have turned him
away Monroe believes his AVM is treatable. Gillespie on the other hand doesn’t
share Monroe’s optimism and tells him to tell his patient he can’t operate. I’ve
a feeling this is the start of one of the main themes that we’ll see across
this new series as Monroe struggles to have control under the glare of his new boss.
Gillespie also rubs Bremner up the wrong way when he informs her he’s taken her
off the operating rotor.
The next bombshell comes as Monroe’s son reveals he’s
getting married. This has to be very favourite scene of the episode. It
actually made me squirm and demonstrates again how wonderfully the series
balances the work and home lives of the characters. This opening episode seemed to favour the home life over the
work life with Monroe struggling to come to terms with his son’s decision to
marry and Bremner and Sheppard dealing with their young son alongside their
It goes without saying that Monroe saves his patient but his
victory is short lived when the “evil” Gillespie tells him he must drop one of
his registrars. Overall this opening episode did a good job at introducing
characters new and old to a new audience as well as setting the ground work for
an interesting second series. I’m looking forward to seeing how Neil Pearson’s
character develops as well as the home lives of Bremner and Sheppard. I was
really looking forward to series 2 and it didn’t disappoint. All the elements I
had enjoyed in the first series were back and the new cast is really strong.
So, stop the comparisons with House and enjoy for Monroe for what it is: a
cleverly written piece of drama with believable and likeable characters.