About 15 minutes into Monroe (if not some time before), most audience members will know exactly who James Nesbitt’s brain surgeon Monroe is modelled on when he tells a surgical trainee, “The only difference between you and a psychopath is good A-Levels.”
Monroe tries very hard to escape the long shadow cast by the American drama House, but when it bases itself so closely on the multi-award winning drama, the task is as difficult as… well, brain surgery.
It’s all there. Ascerbic, sarcastic but strangely affable medical genius. Tumultuous personal life that resonates through the cases he treats. Hospital politics. An able cast of friends, family, rivals and students. A focus not on the patients that tumble through the doors but on the godlike doctors who treat them…
Dr. Gregory House, meet your British counterpart, Mr. Gabriel Monroe.
Of course, being British and lacking a gammy leg, Monroe isn’t as balls-out rude as House, but he still has a razor-sharp wit. He still struts the halls of the hospital with an air of arrogance that befits a medical professional. And he still has all the personal issues that accompany the inward-facing, narcissistic attitude that has aided his successes.
But Monroe differs by showing our hero’s downfall. Where Gregory House is already broken when we meet him, Gabriel Monroe has a long way to fall. He is presented to us as an ace surgeon at the top of his game, with a successful family life reaching completion as his son prepares to leave for university. This house of cards all comes tumbling down in the first episode…
To be honest, writer Peter Bowker would have had to have lived in a bubble for the past five years not to have that doctor from across the Pond influence his new medical drama, so perhaps likening Monroe to House is a little unfair on the basis of one episode. Or maybe it’s a compliment – House is a brilliant show that has managed to elevate itself from formulaic early episodes to become a rich and full drama.
Bowker’s writing is just as promising. There are some very good lines mixed in with some extremely insightful observations about the human condition. The characters are well rounded and there is a number of directions the series could go. But there are a few little things that could be done better.
Nesbitt’s surgeon says “Remember… the heart is just at pump,” early in the show, providing something of a mission statement for the characters. Despite the huge upheavals in his life, Monroe remains stoic and unemotional throughout. Some might say this is a typical trait of a surgeon who has to detach himself from human emotion in order to perform his job. But this disease is seemingly contagious – Monroe’s wife delivers her bombshell with bearly a blink, and a patient and her husband are involved in an extremely waspish relationship replete with a fairly emotionless crisis of faith.
However, this could just be down to a first episode that crams a vast set-up into 45 minutes while simultaneously diagnosing and curing a patient with a brain tumour – not bad for a day’s work!
Monroe is one of the more promising dramas to come along in a year that has started with more than its fair share of promising dramas. With an absorbing central character, a story that could run and run and a script that shows more than a few sparks of wit and wisdom, ITV drama has potentially found itself a gem of a series. I for one will definitely be tuning in on St. Petrick’s Day to see Ireland’s favourite actor in episode two…