sun 11/04/2021

Monroe, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

Monroe, ITV1

Monroe, ITV1

James Nesbitt's brain surgeon returns for a second series of the soapy medical drama

Dr Monroe smirks gamely beside two of his many anodyne associates

The screenwriter Peter Bowker won over viewers of all stripes with his wonderfully clever, musical serial Blackpool and sealed the deal with the chunky post-Iraq War drama Occupation. He demonstrated a deft narrative touch, an expert ability to spin a yarn and the right level of unpredictability to give him a reputation as something of a televisual auteur.

The screenwriter Peter Bowker won over viewers of all stripes with his wonderfully clever, musical serial Blackpool and sealed the deal with the chunky post-Iraq War drama Occupation. He demonstrated a deft narrative touch, an expert ability to spin a yarn and the right level of unpredictability to give him a reputation as something of a televisual auteur. Ah, but before all that he used to write for Casualty, and it is to those days he returns with Monroe, the second series of which began last night, and which bears a strong resemblance to the BBC’s hospital soap warhorse.

Dr Gabriel Monroe is the brilliant neuro-surgeon played by James Nesbitt, adopting the warm, likeable and cheeky persona that is the actor’s default setting. Bowker came up with the central character when his own daughter needed treatment for a benign brain tumour and, unsurprisingly, the medical staff at his fictional St Matthew’s Hospital are universally sympathetic.

It’s a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit for tired brains that don’t wish to cogitate further

While comparisons to House are inevitable, Monroe does not deal in spikiness. The supporting cast of surgeons and medicos seem an amorphous mass of comradely geniality, while the opening episode’s central medical drama, concerning a young man with a pregnant wife who’s been turned down for brain surgery by two hospitals as his condition is regarded as inoperable, came over as prosaic soap fodder. Even Neil Pearson’s newly instated Head of Department, Dr Gillespie, who must face down Monroe upon occasion, does so with pragmatism, invisibility and a sense of inevitability. The only character whose immediate complexity intrigues is Sarah Parish’s Dr Jenny Bremner, a new mother who’s finding her given roles depressing and frustrating. Her partner, however, Monroe’s anaesthetist Dr Lawrence Shepherd (Tom Riley) and clearly a key figure in the series, currently seems just another of the show’s eye-pleasing cyphers.

There was an amusing scene where Monroe invited his ex-wife to dinner along with her new man, a vet, the idea being that he proves his emotional maturity after all the ins and outs of their divorce in the first series. Their son unexpectedly announces his engagement, leading to mild confrontation and a believably enjoyable awkwardness – “I won’t be lectured on parenting by someone who sticks a thermometer up a dog’s arse for a living," says our wine-drunken hero.

Then again it was only funny and gripping by comparison with the rest of the programme. The same could be said for much of the emotion Monroe musters for, right down to the blandly friendly theme tune, it’s faintly soporific on the whole. It is designed as a perfect marinade for the post-working day Monday mind, a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit for tired brains that don’t wish to cogitate further. Anyone wishing to engage with something meatier – other than the odd sliver of human sweetmeat on the operating table – should look elsewhere.

Watch a very brief trailer for Series 2 of Monroe

While comparisons to House are inevitable, Monroe does not deal in spikiness

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