James Nesbitt shines in ITV’s Monroe – First episode review

ITV don’t do an awful lot in the medical drama genre, they typically leave that to the Beeb with their Holby Cities and their Casualties. And just about everywhere else you look, the genre is saturated with American dramas.

So, let’s get the inevitable comparisons out of the way. Yes, there are a stack of comparisons you could make between Monroe and a certain Dr. House. You’ve got a mercurial protagonist with a quick wit and a flair for insulting his underlings. He’s a maverick doctor but a genius in his particular field. And his personal life is in tatters.

Admittedly, I went into this first episode of Monroe with expectations suitably lowered. We Brits aren’t renouned for medical procedurals, and ITV’s not the kind of channel you associate with quality drama. However, by the midway mark, Monroe was casting off the comparisons with [[House (TV Series)|House]] and making its own mark.

The series kicks off with a patient-of-the-week scenario – a woman with a brain tumour which, if removed, could change her personality. Making her essentially an entirely different person. Bad choice of storyline – because House carried a similar storyline some time ago in which the same scenario played out. I must say, I preferred House’s way of vocalising the argument, especially how the partner of the patient must feel if they end up married to/living with a different person than the one they fell in love with.

There’s none of that profound, albeit American, analysis here. The husband briefly freaks out when his wife doesn’t seem to be responding to the surgery, but he’s back before the end of the episode pretending that he’d never left. 

Monroe does suffer some clumsy moments in this first episode. For instance, you might be in need of brain surgery yourself if you didn’t spot that Monroe’s wife was planning to leave him as soon as their son moved to university. It was the distinct lack of chemistry between them, and how she reacted when Monroe failed to show up at a restaurant.

The divorce segment comes a little too soon. We don’t particularly care for these characters yet, so the fact that Monroe was unknowingly living in a sham marriage for 6 years feels wrong. This genius neurosurgeon, and he can’t pick up on the fact that his wife can’t stand him? Also, it’s a touch of a cliche that most marriages end when the last child leaves the nest.

However, in its favour, Nesbitt carries the title role very well. He squeezed in some smart one-liners during this pilot episode, and the character is compelling enough to tune in for a few more episodes. Monroe did manage to overshadow the rest of the cast though. While that’s to be expected, the series needs to develop the supporting characters more to give them a bit more depth.

Well done, ITV. Nice to see a smart medical drama that’s entertaining to watch. Monroe’s still a bit rough around the edges, but I like what I’ve seen so far. The dialogue and the supporting cast need a bit of polishing (and Jimmy needs to slow down when reaming off medical dialogue – it’s hard to keep up with his accent), but Monroe is definitelty a promising series. One to watch.

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