03/10/2012

Why Monroe is great TV drama

Monroe Season 2 Premiere episode
You wouldn’t imagine a series about surgeons would be any good or you might think it would be too dark or that it might topple over into soap opera. Chances are in most cases it would. Yet with a similar dexterity with which the title character of ITV’S Monroe operates, so writer Peter Bowker and company have managed to construct a series that avoids all of the above mentioned traps. Returning for a second season the series is a refreshing take on well worn subjects and what’s more it is surprisingly involving and life affirming.

Before starting work, the hospital staff always took time to play statues

If you’ve not seen it before you’ll notice two things right away. The first is the show’s signature style. Like dramas about technology or business, a way has to be found to enliven what would otherwise be a static occupation. Surgeons do not leap about or tap dance which operating, they don’t on the whole argue over personal issues in theatre either despite TV dramas persistently showing that they do. Monroe has taken the bold decision to shoot the surgery scenes with as much style as it can to underscore the complexity of the work.
It helps that the environment would be brightly lit in real life hence directors can use this asset like paint, splashing it about. Odd angles, distorted corners, brief shots of real surgery and a professional air give the impression of the skills surgeons use. Unlike a lot of hospital based drama, the actors convince even though a real surgeon would probably disagree. To the viewer, this stylistic approach seems respectful to the profession and quite fascinating to watch. The approach is also used to denote the passage of time, the waiting that patients and relatives have, particularly well.
The second thing you’ll notice is how good James Nesbitt is. If the series runs a while, it may well turn out to be his keynote role, so assured is his handling of a character that could easily be irritating or smug.  Monroe is a flawed person for sure yet his conviction about what he does, his willingness to be honest to patients and his wit make him someone you are happy to spend time with.

Monroe had noticed the unattended iced bun nearby

The cast has been expanded this season and has even more of an ensemble yet it is Nesbitt who pulls it all together and when you have such a good cast that’s no mean feat. New faces this season including Neil Pearson as a newly installed tier of management and Tracy Ann Oberman as a sort of patient liaison may give the impression that well known names are leaping on what their agents see as a bandwagon but they slot in surprisingly well. Pearson’s character in particular adds a challenge to Monroe’s previously unassailable decision making freedom. His presence also allows the debates over NHS cuts to be aired which is an interesting new layer- do hospitals choose by medical or financial priorities?
Almost all the cast from the first season return with the action set 18 months on and Bowker writes each with a shorthand skill seen in the best TV. There is a balanced mixture of professional and personal life that manages to encompass everyone. His dialogue is sparkling at all times and flexible enough to shift tone when needed.
 It’s the first medical based drama I’ve watched and hopefully this second season will maintain the standard of the first. On this opening episode which includes frosty heart surgeon Jenny Bremner (Sarah Parish, note perfect as ever) trying to adapt to home life, establishing the new characters, Monroe’s son deciding to get married and three cases for him to deal with, it seems it will. If you only watch one medical based drama this year, it has to be Monroe.



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