Put up against BBC’s most successful drama, the excellent second series of ITV’s Monroe stood no chance.
When it was announced last week that ITV has cancelled Monroe, few people were surprised but anyone who watched it would be disappointed. The fact is that the second series was never given a chance to shine. Pitted against the BBC’s New Tricks which is the corporation’s highest rated ongoing drama series, Monroe was doomed. It is a shame because the series was showing all the vital signs of growth and development and had it been screened on a different night the story could be different.
|Monroe spots an ITV scheduler|
Scheduling can make or break a programme even in these multi platform times. The golden rule is that you don’t match like for like which is why for example The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing rarely overlap because the people who watch that sort of programme would be forced to choose. As it is they have the opportunity to watch both. Where the BBC has scored is in scheduling Merlin against The X Factor from which it has drawn ratings. New Tricks is a huge success so the last thing ITV should do is schedule another drama against it. Monroe could have been on at 9pm any other day of the week and done far better. Also, you’d think that having paid to have the second series made, ITV would want to maximise its chances of success. Having attained average ratings of just over 5 million for its first series, Monroe was also not enough of a big hitter to go up against New Tricks. So the second season suffered from worse ratings, dipping below 3 million for one episode.
What this more selective audience saw is a series that delivers on the promise of its debut. Set 18 months later to allow for enough developments to offer new scenarios Peter Bowker’s scripts sing about choices and bravery, skills and ambition, disappointment and hope. Corralling an even larger cast than in the first year, Bowker somehow manages to give everyone significant moments. His ability to sketch quite complex characters in a manner that may appear simplistic is genius. By the end of the six episodes, we really know these people. He mixes the medical and the personal as carefully as a surgeon would do their job. Relying less on paralleling patients’ dilemmas with those of the staff than the first season did, he is freer to sculpt more diverse storylines. Each of the new characters plays a specific function in linking the two surgical areas- Tracy Ann Oberman’s breezy patient liaison Lizzie Clapham, Lisa Millet’s spiky ward nurse Jill McHeath and Neil Pearson’s Alastair Gillespie the new head of clinical services work across the teams meaning a greater crossover of stories.
|They wouldn't operate until The X Factor was over|
Last season’s most surprising development was the relationship between Lawrence and Jenny. This too brings both surgical teams closer together in story terms as the duo now have a baby but also commitment issues to deal with. Both actors- Tom Riley and Sarah Parish—give such convincing performances as the couple share awkward encounters in the kitchen or with a counsellor. You really feel for the fact that neither seems to be able to communicate what they feel. When Lawrence sleeps with Whitney it adds an extra tension to the workplace.
Monroe meanwhile is facing difficult matters himself- his son deciding to get married, Gillespie’s arrival which at first appears to threaten his independence (though Bowker thankfully swerves away from hackneyed clashes of authority) and having to choose which of his trainees will be registrar. Although the second season has more of an ensemble James Nesbitt is still the lead and so at ease in a role that plays to his humorous side. The interplay between Springer and Kitty is even better this time round; Luke Allen Gale delights in Springer’s posh self belief which is always funny, while Michelle Asante subtly conveys Kitty’s self doubt. As the `third party` in Lawrence and Jenny’s relationship Christina Chong gets a lot to do this season and is fantastic as Whitney is torn over what to do. Andrew Mullery played with a quirky side by Andrew Gower goes though some interesting moods this season too.
The season retains the visual flourishes that make the show stand out, the best being the way the passing of time is conveyed with montages showing both the surgery and those waiting for the outcome. The surgical scenes are superbly rendered; they seem far more convincing than other medical shows and they also manage to convey just how complicated and concentrated the skills are.
It is so disappointing to learn that the series has been axed – not least because I want to know what happens to these characters next -but everyone involved is so talented it should not harm their careers. In fact, at some indeterminate time in the future- perhaps if one of the cast becomes a megastar- the 12 episodes of Monroe will be re-discovered and people will marvel at just how good it is.