I didn’t intend to watch it. If I’m honest it sounded dreadfully derivative. Maverick, sharp-tongued surgeon with disastrous private life; faithful but very slightly drippy best friend poised to point out the error of his ways; cold-hearted, damaged female surgeon with no private life at all to speak of and a sprinkling of trainees seemingly selected on the tick box system.
So far, so House…
I was wrong.
I should have known I could trust Peter Bowker. Monroe does have all those potentially clichéd characters but it does something very clever with them and twists them in ways that makes them properly three-dimensional. Within the classic medical drama case of the week format there’s a lot to get your teeth (or scalpel) into.
Gabriel Monroe (James Nesbitt) is provided with the traditional touch of tragedy and ravaged home life but it’s easy to find some sympathy. His wife calmly leaves him after they see their son settled in his University rooms, a move she’s planned for six years, since Monroe had an affair. It seems cold and calculating but as we learn more about the family it’s hard to see how else she could have done it. The death of their daughter Charlotte was always going to fracture the family eventually. It’s warming to see how the three do manage to find some kind of new relationship throughout the series and the scenes of Monroe and Anna after he’s failed to save a girl a similar age to Charlotte are touching and real.
Of course if this were a proper clichéd drama there is the perfect set up for an unlikely romance between Monroe, the brain surgeon ruled by his heart, and Bremner, a heart surgeon ruled very firmly by her head. As it isn’t, there isn’t and Bremner actually gets entangled with the oh-so-nice Shepherd (Tom Riley), much to Monroe’s amusement. Although he does seem to take just a little too much pleasure in seeing them floundering. Monroe’s plea to Bremner that she and Shepherd join their damaged souls together to form “one great big damaged… thing” falls on determinedly deaf ears.
When I started writing this it took me by surprise how little we know about the lead characters. There’s a but of back story for Monroe and his family and something that Bremner reluctantly confides to Shepherd? But there’s not a scrap of detail about Shepherd. he’s the proverbial good sort; popular, kind, funny, good at his job, probably a bit of a romantic – but how has he managed to stay so nice? Charmed life? Genie in a lamp? No idea… I’d like to know more about him.
He can’t be as good as he seems, can he? Bremner calls him a rescuer and I can see that but I wonder why he is? Did something happen in his past to make him that way? The occasional flashes of anger hint at a much darker side to Shepherd that we’ve yet to see.
Jenny Bremner (Sarah Parish) can’t see why anyone feels the need to fix her or why Shepherd wants to rescue her. She’s fine as she is. The suicide of her father when she was 16 taught her to keep people at arm’s length, that way no one gets close enough to hurt her. I’m sure she thinks of herself as firm but fair although her trainees certainly find her daunting. When she finally tells Whitney she had no doubts about her competence it obviously comes as a relief and a shock.
She gets some of the best lines though, especially when she – well, I was going to say consoles but that’s not the right word at all – Mullery when Fortune is in surgery for the aneurysm that Mullery blames himself for.
“Masculinity requires many myths to sustain it but there is no orgasm on earth that caused an aneurysm all by itself. Fortune’s condition cannot be put down to your unbridled passion. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
The moment when Mullery tells her that he’s happy to be talked about tells much about both of them. It’s a glimpse of his ambition and a certain ruthlessness that lurks below the surface. For Bremner, I’m sure she’s content enough with professional accolades but the thought of her personal life being discussed and dissected is anathema and she looks at him as if he’s a new and unknown species.
It’s Sally Fortune (Manjinder Virk) who shows us the side of Monroe that teaches and cherishes his protégés. He’s sarcastic to her – as he is with everyone – but encouraging and supportive. If he’s on your side that must feel like a good place to be. Sadly Fortune is sacrificed to a convenient (plot wise) brain operation after some – presumably enthusiastic – sex with Mullery much to the surprise of pretty much everyone. The sex, that is, not the operation. On top of that she also has a heart complaint and Monroe and Bremner get to fight and then bond over her treatment. When I say bond I mean they talk about each other quite nicely to other people, not any of that sloppy face to face stuff!
A more cynical person – like Springer – might wonder if trainees Whitney (Christina Chong) and Wilson (Michelle Asante) were chosen to round out the ethnic balance. Although he does concede that Whitney isn’t “ethnic ethnic”. How she managed not to slap him is a mystery. Wilson moves on from fainting to being quietly competent but she lacks confidence and you wonder how she’ll ever elbow her way past the brash Springer. Whitney, however, has the confidence and the backing of Bremner and – out of the four – seems the most successfully integrated into hospital life. She goes home occasionally for a start! And she’s invited to the poker nights, a privilege that Springer takes time to earn. Were Wilson and Mullery ever invited? Somehow I don’t think so.
Springer (Luke Allen-Gale) is weighed down by the terrible burden of being white, male, middle class and affluent. It’s a nasty affliction with the side effect of being snidely and viciously competitive. Basically he’s a slug and I rather enjoyed despising him until he made me laugh in episode six.
“I could say something tactless and offensive if that would help?“
Damn him. I can’t possibly get to like Springer, house colours for Bridge forsooth. I shall have my little red book confiscated…
With my other blog hat on (the rather lovely one that I wear when I write about Being Human) it would be remiss of me not to give a slightly disproportionate amount of space to Andrew Gower as Mullery. Monroe was his first professional role and he followed it with a rather different doctor in Frankenstein’s Wedding. He then went on to play an absolute blinder as nasty vampire solicitor Cutler in series four of Being Human.
Mullery – AKA Dozy Bollocks – doesn’t get a great deal to do for a while except be slightly vague and rather endearingly ineffectual. It’s to Bremner’s credit that she doesn’t make total mincemeat out of him as she well could! He strikes me as better academically than practically or maybe the confidence in applying his diligent research just needs to catch up a bit. He’s an awkward mixture of eager to please, ambition and foot in mouth.
It’s interesting that there are a number of characters who give no hint of any life outside the hospital, Mullery being one of them. Always in scrubs, never seen in street clothes, but I suspect there’s a determination and a steely edge somewhere under that fluffy head of hair – or possibly a level of petulance that we’ve only glimpsed. (And it’s not fair…) Will he stick with Fortune? Or she with him? I doubt it; I think his ambitions go further than that.
And for those fans of Andrew Gower’s music did you spot the song played when he invited Fortune on a date after her operation? It was “Better of Me”, performed by Emerson, co-written and sung by Andrew Gower. Nice touch!
Seeing what happened to Shepherd and Bremner and maybe seeing more of the darker Shepherd that I suspect he’s been hiding.
Slightly concerned about Mullery’s development as ‘quirky’ and I really hope the writing stays good enough to pull that off. Please don’t let quirky = zany, ‘I’m mad me’ or the acquisition of unusual hobbies. No taxidermy. No casseroling road kill. No morris dancing…
Please let Springer be vile so I can happily resume despising! The glimpse of braces bodes well on that front.
Series two starts 18 months on from the end of series one – that’s a really good gap to get a whole new set of challenges and stories started.
Oh, did I mention I’m looking forward to seeing Neil Pearson back on my TV?