James Nesbitt never goes off grid for long and now he’s back playing a blunt, workaholic brain surgeon in ITV1’s Monroe (airing Thursdays at 9pm). Scrubbed up with his clipped salt and pepper hair, Nesbitt’s Gabriel Monroe looks like a malformed George Clooney. Still, his mug isn’t unappealing. And this, alas, is one of the only compliments I’m willing to bestow on poor, misguided Monroe--the show and the man.
Wonky quips and flat lines infect huge chunks of the dialogue, which is extra specially disappointing when you discover that it’s written by Blackpool's Peter Bowker. Monroe's main characters come across as desperate and unlikable, as they deliver arrogant lines intended to be insightful. “You’re about to take a knife to somebody’s head," was the start of one such sentence: "The only difference between you and a psychopath is that you have better A-Levels.” Erm, who decided that a qualification of psychopathy is under-achieving academically? Hannibal Lecter was one smart cookie.
Monroe is trying its best to be a British Grey’s Anatomy, with its gruff, weary medical elders and jostling, tumour-hungry young doctors. Our protagonist, meanwhile, is Gregory House without the limp and phoney accent. Troubled personal life: check; hurt disguised as bitterness and arrogance: check; wild eyes and ingrained disregard for the rules: double check.
The six-part series does look incredibly slick, especially in the parts where medical procedures are projected on screen. Its clear from these pop-ups, and the casting of Nesbitt himself, that ITV have spent a decent whack on this medical rip-off, certainly more than the NHS would've done. Unfortunately, in the first episode at least, these distractions aren't enough to detract our attention away from the script.
So why (apart from the money) has an actor like James Nesbitt signed on for such a show? One read of the script should have secured it a place in his recycling bin. We’re talking about a man who once wowed us in Cold Feet (though admittedly, anyone would look good up against the terminally stilted Helen Baxingdale). And he went on to do stonking work in Jekyll, Murphy’s Law and Bloody Sunday.
Nesbitt is that extraordinary sort of actor who can nail virtually any role. His face and tone work well whether delivering a punch line or a death sentence. Even here, the problem isn’t with Nesbitt. He’s doing all the heavy lifting and it’s an admirable effort. Still, he should have known better than to put his name to this honking pile of medical refuse. Do you agree?