‘Monroe’: Episode 2 review

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‘So you read minds as well as cure them, do you?’, an angry parent snaps at Doctor Gabriel Monroe in the second instalment of ITV1’s new medical drama series; and it’s the empathetic way that James Nesbitt’s brilliant-yet-enjoyably-flawed neurosurgeon deals with the people in his personal and professional lives which lies at the heart of this episode.

Monroe’s need to forge emotional relationships with his patients and their relatives – and thus be liked by them as a consequence – is perhaps a way of compensating for his crumbling home life, which worsens this week when his estranged wife reveals to their teenage son that his parents have split up. It’s also in stark contrast to the detached way in which Doctor Jenny Bremner deals with the human part of her job, which once again exacerbates the tension between the cool cardiologist and the brash brain surgeon. Although Nesbitt is again enjoyable to watch, it’s Sarah Parish who steals the show as Bremner: the sequence in the hospital chapel where she tries – and fails – to explain her deliberate lack of emotion when dealing with patients is a highlight of the episode.

The second strand of the story deals with a teenage boy who has shot his younger brother and then himself. While the scenes between Monroe and the boy’s parents – particularly his father – are gripping, the sequences in the operating theatre are markedly less so. Thankfully, director Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) resists the temptation to raise the blood-and-guts factor to compensate. When it comes to gore, he’s canny enough to know that less is more.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the sound mixer, as the incidental music is so far to the fore that it becomes intrusive; and worse, it has the unnecessary effect of leading the mood of the scenes it frames rather than allowing the emotion to come from the actors. Thankfully, the brief snippet of Belle & Sebastian’s ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ – this week’s only overt indie music reference – fits in perfectly, both in volume level and suitability: the band’s sharp Celtic whimsy isn’t a million miles away from Monroe’s own brand of sarcastic good humour.

The dialogue in the hospital scenes is pitch perfect. However, it isn’t quite as sharp during the interaction between Monroe and his family (despite occasional gems like: ‘Could you bring us a bottle of the cheapest wine possible, please? It’s our wedding anniversary’) and the scalpel is blunted completely during the scene in which Monroe confesses to his son about the infidelity which led to the break-up of his marriage: ‘I lost a daughter!’ – ‘I lost a sister!’ Perhaps it’s a deliberate echo of the way Monroe’s life works – perfect in the operating theatre; decidedly less so at home – but it’s simply too soapy to stand up here.

After a blistering beginning last week, Episode 2 of Monroe isn’t perfect, but it’s still eminently likeable – rather like the show’s principal character, in fact – and to say that viewers will continue to enjoy this neurological drama is a no-brainer.

Airs at 9pm on Thursday 17th March 2011 on ITV1.

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