Monroe – S1 E5

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I feel the need to return briefly to the subject of ITV’s new medical drama Monroe and give it credit where credit’s due for improving week after week, and really becoming a rather strong offering.

A main reason for its improvement is that the title character has been getting increasingly snarky and bitchy about his best friend Shepherd’s on-off romance with cold-hearted heart surgeon Bremmer. The nastier he gets, the more like House M.D. he gets and as predicted in my original review, the better the show is for it.

A more surprising strength of the show has emerged in the cast of interns, who were rather anonymous background extras to be shouted at initially but who are emerging as engaging and interesting characters in their own right, especially in the latest episode where one of the interns collapses in surgery with her own medical emergency which leads to the revelation of a sweetly-played budding romance with another intern, and to emergency operations that give the senior staff anxieties about working on one of their own, especially when it appears that Monroe might have been too bold and pushed too far leading to permanent damage and the end of the intern’s career. Of course none of this is hugely original, but it is very well written and played.

I’m also liking a lot of the other minor characters – such as the hospital porter/caretaker Bradley who is played as an amusingly young “old curmudgeon”, who bans any displays of tears, hugs and emotion in his office unless connected with football. He’s played by Thomas Morrison whom I last saw playing David Morrissey’s teenage son in the surreal musical noir Blackpool which also featured a pre-Who David Tennant. How time flies.

In fact the programme’s only real problem now is not something it can do anything about by itself: its length. For some reason British drama these days seems to be increasingly limited to 5- or 6-part mini series, as though no one has much faith in anything and so better to keep it short in case it fails. Unfortunately it means by the time we’ve got into a series and got to know the characters, it’s gone. Are we going to be slavering over a second series and be waiting with bated breath for 46 weeks until it returns? Or will we forget all about it by the time it returns to the schedules? The latter I think.

Moreover, the abbreviated running time doesn’t give any of the storylines enough time to breath and develop at a proper pace. Shepherd’s clandestine romance has gone through starting up, being uncovered by Monroe, breaking up because of Monroe’s meddling, making up, hitting problems again this time because of basic incompatibility issues between Shepherd and Bremmer, and breaking up for good all in the space of three episodes, during which time it can’t have earned more than 15 minutes of screen time in the show itself. And yet we’re expected to believe that this stuttering whirlwind affair has had such a deeply traumatic effect on Shepherd that he’s so hurt he’ll quit his job and walk out? It makes him appear like a lovesick teenager for whom two days is an eternity, rather than a proper adult character. Brits like to scoff about the “factory production line” model of US drama which cranks out 22 episodes of even the most average drama every single year, but in some ways that offers more opportunities and greater realism for a show than trying to pack things into a miniature model that suffocates the stories. The whole romance sub-plot would have been milked for a whole season in America and yet here never has the chance to gain any substance or weight.

It’s a shame: the programme makers are doing a surprisingly strong job with this show; time for the network executives to buy a clue and back it.

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