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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MONROE: SERIES 1 -- DVD review by porfle

I've never watched "House", which this has been compared to, so on its own merits I would judge "Monroe" to be a pretty compelling medical drama with an interesting lead character.  In Acorn Media's 2-disc DVD set MONROE: SERIES 1, the main emphasis is on how ace neurosurgeon Gabriel Monroe (James Nesbitt) navigates the considerable pitfalls of his personal and professional lives without losing his devil-may-care disposition.

Nesbitt's usual fine performance will be the main draw for fans of his outstanding undercover cop series "Murphy's Law", and he's no less watchable here.  His specialty seems to be maintaining an outwardly cavalier attitude that masks great emotional depth and turmoil, which is pretty much standard operating procedure for our nimble-fingered hero.

At first I thought the personal-life stuff was just going to be a drag on the show (as it was on "Barney Miller" before they simply dropped it entirely) but eventually his problems with wife Anna (Susan Lynch) and moptop son Nick (Perry Millward) gain their own resonance in relation to his everyday struggles with life. 

The fact that his own 13-year-old daughter Charlotte died of a brain hemmorhage following an accident (which prompted Monroe to have an affair, which is why Anna is now leaving him) figures importantly in his character, especially in the sixth and final episode. 

Sharing center stage with Monroe at the hospital is heart specialist Jenny Bremner (Sarah Parish, so impressive in her guest role as a shape-shifting troll in the second season of "Merlin").  Bremner is the consummate professional yet she lacks the patient empathy that Monroe exudes in such abundance. 
Naturally, her coldness masks personal concerns that we'll explore during the season along with her amusingly abrasive relationship with Monroe, especially when she starts to have a secret affair with Monroe's best friend, anesthesiologist Lawrence Shepherd (Tom Riley).  Parish's able handling of the character helps ground the stories and balance out all that breezy nonchalance that Monroe affects to help get him through the day.

As in most medical dramas, Monroe and Bremner give their interns hell at every opportunity in order to toughen them up for their chosen career paths.  Luke Allen-Gale is Monroe's main target as the privileged Daniel Springer, hovering between neurology and cardiology as he labors in vain to see which of the no-nonsense surgeons he can impress the most. 

Michelle Asante plays Kitty Wilson, a young black woman whose tendency to faint dead away at the opening of every skull tells us that she'll make it with flying colors--that's just how it works on these shows--while Christina Chong and Andrew Gower play Witney and Mullery, the chief objects of Bremner's harsh tutelage.

Unlike the barely-controlled chaos of "ER", "Monroe" has a comfy, unhurried feel in which even the sterility of the operating room has a warm glow.  The drama of the generally feelgood storylines is never heavy or jarring enough to impose on the homey-cozy atmosphere surrounding Monroe and his coworkers as they hang out together discussing their love lives, playing poker, or dealing with personality clashes that never get all that serious. 

This means that if you want really hard-hitting emotional turmoil you're in the wrong hospital, but if you're looking for the dramatic equivalent of comfort food, you're likely to find each episode of "Monroe" a full-course meal.  This is reflected even in the soft-focus, muted look of the show, which is often a little too visually interesting for its own good. 

Rarely will you see so much visual dilly-dallying including fadeouts within fadeouts, focus fiddling, meandering camerawork, odd compositions, and an overabundance of song montages to emo songs that I don't even like in the first place.  Mostly all of this works for such a relaxed, non-threatening show, but it can get to be a little much.  

Storywise, "Monroe" plays it safe with the usual tales of couples or families coping with the life-threatening illness of a loved one while caring doctors try to help them through it without getting too emotionally involved themselves.  Since there are so few surprises in that area, the main interest for me is in the operating scenes--it's just inherently fascinating to watch someone cut open another person's skull and try to fix their brain like a glorified TV repairman, or stick their hands into a patient's chest to try and get their heart going again.  The doctors' attempts to lighten things up--music, casual chatter, feigned nonchalance--merely heighten the feeling that something truly amazing and scary is going on.

The 2-disc, 6-episode DVD set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby sound and English subtitles.  There are no extras.

While "Monroe" lacks the cutting (no pun intended) edge or sharp (okay, I intended that one) tone of the grittier medical shows, it makes up for this with interesting character interplay and a warm, humanistic approach.  There's also the fact that James Nesbitt and Sarah Parish are very interesting actors who are fun to watch, which lends MONROE: SERIES 1 those same qualities as well. 

Buy it at


Vincent said...

Thanks for your excellent review of Monroe. I shall point others to it.

Porfle Popnecker said...

Thank you!

BJ Palmer said...

What a lovely review! I concur! I've loved watching James Nesbit since my son brought me the extra discs from The Hobbit! He is hilarious in the "making of" videos! What a multi-talented actor and musician! Please watch the Hobbit Boot Camp footage, as well as the song and scene he created. I wish there were a few more years of this show!