Ever since his debut in 2004, it has been tempting to unfavourably compare all hospital based TV doctors with eponymous misanthrope House, diagnostic medical genius and miserable old sod, as portrayed by British actor Hugh Laurie on American Fox TV. Within four years House was the most popular programme in the world - and MD Gregory House is still doing the rounds and wowing the viewers.
British channel ITV posed an irresistible challenge then in March 2011 – with a new medical drama headed up by eponymous neurosurgeon, Monroe. The man is a smart mouthed maverick who spends most of his time at work, saving lives and irritating his colleagues, and consequently has a lousy family life. Well that is until his wife leaves him, which is pretty much right at the start of the show. ‘Do you know what Voltaire says about medicine?’ is one of his opening one liners. ‘No’, says a junior member of his medical team. ‘Well find out’ says Monroe.
Played by James Nesbitt, formerly of Cold Feet fame, the character's charisma bounces all over the screen, and the artsy use of choppy editing, quick fire quips and frankly invasive music keeps everyone on their toes. Except the prone patients, of course, who exhibit a remarkable measure of patience – in the first programme a young woman has her head opened up for brain surgery, performed whilst she is still awake. The brain feels no pain, it seems, and even Monroe being a 'tell it like it is' smartarse, and one of the surgical team fainting flat out on the immaculate floor doesn’t faze her.
‘Do you remember the name of the guitarist in the Stone Roses?’ he warmly enquires of his patient, post surgery. Of course she does, and his working life is clearly a success, even if his love life is, for now at least, in cold storage.
Still, there’s a sexually tense and combative relationship with fellow (heart) surgeon, Jenny Bremner, and as his wife has just left him after 22 years (‘Six years ago you had an affair with a woman who worked at the hospital’,) it looks like he may end up with his medical nemesis. Played by British actress Sarah Parish, she happens to be conveniently good looking – albeit in an American older woman way, ie the skin of her face has been stretched so tightly her eyes have come to rest with the astonished look of Bambi hearing the hunter’s horn. Will she perform closed heart surgery on our shiny but brittle hero?
And is this House Mark 2? Well there’s the awkward social persona, the self reverential delivery, the maverick ‘I did it my way’ working methods, and the liberal hints of a caring heart beneath the damaged facade, just waiting to be pumped up by a challenging female co worker.
House is Monroe, then. Lazy comparison or obvious truth? Make your own mind up. I remember Marcus Welby MD from back in the (distant) day. Wasn’t he a maverick, do it yourself, save em all and win the day type? Well, aren’t they all? But still.
You can’t beat House.
House, M.D.: Season Seven [DVD] US
House Season 7 [DVD]  UK
Eileen O'Sullivan recommends the most recent series of House, available on DVD from Amazon US and Amazon UK.
She has thoroughly enjoyed House MD on British TV.