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Monroe's in critical condition

House was brilliant. House was innovative. House was, for a while, quite unlike anything else on television. Or at least it seemed quite unlike anything else on television.

And then we copped on that brilliant, maverick surgeon Dr Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie, was really brilliant, maverick consulting detective Sherlock Holmes in disguise (Holmes . . . homes . . . House -- get it? Terribly clever).

Instead of striding arrogantly around, solving crimes and recreationally shooting up cocaine, he limped arrogantly around, solving medical mysteries and recreationally necking down prescription painkillers.

Our copping on didn't matter, though (if anything, it made US feel terribly clever too), because House was still terrific television, even if it was shamelessly derivative.

But House has gone now, demolished after eight series, which was probably two or three too many, yet not quite enough for familiarity to breed contempt.

Television, however, abhors a vacuum and has rushed in, as television always will, to fill the House-shaped gap by constructing a whole terrace of new, smaller Houses.

Elementary, the modernised, American version of Sherlock Holmes that wings its way to us via Sky Living later this month, is as much a knock-on from/knock-off of House as it is a reaction to the BBC's phenomenally impressive Sherlock.

Before Elementary arrives, though, there's Monroe, which stars James Nesbitt as a neurosurgeon who strides arrogantly . . . well, you don't need me to draw you a picture.

Monroe is House-lite. Instead of gobbling painkillers like they were Smarties, Dr Gabriel Monroe has a tendency to indulge in annoyingly quirky traits, such as taking his morning cup of tea onto the bus with him -- although as far as I know, he hasn't done that yet this series. But give it time.

Monroe is well-produced and well-acted, so it isn't exactly dreadful. It's something much, much worse: fatally ordinary. This week's episode, which centred on which of Monroe's interns he's going to keep and which one he's going to cast away, was no more compelling than an episode of Casualty.

When, as happened last night, a character with a mental disability tells his carer, who's lying in bed, about to undergo a serious operation, "I'll get you a sandwich for when you come round," you just know things aren't going to turn out well. Watching it, you'd never believe it was written by Peter Bowker, who wrote the fantastic Iraq war drama Occupation -- which also starred Nesbitt -- for the BBC a few years ago.

In fact you don't believe anything about Monroe, least of all Nesbitt as a neurosurgeon. It's not that the man is a bad actor.

We know from Occupation and the later series of Murphy's Law how good he can be.

But at this stage he's just too bloody familiar! Everything about his character, from the cheeky smile to the ironically raised eyebrows -- and NOBODY does ironically raised eyebrows better than James Nesbitt -- to the cheeky-chappie smile is tediously familiar.

Throw in Susan Lynch as his ex-wife and Neil Pearson, who went through a long period of serious overexposure, and Monroe ends up looking like nothing more than a bunch of actors sweeping around pretending to be doctors and nurses.

Nesbitt said last year he was seriously considering trying his luck in America, because of the dearth of good parts in Britain. I wish he would.

It's about time television gave him something to challenge him.

Sometimes you have to give things a second chance. I had another look at RTE2's hidden camera show The Fear last night.

It's crude, witless, offensively low-grade junk that seems to think taking the p*ss out of foreigners with funny accents is all you need to fuel 25 minutes of television.

It's inconceivable that even RTE at its worst could sink this low. People in television have been sacked for lesser crimes than this.



Monroe **/*** The Fear */****


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