James Nesbitt can do no wrong

The star of Monroe "knows when to rein it in, when to flip to the dark side", says Alison Graham

There’s a scene in the first episode of the new series of Monroe (Tonight, 9:00pm ITV1) where the eponymous brilliant, maverick, complicated neurosurgeon is up to his knuckles in a patient’s skull. He’s doing something immensely complex, an operation no other medic would attempt, and Monroe (James Nesbitt) is the patient’s last hope. Against all advice, including that of his boss, Monroe goes ahead. He can do it, he will save this man’s life. He is a TV Maverick, that’s what TV Mavericks do.


Monroe looks as if he’s crocheting the patient’s brain as he glances up, a cocky grin on his cocky face, his cocky eyebrows arched like a railway viaduct, and cockily says to an underling: “You know what? I might just be getting the hang of this.”

At this point you might just find one of your legs going into involuntary spasm, such is your barely suppressed urge to kick Monroe very hard in the shins. By the time we get to the scene where Monroe, bathed in post-operative euphoria (he’s SAVED A LIFE, goddamit!) sits loosely in front of his boss, the cautious boss who has now been proved wrong, and says, “There’s nothing wrong with being lucky, in every operation I do I need luck”, you may want to stamp on his foot, too. Did your mum never tell you, Monroe, that no one likes a smarty pants?

But Monroe the man is saved by Monroe the actor, James Nesbitt. People like James Nesbitt, he twinkles. We loved him in the great Cold Feet where he was easygoing Adam, married to sweet Rachel after he wooed her with a rose up his bum; we loved him, too, as damaged cop Tommy Murphy in Murphy’s Law. We even loved him as a monster in Jekyll. The Nesbitt love even survived that waterlogged turkey The Deep, where everyone else was out-acted by a submarine. Hell’s bells, even a very obvious and very public hair transplant (embrace the bald, James!) hasn’t done him any harm and neither have some really very seedy tabloid stories.

Nesbitt is like Philip Glenister, one of the very few actors the viewing public will take to its hearts, whatever they are in. (Who else could have made Gene Hunt, a dinosaur bellowing in a gutless milksop world, not only palatable but lovable?) Nesbitt could be hobbled by the twinkling and the charm, but, to borrow a phrase from Talking Heads, there’s a bit of sand in the Vaseline; he’s winning, but he’s not TV’s pet leprechaun. He knows when to rein it in, when to flip to the dark side.

There are others who can do no wrong: David Tennant, Stephen Mangan, Chris O‘Dowd, Hugh Bonneville, Tom Hollander; I can even see Warren Brown going the same way. He was a murderous policeman in Good Cop, but he was a cute murderous policeman. Disliking Brown is like disliking a seal. Why would you? And I know there are no women in that list, apart from probably Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. There you have it, no one cuts actresses any slack.

Viewers don’t have capacious hearts, they are selective. If you make it to the Can Do No Wrong Club, you should be grateful indeed.


Monroe starts tonight at 9:00pm on ITV1