Adapted from the British series of the same name, Getting On is billed as a comedy, but the show’s setting, a neglected geriatric rehabilitation ward, is such an overwhelmingly depressing environment that much of the offbeat humor ends up flatlining. A major plot point in the pilot has to do with a wayward bit of feces that appears on a chair in a common area; there’s much discussion about who deposited the excrement and what the best way to eventually dispose of it would be, an act that ultimately results in a prolonged kerfuffle between hapless nurses and an on-call quack. This is about as highbrow as Getting On gets, a series that would do well to take a cue from Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital when it comes to commingling its gross-out gags with moments of unexpected sincerity.
The nascent relationship between Dawn Forchette (Alex Borstein) and DiDi Ortley (Niecy Nash), two intrepid nurses who work on the floor, singlehandedly saves Getting On from becoming a total debacle. The actresses’ comradely banter feels wholly natural in the midst of the show’s numerous forced jokes. Dawn’s an insecure, needy veteran attendant on the ward and DiDi is the warmhearted newcomer with an easygoing temperament who seeks to befriend the elderly inhabitants while other staffers deem such behavior as taboo, frequently perceiving invalids as objects rather than real human beings. Dawn and DiDi aren’t very smart or even particularly good at their jobs, but it’s evident early on that they need each other to safely navigate the daily deluge of turmoil taking place in the ECU.
One of the primary sources of upheaval is Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf), an egocentric, emotionally unstable physician who, due to a mishap with a pocketed scalpel, is banished to work full-time in Dawn and DiDi’s department. Metcalf is scarcely watchable as she employs a slew of fidgety mannerisms and shallow affronts, mishandling infirm seniors and belittling her co-workers. Jenna is certainly intelligent in a scholarly sense, but her medical know-how is no excuse for her poor conduct, which customarily makes the already joyless wing even more of a living hell.
Developed for HBO by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, co-creators of Big Love, it’s no surprise that Getting On works in contentious scenarios that deal with issues ranging from homophobia to racial discrimination. But unlike Big Love, much of the hate being spread on Getting On goes largely unchecked. Both patients and staff casually insult each other without much recourse, and the tone with which they verbally spar is spiteful rather than tongue in cheek. An extremely uncooperative patient, Varla (June Squibb), badmouths gays, blacks, the senile, and the obese, and she projectile vomits on Dawn, twice, all in the span of a few minutes, but her comeuppance never arrives accordingly. To boot, the paradoxical theory that octogenarians plus feverish sex equals comic gold is nauseatingly applied, but hey, if watching Harry Dean Stanton receive a wrinkly lipped blowjob from Ann Guilbert sounds even moderately appealing, then Getting On might be just what the doctor ordered.