'Getting On' nails the dark humor of a hospital

HBO

By Hailey Middlebrook, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 16, 2014

As a general rule, hospitals are serious places. In the public imagination, they’re cold and sterile, with their fluorescent-lit hallways, blanched walls and wards that radiate a paranoid vibe of impending doom — warranted or not. It’s no suprise that a hospital, with its literal undertones of life and death, is one of Hollywood favorite’s backdrops. In today’s long-lived medical dramas “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” hospitals are morbidly glamorous, with beautiful nurses and brooding doctors who perform miraculous procedures by day and enjoy Scotch by night, all while looking irresistible in latex gloves.

Getting On


B+
Season 2 Premiere
HBO
Sundays at 10:30 p.m.


What do these shows lack? Well, quite frankly, a reality check, because hospitals are awkward spaces without scripts on how to act. While death is often glamorized on TV, the dark reality is that death simply happens — usually not due to an erupted vein in a simultaneous brain-heart-kidney transplant, but rather by an old fart just kicking the bucket. So where’s the show presenting hospitals in their unglamorized glory?

Enter “Getting On,” HBO’s version of the British show of the same name, a darkly comedic series following the day-to-day happenings in a geriatric hospital ward. The show premiered in November of 2013 with a short six-episode season. Despite its brief airtime, the series stirred up enough critical praise for it to be renewed for a second season, with the raving consensus that it captured the unfiltered reality of the hospital and its irritable patients and exasperated workers, addressing the futility of life in a darkly comedic way.

The core crew is back this fall for season two, made up of fast-talking Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf, “The McCarthys”), a greedy and egotistical doctor who likes to use her patients for her own research purposes; Dawn (Alex Borstein, “Family Guy”), the emotionally unstable head ward nurse who is victimized by Dr. James; Didi (Niecy Nash, “Reno 911”), a grossly underpaid nurse who is probably the most competent and empathetic worker in the ward; and Patsy (Mel Rodriguez, “Community”), the new, sexually-confused supervising nurse romantically linked with Dawn, whose modern ideas clash with those of Dr. James.

“Getting On” continues to follow the working lives of the crew with zooming close-ups à la “Office Space,” a wink at the irony of a hospital being more similar to a corporate workplace than a dramatic stage. The geriatric ward of Mt. Palms Hospital is dull, run-down and overwhelmingly depressing, as if someone drained all the color from the walls, the croaking patients and their caregivers. In such a morbid place, with death literally knocking on the door, black humor is the only way to process what’s going on.

Season two promises the same bleak humor that made the first season stand out — a unique blend of situations that are at once horrible and weirdly moving. “Getting On” is the kind of show that makes it both hard to laugh and hard to cry, where doctors aren’t heroic and patients aren’t sympathetic. It’s sickly, darkly and disturbingly funny because it’s real.