“The idea is to focus more on our patients…like at Disneyland.”
Set in the extended care unit of Mt. Palms Hospital, the latest series from HBO to try its hand at British humour catalogues the day to day lives of the sick and dying as well as the short-staffed nurses who care for them. Headed by Nurse Dawn Forchette (Alex Borstein of “Family Guy” fame), a self-absorbed woman who does her best to uphold hospital regulation despite always falling short, Didi Ortley (Niecy Nash), a returning nurse who acts as the floor’s conscience, and Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf) the temporary Director of Medicine who’s intent on widening the field of fecal research, “Getting On” walks a familiar path that finds humour in the morbid, but does so with enough heart to make the experience memorable.
Adopting a tone and look that’s very reminiscent of “The Office,” “Getting On’s” strength lies in its decision not to shy away from death or the inherent bureaucracy of hospital management. It’s made clear in the first episode that no one outside of the geriatric ward actually cares about what goes on there, which leaves the nurses to fend for themselves as they argue over how best to deal with misplaced feces, unruly patients who verbally abuse them, and a severe lack of beds. The series never develops into a full-out mockumentary, but similar camera work and the always humorous shots of patients listening in on their care giver’s conversations creates a familiar atmosphere that plays on the daily frustrations of such a work place.
“Those are not mean things, those are facts.”
This approach opens up plenty of room for the series to showcase its take on dry, British humour. While not laugh out loud hilarious, the exaggeration of everyday routines and the staff’s attempts to make the act of dying more comfortable leads to plenty of chuckle worthy moments. Thanks to a talented cast, the humour feels swift and natural despite each episode’s thirty minute run time. Particularly, with personalities that directly oppose one another, Borstein and Metcalf hold the comedic spotlight with ongoing disagreements and a shared stubbornness that tends to disrupt the hospital floor. Where Borstein plays the self-conscious push-over who’s more likely to be seen making inappropriate comments to the new supervising male nurse than caring for her facility, Metcalf embodies the typical career-minded woman who’s always ready to jump on the next big trend in geriatric care. Although their early interactions wouldn’t suggest it, their close quarters and lack of supervision allow for a number of humorous stand-offs.
Balancing out the antics of her colleagues, Nash steps forward as the series’ true star in her role as a nurse who genuinely cares for her patients, but is still able to keep up with her more off-kilter superiors. In a series that could have easily gotten too wrapped up in its own insanity to offer a believable view of life in extended care, Nash offers the down-to-earth attitude needed to better understand the reasoning behind each character’s actions.When patients begin throwing up on the nurses or a homeless woman from ER is mysteriously dumped in their waiting room, Nash’s Didi inspires the other women to put their own needs aside in order to do what is best for their patients.
Although it enters territory that has been fully explored in other series, and adopts a style of humour that is not uncommon for American adaptations of British television, HBO’s “Getting On” succeeds in bringing together a cast that’s believable, genuinely funny, and multi-layered. Managing to produce laughs that don’t feel too ridiculous, as well as heartfelt scenes that avoid growing trite, this will hopefully not be the last time we see the ladies of the Mt. Palms Hospital’s extended care ward.