December 2, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Getting On”


GETTING ON:  Sunday 10PM on HBO

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously on… GETTING ON:  At a geriatric extended care ward in a Los Angeles hospital, Nurses Dawn (Alex Borstein) and Didi (Niecy Nash) attempt to cope with bureaucracy, their newly-transferred (read: demoted) physician in charge Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf), and the sheer weight of bureaucracy as they deal with elderly patients who are ultimately and often messily on their way to death.

Episode 2:  June Squibb all but walks away with Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska as Bruce Dern’s tart wife, and she dominates the second episode of Getting On as an even ruder patient.  She turns out to be bipolar, but until the nurses get the necessary paperwork to medicate her, she’s a terror, insulting the race, appearance and sexuality of everyone who crosses her path.  Squibb provides a lot of energy to a show that otherwise seems intended to be almost aggressively uncomfortable to watch (even her character graphically vomits on one of the nurses, in case things were getting to be too much fun).

Episode 2, written by US series creators (adapted from a British format) Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen and directed by Howard Deutsch, also introduces new regular Supervising Nurse Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez), a font of corporate-speak platitudes who’s as miserable to be on the ward as everyone else there.  It’s not clear yet whether he’ll be a clay target for Dawn and Didi, or if he’ll prove to have any additional layers.  Dr. James, for her part, remains high-strung to the point of hysteria, unfailingly pathetic whether she’s talking up the importance of her fecal examination study, trying to flirt with a higher-ranked hospital physician, or defending her right (without success) to retain her regular hospital parking pass.

On the basis of its first two episodes, Getting On is intent on portraying its small, off-putting world with integrity, and it captures the feel of a real long-term hospital ward atmosphere better than any show (or movie) in memory, neither melodramatic nor heroic, and certainly not glamorous.  The question is whether that’s a world viewers will want to spend any time in, considering that in the real world, it’s one most of us experience only when we absolutely have to.  For now, the show isn’t even developing its characters to any great extent, the relationships between them restricted almost completely to conversations about the work and a few polite banalities.

Aside from Squibb’s outrageous insults, there’s little in Getting On that could really be called “comedy” (although one assumes Metcalf’s personality tics are meant to be funny) and the action has no particular dramatic center or even structured plotting.  It sets out to create a very clear, recognizable world of general hopelessness, and it does that–perhaps to the extent of driving audiences away.


PILOT + 1:  A Sitcom For Fans of Beckett


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."