December 30, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Getting On”


HBO’s GETTING ON was generally close to unwatchable, and that’s meant as sort of a compliment.  Even in the world of pay-TV, where ratings aren’t always at the forefront of a network’s expectations, there’s usually some concession to conventional entertainment value, especially in a show that purports to be a comedy of sorts.  But Getting On was all misery, all the time; if the setting of a grey, all-too-realistic rehab facility for chronically ill and often dying elderly patients wasn’t depressing enough, the characters were mostly cringe-worthy narcissists who weren’t even good at their jobs.  There was very little “plot,” per se, just a succession of pathetic incidents.  (When one episode tried to be more of a standard comedy, set during a late shift where hijinks like a drunken character’s fall into a fountain occurred, the result was so jarring that it felt like an experiment that had gone horribly wrong.)  Watching Getting On wasn’t enjoyable, but you had to respect its integrity.

Tonight’s episode, written by US series creators (based on a British format) Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, and directed by Howard Deutsch, was technically a season finale, although the ratings (which haven’t registered on generally-available listings) and buzz have been so low that it’s hard to imagine even HBO paying the freight for more episodes.  If this was indeed the last we’ll see of Getting On, it held to form till the very end.  This final half hour had high-strung, arrogant and insecure Dr. James (Laurie Metcalf) failing to pay nurse DiDi (Niecy Nash, a standout throughout the season) for the work her husband had done repaving the doctor’s driveway–not because Dr. James didn’t intend to pay, but because she was distracted and uncaring and didn’t think of how humiliating it was for DiDi to have to repeatedly ask for the money (when DiDi did finally demand payment, the doctor took it self-pityingly as an attack).  Meanwhile, Dr. James also bungled keeping a patient’s daughter (guest star Molly Shannon) adequately informed of her mother’s condition (the mother died during the minute that her daughter left her room to complain about the treatment she’d been receiving), and nurse Dawn (Alex Borstein) continued to deal with the confused sexuality of her supervisor/lover Patsy (Mel Rodriguez), this time in connection with anal sex that he’d apparently forgotten they’d had.  Oh, and a patient was injured when she had to go to the bathroom while being bathed and Dawn wasn’t there to help her out of the tub.  The only “win” that any character had was accidental:  when Dr. James failed to get a better job at a Cleveland hospital because the man who was to be her new boss was hit by a taco truck and put into a persistent vegetative state, her current hospital didn’t realize she wasn’t going anywhere and offered her a better deal (she’d get her old parking spot back) to stay–mostly because no one else there was willing to take her awful job.

So, fun!  Not having seen the UK show, I don’t know if there was more overt humor in that version, but in the US, the show was best watched through the fingers held up to one’s face.  Anyone who’s dealt with hospitals, especially wards for the seriously ill elderly, know that there was a great deal of truth in Getting On‘s depiction of the people who work there, carelessness and callousness included, but it’s not something you’d really want to watch on a weekly basis.  Even the show’s occasional moment of grace usually ended up curdled, as in tonight’s episode, where the aged marathon runner who’d briefly inspired everyone emerged from a routine operation barely able to walk.  Metcalf’s cartoonish performance and the silliness of the Patsy character were off-tone but also a relief in some ways, because at least they were recognizable as comedy.

I won’t miss Getting On, in all honesty, a comedy more profoundly disturbing than all the seasons of American Horror Story put together.  But I won’t forget it, either.  It documented a side of life that’s almost never dealt with honestly in fiction, dramatic or otherwise, without some heightening of the experience that gives audiences an easy way out.  Hardly anyone wanted to watch the show, and hardly anyone ever would.  Stupid brave, though, is still brave.

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."