Review: HBO's 'Getting On'

HBO’s new dramedy Getting On, the latest effort by Big Love co-creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, is a far cry in tone and subject matter from the popular polygamy-based series.

An adaptation of a U.K. series of the same name, the show stars Alex Borstein (Family Guy) as Nurse Dawn, a caring but socially challenged worker at the Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit of Mount Palms Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., handling elderly female patients.

It’s clear from the first few minutes of the pilot that Getting On isn’t going to rely on comedic interchanges between adorably funny geriatric patients and aloof practitioners. The opening scene shows Nurse Dawn comforting an elderly, comatose woman. The patient’s sister made her a birthday cake, which we find out very quickly she’ll never get a chance to enjoy.

As Dawn deals with the challenges of caring for patients, she’s also caught in an internal power struggle between headstrong physician Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne) and supervising nurse Beverly Raymes (Telma Hopkins). Things come to a head when James and Raymes battle over the fate of human feces discovered on one of the patients’ lounge chairs. James wants Dawn to bag it as a sample for her ongoing research studies, while Raymes wants it discarded and the chair sterilized.

The insuring faceoff leads to a climatic and humorous ending that changes the roles of both facilitators and quickly alters the landscape and the management hierarchy of the hospital. Having to adjust to the impending fallout are the remaining staff members, Dawn, Nurse DiDi (Niecy Nash, Reno 911!) and Nurse Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez, Community).

The series doesn’t pull punches in depicting an underfunded, poorly run, bureaucracy-laden geriatric hospital ward, or the overworked staff tending to aging patients during what may well be the last days of their lives.

While the series is positioned as a comedy, you won’t find many laugh-out-loud moments throughout the half-hour pilot. In fact the series’ strength is in its dramatic overtones, despite a cast of well-known comedic actors.

Getting On is a deep dive into the often sad and emotionally draining realities of life in a geriatric ward. If you’re looking for a smart, well-written, character-driven dark comedy that will grow on you, Getting On is a good choice.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.