File “Getting On” among unnecessary format deals, as well as among HBO’s recent string of comedies with a too-narrow pitch. Adapted from a U.K. series, the laffer takes a look at a poorly run nursing home, as if the U.S. has no shortage of embarrassing hospitals for all ages. Shot in a washed-out, unglamorous fashion and presented in an understated way, the show could have a lot to say — about a flawed system, Obamacare, or about the way society treats and views its aging populace — but as played, it’s as likely to milk references to feces as explore any higher ideals.
The irony is that HBO passed on “Derek,” a Ricky Gervais series about a man who likely has autism and works at an old-age home, which mirrors aspects of “Getting On” in several respects. Yet while that program, broad and uneven as it was, actually delivered poignant moments pertaining to its elderly charges, this one is more apt to portray them as foul-mouthed bigots and horny grannies.
Laurie Metcalf plays Dr. Jenna James, essentially sentenced to what she sees as a dead-end job, overseeing the 36 patients (17 of whom, we’re told, are suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia) at the Extended Care Unit of Mt. Palms Hospital in Long Beach. But she’s really more preoccupied with studying crap — literally. So much so that when someone has an accident on a chair, she causes a scene about preserving the specimen, as opposed to simply cleaning it up.
The main focus, though, centers on the nurses, who include new arrival DiDi (Niecy Nash, mercifully dialed way down), a common-sense, no-nonsense type; and Dawn (“Family Guy’s” Alex Borstein), who doesn’t have much of a personal life and endures plenty of abuse from Dr. James.
Developed by “Big Love’s” Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, the show does enlist an interesting array of oldsters in smallish roles, including octogenarians Ann Guilbert (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”) and Harry Dean Stanton (reunited with the producers from “Big Love”) as a randy old coot. Unfortunately, none of them command enough screen time to qualify as much more than caricatures.
Similarly, while Metcalf’s good in just about anything she does, she’s saddled with a such a one-note character, wearing a chronically pained expression, there’s not much even she can do with the role.
HBO ordered six episodes, and the scheduling, calendar-wise — paired with the Australian acquisition “Ja’mie: Private School Girl,” the third HBO series from Chris Lilley — doesn’t suggest high expectations. And while one might charitably chalk it up to a slightly British sensibility, like too many of pay cable’s current batch of half-hours, whatever humor graces these hallways is so dry it’s questionable whether “comedy” is the proper classification.
There is a conversation to be had about the warehousing of old people in an age of rising life expectancy, and both comedy and drama to be mined from it. But while HBO seems like the right place for that sort of project, “Getting On” isn’t the show to do it.