TV Review: ‘Getting On’

getting on HBO TV Review

HBO's U.K.-adapted comedy about dysfunctional hospital needs a creative transfusion

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.

TV Review: 'Getting On'

(Series; HBO, Sun. Nov. 24, 10 p.m.)


Produced by Anima Sola and BBC Worldwide.


Executive producers, Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer, Jane Tranter, Julie Gardner, Geoff Atkinson, Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan, Vicki Pepperdine, Miguel Arteta; co-executive producers, Lisa Bellomo, Courtney Conte; producer, Chrisann Verges; director, Arteta; writers, Scheffer, Olsen; based on the BBC series by Brand, Scanlan, Pepperdine; camera, Tami Reiker; production designer, Kitty Doris-Bates; editor, Pamela Martin; casting, Junie Lowry Johnson, Libby Goldstein. 30 MIN.


Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein, Niecy Nash, Mel Rodriguez

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  1. Tom says:

    What the hell was the critic thinking here? Excellent show.

  2. Vieja says:

    Agree with the others, this review seemed to have been written by a spoiled millenial who would rather have been tasked with reviewing an X-men movie and let his resentment show. Poor, poor job. This show is excellent all around. Very much hope it continues.

  3. Nancoise says:

    I went looking for reviews online just to tweet because I’m a fan of the show. I found this one and thought reviewer didn’t see the same program. Looks like comments agree with me.

  4. Having watched the first episode I think this is perfectly watchable, but I must say that the UK version is mostly superior. The first episode was the same premise as its US counterpart.
    I didn’t think that the Office’s US version worked when I watched the episode so many years ago -and look how that’s done now.

  5. BARRY says:

    Shocked at this review of my favorite new show. Absolutely love the performances and location and interactions of all I especially love the realistic no make up looks and the peek into the potential of all of us: being old!

  6. Brian says:

    This show is going to be a classic if the executive types at HBO, etc, STAY WELL CLEAR OF OPINIONS FROM THE LIKES OF THIS BRIAN LOWRY. (LowRent)

    I found this show to be stripped down, no laugh track, bring a tear to your eye and then ‘laugh out loud’ funny. I watched each show that was available at the time, episodes 1-3, in one sitting. I may have watched the entire season if they were available.

    Introducing several characters, in less than 90 minutes, and your not happy with their development? Really ???

    Well done writers, you did a great job. Are the characters fully developed, and has this great cast had a chance to stretch its wings and fly? HELL NO. But, how could they and why would you want to see the actors entire range in only 1-3 episodes. I for one am looking forward to seeing how each of these characters develop. I mean really, how do you get back from “Big Fat, Fairy Nurse” in 1 episode? I know this; I REALLY WANT TO SEE HOW THEY EXPAND THESE CHARACTERS. I plan on hanging in there and watching how each character is grown, and how each actor comes to find ‘tempo, balance, and humanity’ within each role.
    I can see this show being compared to Hill Street Blues, and Barney Miller. One of these shows being a very stripped down comedy about cops in a small station in NYC, and one being a ‘juiced up’, and ‘polished up’cop show in some unnamed American city.

    Great job to the developers, and writers on the show.

    Brian Lowry, get a night job cleaning floors, you sucked eggs on this review. Get yourself back in the game, and jump back from the politics of the moment, look for the enduring messages about the human condition.

  7. Lexy says:

    You have GOT to be kidding me. I laughed out loud a few times while watching this show. I can’t wait for the new episodes. Niecy Nash is EVERYTHING on this show. She nails the part and those facial expressions. How could we have missed that she is such a great actress for so long? I’m giggling now just thinking of how she broke up the elder couple having sex in the chairs. This show is a RIOT!

  8. Beachie says:

    Mr. Lowry’s in dire need of finding his sense of humor. This show is hilarious!

  9. Tom Weiss says:

    This reviewer missed a lot of really well-written and extremely well cast stuff here. I see a very entertaining show with lots of nuance and creativity about a subject matter in desparate need of being explored and shared. Brian…what’s wrong with you? I hate 95% of the scripts I’m force-fed in TV and movies. This is good stuff.

  10. Henry says:

    I pity that you didn’t laugh as I did during the second episode. I don’t think in my entire life I’ve laughed so hard at a television program. The creativity of the television industry has outgrown your stale idea of cultural significance a la cheese ball SNL humor. Obamacare, really? You’re clearly not in tune with the sensibilities of this show. Or maybe you just have a vindictive agenda against some party involved with the show. Either way, what a shame.

  11. Beachgirl says:

    Did we watch the same show? Getting On is a tiny glimpse into what goes on in America’s senior care facilities, whether they be nursing homes or hospitals. Seeing it all thru the eyes of the character played by Niecy Nash just makes it even more amusing and at the same time, heartfelt. I’m left wondering if Mr. Lowry has ever known a senior or visited a care facility. He doesn’t get it. The producers, directors and actors in this show do!

  12. Fauxbo says:

    Bravo to writers Olsen/Scheffer and HBO – “Getting On” is a pitch perfect depiction of working in a hospital. The lab mess ups, calling the translator, battle for beds, staff hierarchy, abusive patients and the doctors….omg…….Metcalf is amazing.

  13. Hugh says:

    I loved it. I thought they executed the adaptation well.

  14. Patrick says:

    I thought the show was funny and brilliant!

  15. mary says:

    mr. lowry,you really do not get the point of this show, it is not about obamacare, nor is it about politics, a comment on how we treat and house the elderly or anything else with any deeper meaning than what it is and what it represents which is pretty close to real. i worked as an r.n. for 30+ and i’ve been there done that. trust me stuff like this and more happens on a daily basis at any hospital, nursing home etc etc. a nurses (any health care worker) sense of humor might be a little ‘different’ not not understood by a lay person, that is why it takes a special person to be a nurse.

  16. Congrats to Laurie Metcalf, Niecy Nash and the rest of the cast, I was “having a laugh” as Ricky Gervais would say, watching you…

  17. Richard says:

    How could the program being reviewed, or the review itself, possibly have anything to do with “Obamacare?” Aside from the fact that the Patient Safety and Affordable Care Act is a fledgling program, it has nothing to do with nursing home care.

    The reviewer should leave his politics at home.

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