Getting On was the darkest thing on television Sunday night. This HBO adaptation of a BBC show of the same name gives a real, wry look at an extended-care unit and its band of misfit employees. And it can make people of all ages confront death and dying, all while making elaborate poop jokes. Its premiere episode covered a range of sensitive, but somehow funny, topics, with a cast that consistently passed the Bechdel Test.
The pilot's most lovable — or least intolerable — stars were Nurse DiDi, brilliantly played by Niecy Nash, and Nurse Forchette, neurotically carried out by Alex Borstein. This duo dealt with the death of a patient, unclaimed fecal matter, administrative problems, and Medicare battles with only the darkest sense of humor. Their lives were further complicated by Dr. Jenna James, whose generally dickish attitude creates a storyline all its own. Laurie Metcalf, who plays Dr. James, has certainly set a high bar for somehow-familiar-but-also-bizarre workplace pissing matches.
Although Getting On has been billed as a comedy, much of the dark, dry humor came off as high drama. For instance, the "straight woman" of this comedy comes in the form of Nurse DiDi, whose first day on the job proves both challenging and bizarre. Yet DiDi comes off not solely as a set-up for some of the more obvious old-people jokes, but rather as a whip-smart observer of a terribly damaged situation. Her mysterious past and penchant for practicality make DiDi more of a leading lady than a comedic foil.
The subject matter of Getting On also lends itself both to pitch-black humor and a serious take. A patient has already died in the first episode, and the staff seems both unaffected by and deeply sympathetic to her sister's grief (brilliantly shown by Nurse Forchette's kind words, said with a mouth full of the deceased's cake). There are also the classic doctor-versus-nurse battles, physically represented by gurneys stalled in a hallway full of yelling healthcare professionals. If the creators are interested in creating a parody of General Hospital or Grey's Anatomy, they've started hitting the right notes.
Although Getting On remains a cavernous dark comedy throughout, it still has some chuckle-worthy moments. For instance, the running gag of unclaimed, unidentified poo colors the episode with a certain The Office silliness, while Nurse Forchette's ridiculous level of focus in a ward that is slowly dying brings a certain amount Leslie Knope irony.
While Getting On may not have made a ratings splash Sunday night, I hope HBO will keep it and see where this hallway of futility and in-fighting goes. And if you need some dark humor in your life, don't rent Keeping Mum again, just tune in next week to see how the ill-fated Mt. Palms hospital crew gets on.