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Getting On: The Complete First Season

HBO // Unrated // November 11, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author
At the Mount Palms Memorial Hospital in Long Beach, California, chaos reigns. The Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit, otherwise known as the geriatric wing, is a pit of shirked responsibilities, limited resources, and a staff that sways between a lack of interest or idea what it is they're supposed to be doing. At the center of the mess is Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf), who's been working in the ward while the main branch of the hospital seeks a permanent replacement, and is more interested in her extracurricular research projects than focusing on the patients directly in front of her. She's flanked by the ward's two primary nurses. Dawn (Alex Borstein) is an emotionally needy veteran of the ward who seeks approval from Dr. James and other superiors while frequently bowing to the pressure put upon her by whoever she's speaking to at the moment. Didi (Niecy Nash) is a new hire, a more compassionate and emotionally level-headed woman who generally tries to keep her head down but ends up playing mediator to Dawn and Dr. James.

"Getting On" gives off a similar vibe to the UK version of "The Office." This air of familiarity isn't cast by the fact that "Getting On" is a remake of a UK show -- I'm talking about the original Gervais program -- but more of a tonal thing. The show, guided by "Big Love" creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, is built out of the mundane and routine, gleaning its personality out of the relative stillness and unchanging mediocrity of the job and the environment. The hospital is a drab and uninviting place, a perpetual sickly green fluorescent lightbulb, and yet that underwhelming blandness is the springboard for the show's comedy, about bitter people just trying to stick it out through another spiritually disappointing day. That's not to say the show is depressing, just that it captures the familiar echo chamber of office work, which in this case frequently involves cleaning up people's poop.

A good chunk of the work is done before the show even begins, which is smartly cast with semi-familiar faces, given a chance to shine in lead roles. Alex Borstein (best known as the voice of Lois on "Family Guy") tackles Dawn, a softer and meeker character than she often plays, with a great deal of compassion and bright-eyed energy. In one of the episodes, Dawn has a brief breakdown about the turns her life has taken in the past couple of years, and in the span of just a few lines, paints a real picture of who the character is and what makes her so insecure. It's almost frustrating that the show plays the moment off with a joke rather than caving to deeper sentiment. Nash, a veteran of Comedy Central's "Reno 911!", is similarly compelling, weathering Dr. James' frequent emotional storms with a quiet composure that instantly makes the character endearing. She's also the most consistently compassionate toward the ward's elderly patients, forming bonds simply by listening to the patients. Metcalf's character is, of the three, the most cartoonish, frazzled to within an inch of her life and desperate to get out, but in the season's final two episodes, new facets to her character are revealed that are hopefully further explored in season two.

At the end of the pilot episode, Dr. James learns she's being "promoted" to the permanent position, a job she's desperate to leave, only to find out just a couple episodes later that she might have to interview for the position based on a survey of the wing's patients. In the meantime, the hospital also hires Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez) as head nurse. They immediately begin fighting over Patsy's newfound branding ideas for the hospital to help improve its reputation, including "propaganda" posted all over the office, and even pins for people's smocks promoting their new direction. Patsy also forms an unconventional relationship with Dawn, who latches onto him emotionally after only a couple of days. One of the show's more pleasing decisions is to allow these ideas to percolate instead of creating decisive story arcs out of each detail. The season finale doesn't bother with cliffhangers or important ultimatums, a refreshing reprieve from the tropes of TV drama.

A number of impressive guest appearances complete the ensemble. Molly Shannon has a three-episode arc as the concerned daughter of one of the ward's patients, capturing a certain blend of devotion and insistence that is no doubt common in hospitals. June Squibb has a funny turn in one episode as a new, foul-mouthed addition to the ward who unexpectedly creates tension between Didi and Patsy. Like much of the show's humor, Squibb's character oscillates between comedic outrageousness and unexpectedly sympathetic. Character actor extraordinaire Harry Dean Stanton turns up as an amorous suitor to one of the patients. Daniel Stern makes a fine appearance as Dr. James' slightly shaggy husband, who pesters his wife to remove an ingrown toenail and can't quite understand why his wife would be upset about his decision to crack jokes about her pubic hair in front of a respected colleague. Each adds to that certain atmosphere the show captures, one that develops over the course of the season's six episodes, and promises to further blossom as the show continues.

"Getting On": The Complete First Season arrives on DVD with cover art color-coordinated with the show itself, featuring a piece of promo art with Metcalf, Borstein and Nash at the front desk. The one-disc release comes in a white eco-friendly Amaray case, and there is no insert in the case. The entire package comes in a matte slipcover featuring identical artwork.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, "Getting On" lands more or less in the middle of the road. The show has a subdued palette that doesn't exactly lend itself to eye-popping visuals, but there are also no untoward instances of banding or artifacts to intrude on the image. Sound is generally made up of dialogue, with a backdrop of phones, heart rate monitors, and other bustling about providing some natural ambience. The three hours of show fit on the one-disc without any obvious issues. Neither impressive or disappointing, "Getting On" just is, presentation-wise.

The Extras
Two brief extras are included. A selection of deleted scenes (6:04) provide a handful of extra character beats that are kind of fun, if not necessarily missed from the episodes in question. It's interesting how these snippets can feel sort of whole even excised from the episodes, given the show's casual, observational style. A reel of outtakes (6:20) is also especially entertaining, providing a look at the cast's real-life camaraderie, not to mention the delight Alex Borstein takes in dick jokes.

A promo for HBO's library of shows plays before the main menu.

"Getting On" is a good show that seems poised to get better. It's got a strong atmosphere and a great cast, and there's a sense that the writers are really hitting their stride just as the first season draws to a close. Highly recommended.

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