Tag Archives: Reno 911!

HBO’s ‘Getting On’ finds laughter in dark places

Laurie Metcalf, Alex Bornstein and Niecy Nash star in HBO's new dark but very funny sitcom 'Getting On.'

Laurie Metcalf, Alex Bornstein and Niecy Nash (from left) star as prickly staff members at a medical facility catering to patients who are ‘Getting On’ in years.

In tonight’s first episode of Getting On, HBO’s adaptation of a British comedy hit, nurse DiDi Ortley (Niecy Nash, Reno 911!) reports for her first day of work at the Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit of Mt. Palms Hospital in Long Beach, Calif. The facility is dedicated to improving the lives of its elderly charges, who are “getting on” in years, but DiDi soon begins to wonder whether she’s wandered into an asylum by mistake.
The first red flag pops up when DiDi notices that one of the senior patients has had an accident in one of the TV room chairs. Her immediate instinct is a very logical one: Grab a piece of tissue, remove the offending “souvenir” and flush it in the nearest restroom. Unfortunately, she hasn’t reckoned with the red tape and politics that clog the cogs at any contemporary American medical facility.
Her senior colleague, nurse Dawn Forchette (Alex Bornstein, MADtv’s resident madwoman), is reluctant to allow the matter in question to be collected and removed until someone fills out the required “incident report” paperwork and tested the collected sample to determine which patient was responsible.
Meanwhile, temporary medical director Dr. Jenna James (three-time Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne) has a completely different agenda. She wants the matter collected for a “prestigious fecal study” she is currently working on for the New England Journal of Medicine.
That may sound nuts – and it is – but Jenna is a walking raw nerve who refuses to admit that her once-promising career is now in a death spiral. She may be telling anyone who is listening that she is merely filling in temporarily until a permanent medical director can be found, but in truth, Jenna has been exiled to this unit from the main facility since she had a breakdown and started waving around a scalpel and “allegedly” menacing some of her colleagues.
In its first six-episode season, Getting On follows these three prickly women as they struggle to do their jobs under very challenging conditions, including a rapidly cratering rating for their level of care.
Still, nothing bonds adversaries like a common enemy. In this case, that would be newly arrived supervising (male) nurse Patrizio “Patsy” De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez, Community), who refers to patients as “customers” and favors motivational posters and New Age-speak like “Don’t go through life. GROW through life.” He also plans to improve the facility’s rating through a cruise ship-based strategy that includes having a fountain and pianist on the premises.
Complicating the staff chemistry even further, “Patsy” is more than a little confused about his sexuality. He’s secretly having no-strings sex with Dawn, a woman with no personal boundaries and a bottomless hunger for approval, yet he’s eager to file a grievance against DiDi when she makes a harmless sexual joke to defuse a tense situation with a patient. Moreover, he and Jenna are engaged in a constant deathmatch over which of them is actually running the unit.
Clearly, Getting On is drawing on a mother lode of character quirks to drive its storylines and all three of the stars turn in rich, quirky performances. If I single out Metcalf, it’s only because I had forgotten how much I miss seeing this extraordinary actress on a weekly basis, and she brilliantly takes a brittle character and fills her with pathos, complexity and, every now and then, a glimmer of real compassion.
Getting On is certainly not your run-of-the-mill sitcom, nor is it for viewers with delicate sensibilities. It takes a lot of worthwhile risks, however, and in doing so only makes us admire healthcare workers more than ever, even as we observe them comically at the end of their ropes.

Missing the write stuff

Will Arnett and Margo Martindale (dancing center)
Three fairly high-profile network series premiere tonight, two on NBC, one on CBS. All three have some amazing actors in their casts, and all three are criminally let down by their writers.
My hopes probably are highest for The Millers, premiering tonight on CBS in the coveted time slot following The Big Bang Theory, partly because this new comedy, which is filmed in front of a studio audience, is the brainchild of Greg Garcia, who recently has given us such winning shows as My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope.
The Millers is far more old-fashioned than either of those two quirky hits, though. Emmy winners Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale star as Tom and Carol Miller, a long-married and eternally bickering couple who decide to move in with their daughter, Debbie (Jayma Mays, Glee) after Tom inadvertently floods their basement. Again. Hardly have they arrived, however, before long-simmering resentments reach the boiling point and Tom and Carol decide to end their 43-year marriage, with her moving into the upscale home of their son, Nathan (Will Arnett), who’s currently working as a roving correspondent for a local TV station.
What Nathan, the golden boy of the family, hasn’t told his parents is that he and his wife (Eliza Coupe of Happy Endings in a recurring role) divorced three months ago. Carol initially is horrified by the news, but soon starts trying to resume her long-ago role as the most important woman in Nathan’s life, which means ignoring boundaries at every turn (she clips Nathan’s toenails while he’s asleep and discusses her and Tom’s sex life with upsetting explicitness).
This isn’t a bad set-up for a sitcom, but in tonight’s premiere episode, the jokes are mainly broad and fairly vulgar. Martindale has been on a career hot streak lately, recently scoring another Emmy nomination for her striking guest role in the FX thriller The Americans, but here she is reduced to an extended string of jokes about her character’s tendency to pass gas on a regular basis. Bridges’ role is even more one-note: See Tom fumbling with the coffee maker and microwave and appear perpetually confused by the household’s remote controls! Ha!
Garcia is a funny, funny man who writes brilliantly about dysfunctional families, so I’m hopeful he’s going to give his strong cast the kind of material they deserve in future episodes. Fingers crossed.
The same thing goes for Sean Saves the World, Emmy winner Sean Hayes’ new NBC sitcom premiering tonight opposite CBS’s Robin Williams comedy The Crazy Ones, last week’s top-rated comedy premiere. Like The Millers, Sean Saves the World is filmed in front of a studio audience and has a strong cast, including sitcom veteran Linda Laviin (Alice) and Smash survivor Megan Hilty, as well as Reno 911! madman Thomas Lennon. Tonight’s premiere, however, feels tired and old-fashioned (Hayes also is an executive producer on the decidedly old-fashioned but frisky Hot in Cleveland).
In his new show, Hayes stars as a divorced gay dad who recently assumed fulltime custody of his teenage daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler). Now that Sean’s former wife no longer is in the picture, his formidable mother, Lorna (Lavin), is trying to swoop in and fill the maternal vacancy, to the pronounced displeasure of Sean’s best friend, Liz (Hilty). Sean’s attempts to be the perfect dad, though, are compromised by his demanding new boss (Lennon), a smothering, hands-on type who wants his staff to have as little of a social life as he does.
The comedy pros in the cast make quite a few of the tired jokes in tonight’s premiere sound, if not fresh, at least less wilted, but it’s discouraging to see such a heavy reliance on uninspired slapstick in the very first episode. I like the show’s main quartet enough that I’ll be sticking around for awhile, but this cast deserves much better. That said, I do think my many colleagues who have put Sean Saves the World on their lists of the fall’s worst shows are going a little far. Sean won’t even save NBC, let alone the world, but it’s not a crime against nature.
Nor is tonight’s other NBC premiere, Welcome to the Family, although it’s far and away the worst of the three. The lone single-camera (no laugh track) series among this trio, this sitcom stars the usually endearing Mike O’Malley (Glee) and, especially, Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight) as Dr. Dan and Caroline Yoder, who are enthusiastically looking forward to their imminent empty nest situation now that beautiful but dim daughter Molly (Ella Rae Peck) has defied all expectations and actually graduated from high school.
Plans to ship Molly off to a party school are derailed, however, when the Yoders discover that Molly is pregnant by a boyfriend they didn’t even know existed: Junior Hernandez (Joey Haro), a Stanford-bound Mathlete and class valedictorian. The pregnancy horrifies his proud father, Miguel (Ricardo Chavira, Desperate Housewives), especially after Miguel discovers that Molly’s dad is the jerk he clashed with that same morning at Miguel’s gym (in a contrived argument that’s only there so these two characters can hold a grudge against each other). Junior’s mom, Lisette (Justina Machado, Six Feet Under), like Caroline, tries to act as peacemaker in this volatile situation.
Anyone who has been watching TV for awhile will recognize the exhausted premise for this show, which stretches all the way back to the 1967-70 sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie, which was based in turn on a 1920s play called Abie’s Irish Rose. I wish I could report that Welcome to the Family reinvents that heavily diluted formula, but sadly, that’s not the case: The show just kind of plods along on its thrice-familiar path, dutifully ticking off scenes that we’ve seen so many times before. Even a fade-out “surprise” for Caroline at the end of tonight’s episode is something you’ll probably see coming a mile off.
I really want O’Malley and McCormack to figure out a way to turn this seemingly ill-fated vehicle around, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. Unless the writers can come up with some fresh ideas and jokes, this Family won’t be overstaying its welcome.