It's very possible you've never heard of HBO's new half-hour dramedy Getting On, but it's also very possible that you will identify with it a lot.
Adapted from the BBC series of the same name and spearheaded by Big Love creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, the dark comedy follows the dysfunctional staff at a hospital's geriatric extended care unit, providing healthy doses of humor and heart in a quietly poignant exploration of the indignity and dignity of life, death, aging, work and relationships.
Sounds titillating, right?
I'll concede that Getting On doesn't boast the sweeping, cinematic grandeur (and nudity) of Game of Thrones or the love-to-hate chatter (and nudity) of Girls or the Matthew McConaughey-ness (and nudity?) of True Detective. But even though Getting On is set among the elderly and infirmed, the dilemmas that its middle-aged staff face every day are surprisingly well-suited to a 20-something audience. You'll recognize these five things from your own life and work, and maybe this show will help you feel a bit better about them:
1. Dealing with a dysfunctional workplace.
A lot of us have had only one or two "real" jobs thus far, so it's difficult to gauge how typical our workplace is, or how long that feeling of "is this normal?" will last.
Spoiler alert: no matter your age, job or experience level, a workplace is always somewhat dysfunctional because people are dysfunctional. This can manifest itself in many ways.
Although Getting On's core cast consists of middle-aged women in a geriatric unit, they deal with similar levels of dysfunction in hilarious and often awkward situations. Like waking up a patient so they can take their prescribed sleeping pills. Or getting two patients' adult children to fill out sexual consent forms stating their parents are of sound physical and mental fitness and able and willing to engage in sex with each other.
And you thought IM-ing with the person next to you instead of having a face-to-face conversation was dysfunctional.
2. Putting up with shit at work.
When you're at the younger end of the career spectrum, you're often asked to do menial or embarrassing tasks, like getting everyone's coffee or taking your boss's dog to its psychologist for weekly therapy. In your 20s you put up with shit, but it's in the hopes that all of this shit will somehow build up an invisible but impactful line of credit that will render you successful, well-respected and happy by your 30s.
The staff at the hospital deals with their fair share of shit. Without spoiling too much, the pilot revolves around the dilemma of how best to dispose of feces that is found on a chair in reception. We quickly learn that Dr. Jenna James's (Metcalf) feces research demands that it be kept safe and sent to the lab. But when Dr. James's shit is mishandled, she loses her figurative shit, so Nurse Dawn (Borstein) must endure her bullshit, and Nurse Didi (Nash) is left to deal with the actual shit in question. It's a wonderful metaphor for a shitty day at work.
Plus, it's a great example of how even something as exciting as a public poop will ultimately get reduced to boring paperwork:
Image Credit: BBC
3. Having the WORST first day.
Everyone dreads their first day at a new job, and for good reason. A friend of mine flipped off an angry driver on the way in for her first day. That angry driver ended up being an angry co-worker.
In Getting On, two newcomers have ... memorable first days. Head Nurse Patsy de la Serda (Mel Rodriguez) deals with probes about his sexual orientation, an indifferent supervisor and a terrifying patient named Varla (played by a terrific June Squibb), who is racist, homophobic and surprisingly agile:
Meanwhile, Nurse Didi's first day consists of resolving the aforementioned fecal fiasco, splitting up geriatric sex and translating for a Cambodian patient.
4. Feeling undervalued at work.
Because we're often at the lower end of the career food chain, many of us feel that our talents are unappreciated, underestimated or flat-out ignored. It's as if we're waiting for someone to just look at us and say, "Hey, wait a second. I just realized you're incredible. Here's an office, a cool job title I made up and access to the executive parking lot."
In Getting On, this insecurity about self-worth never really ceases for Dr. James, an otherwise accomplished and intelligent doctor who regards the work in the geriatric care unit as beneath her. As she puts it, she's a "real doctor," and her wounded pride, like ours, is palpable and powerful.
Dr. James' dissatisfaction manifests itself in surprising, hilarious ways — random crying, public meltdowns, nonstop discussion about her fecal matter research to expand the Bristol Stool chart from seven categories to an exhaustive 16 and of course, this inexplicable Donald Duck impression:
5. It's a glimpse into our not-too-distant futures.
The thing about dark comedy is, well, it's dark. It makes light of serious subjects and invites us to confront our fears. For most people, death is the scariest and darkest thing we can imagine, precisely because we can't imagine it.
Getting On sets itself squarely in an environment where death is not only prevalent but expected. In fact, someone dies in almost every (if not every) episode. It's the reality of the show, and the reality for its characters. And for viewers like us who are in our 20s, it stands as a reminder that we, too, will one day find ourselves in a bedside chair, holding hands with a parent or grandparent, an aunt or uncle; leaning against a grey wall and talking to a Dr. James, or a Nurse Dawn or Didi; searching for clarity and comfort, asking tough questions and never really hearing the answers we hope for.
And, of course, one day, we'll be the ones in the hospital bed, listening as others discuss our care. Getting On handles the underlying morbidity of life with grace and humor. You'll see yourself in it — and, hopefully, you'll see its grace in yourself.