Getting On Gets On

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Low-key, barely-there sitcoms where darkly droll material flows in the cracks are all the rage. There’s Roger and Val and, more recently, Whites, starring Alan Davies. Both shows are so comedically slight you feel compelled to pick up the gags with tweezers and put them in an acid-free environment for fear they’ll dissolve undetected.

But before either of these, Getting On--a series set in a hospital’s geriatric ward starring and written by Jo Brand, Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan--was slipping us delicate, black comedy. Though, there was a robust memo attached: the NHS is a dilapidated hub of apathy, hierarchy and bureaucracy.

Getting On (which returns for a second series tonight at 10pm on BBC4) is unapologetically quiet and might well leave you hungry for bigger, bolder jokes. But once you acclimatise to the slow burn it’s funnier for it, and the scenes involving bodily nasties are morbidly moreish. There’s a whopper in the series opener. When paramedics wheel in a festering old lady tramp with no name and a fierce odour the nurses have to investigate what lies beneath. They peel off her festering outfit to reveal an even more intense stench of “womany” rot. Later, there’s another rivetingly revolting find: her clothes have fused to her skin.

We’re reminded just how different this show is from glitzy ER and soapy Holby when the grisly disrobing isn’t followed by the patient bleeding out, fitting or vomiting violently. She stays still, cocooned in her filth, and we never see any actual gore. Her nurses look on with jaded resignation, as if this is perhaps the fourth or fifth mouldering vagrant to end up in their care that week. And the smell, though nostril melting, won’t even make their top 100 career low-lights. It feels uneasy and real.

What makes Getting On funny, as well as realistically icky, is its trio of writer/actresses. Brand gleams in a guise that doesn’t, thankfully, have her delivering hackneyed gags about lazy blokes and lard. She’s brilliant and believable as a kind, sturdy nurse. Pepperdine, meanwhile, gets the best lines and is in charge of making us cringe. She plays an uptight doctor who cloaks her tired indifference in haughtiness and can’t help but bully medical students and patronise patients’ relatives. Finally, Scalan is a bulldog sister with low self-esteem. The three women joust lethargically, inserting iciness and warmth in all the right places.

This is doctors and nurses with faeces and funk instead of the frills and frolicking in supply cupboards. It’ll make you shudder, snigger and, most probably, not want to be geriatric caregiver.

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