The past four or five years I feel like I’ve been a researcher for the HBO series Getting On. The dark comedy, based on a British series, is airing its final short season on HBO Canada (Sundays at 10 p.m.).

I’ve had my dad pass away during those years and my mom has recently transitioned to a retirement home. I’ve now been inside so many hospitals and rehab centres I could write a book. I’m suddenly too familiar with terms such as CCAC, dementia and assisted living. I know something I never thought I’d know–where to get adult diapers cheap on Tuesdays.

Getting old, I can tell you, is not for wimps. Neither is Getting On.

The series takes an unblinking look at life inside a geriatric care wing of a rather run-down Los Angeles area hospital. What might seem like outrageous satire to some reads more like a documentary to anyone who has spent time inside a similar environment–and I am thinking of you, 6th floor of St. Joesph’s Health Centre in Toronto.

My dad spent five of his last six weeks there. (He died at home, which is what he wanted and turned out to be a great gift.) Once the elderly reach a certain point, those drab hallways and grim rooms seem to suck the life right out of you.


It can’t be easy working in an environment where death is always in the air. Just like any other field, there are people there who care way more than most and others who are way past caring. What I found was that many of the hospital workers seemed to be there, night and day, on a daily basis–and I take my hat off to every one of them.

Surprisingly, there is humour in those bleak circumstances, and that is what is mined in Getting On. It isn’t quite laughing in the face of death. It is more smiling through one damn thing after another, because people are funny, right to the end.

Laurie Metcalf as a madly ambitious and unhinged MD and Alex Bornstein and Niecy Nash as over-stretched nurses take each outrageous script and make them true. Mel Rodriguez is even funnier here as a conflicted nurse than he is on The Last Man on Earth.

Spotting the elderly character actresses in the background, such as Ann Guilbert (Millie from The Dick Van Dyke Show), warms all bedpans. Watch and shudder, and know all involved have captured and amplified every absurdity and still somehow managed to keep the most important thing alive–the heart.

Read more about Getting On here at this feature I wrote for this month’s edition of Movie Entertainment magazine.

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