I know I just wrote about TV, but you must have heard that we’re in the golden age of television. There is so much good TV. And also lots of bad and mediocre TV. You can really do a number on what should have been a productive weekend (or a random Tuesday night) with all the choices you have. But, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. And, if you’re already a fan of HBO’s original series Getting On, you also already know it’s one of the most brilliant shows in recent history.
But, if you haven’t seen it, don’t feel bad for a couple reasons. 1 – Most people haven’t. This little gem flew under the radar for three seasons, during which I asked pretty much everyone I knew if they were watching it. (No one was.) It was critically acclaimed, but it wasn’t supported by a ton of publicity. Plus it takes place in the extended care wing in a decrepit, under-funded hospital. It doesn’t have the drama of ER or House’s mystery. Its cast is mostly elderly, and the staff is typically dealing with grim, un-sexy issues like constipation and wound care…
(So, maybe this is why the show was a bit of a hard sell? You mean you don’t want to tune in every Sunday night to watch a clinical staff wrangle anal horns – a thing, btw – and medicate dying patients?)
So, the second reason you shouldn’t feel too bad about missing it is because, thanks to the way we know consume media, you’ll be able to watch on-demand in a million places, I’m sure, from now until eternity. And, really, you DO want to watch it.
There’s the amazing cast. This may sound a little “duh,” but you get the sense that the cast was really cast. Like, they didn’t just pick some people that look hot in lab coats, and there wasn’t a big “star” (in the traditional sense of the word) to draw people in. The actors they picked for the main roles– Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein, Niecy Nash and Mel Rodrqiguez – are believable as their characters and bring layers and layers of comedy and tragedy to their roles and the writing.
Oh, and dear god, the writing. The wizards in that writing room found comedic gold in topics like bi-polar disorder, insurance fraud, and fecal matter studies. And I’m not talking about cheap laughs. I’m talking about smart, complicated, expensive, if you will, laughs about fecal matter studies.
And then there’s the final episode, which I can’t stop thinking about and is sort of the inspiration for this whole rambling post. I guess I should type *Spoiler Alert,* even though plot twists and surprises aren’t really the show’s main selling points. In what I like to think is a very meta, art imitating life turn of events, the extended care unit is closed down and the staff is forced to think about moving on. Even though none of the characters were particularly satisfied in their current positions, they feel displaced and disempowered. Like their hard work never got the respect it deserved, and they were unceremoniously nudged out before they really got the chance to show everyone what they could do. (Like how so many of their dying patients probably felt!)
Maybe because I love the show so much, I’m reading into things, but the final scenes also felt like a commentary on the show’s cancellation. The characters – Didi (Niecy Nash) in particular – put up a fight, but ultimately they give in to the inevitable, unfair hand they’ve been dealt. The hospital closes. The show ends.
The last thing Dr. James (Laurie Metcalf) says to Nurse Dawn is this:
“There is no justice, but there is mercy, because that is what we can give to each other.”
And THIS is what’s been on my mind. I fell in love with the on-screen moment (I won’t ruin that plot point with more detail), and the quote imprinted on my brain. I think because it is a near-perfect of expression of what I’ve been learning and relearning and starting to actually understand as time passes.
What your parents and teachers told you is actually true: life isn’t fair. We don’t get what we need or deserve. The wrong things happen to the right people, and vice versa. Life is often very sad and disappointing. But you can find relief, comfort and sometimes answers in human relationships.
And, as I bawled over the final moments of the final episode ever of Getting On, I was grateful to Dr. James for the reminder.
Related questions: Is life fair? Do we, as humans, have truly have the power to give one another mercy? Is it healthy to become this invested in a TV show?