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TV review: Getting On

Getting On BBC4 The Morgana Show Channel 4

It may have escaped your notice, but the current series of one of 2010's best comedies quietly came to an end last night. Set in a careworn NHS geriatric ward, Getting On has drawn critical acclaim, but negligible viewing figures. While I appreciate that a rawly naturalistic tragicomedy suffused with the stench of sickness and mortality will never be a ratings blockbuster, it would be nice to see more love for this overlooked gem.

Written by and starring Joanna Scanlan, Vicki Pepperdine and former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand, Getting On is the antithesis of your average mainstream medical confection: a defiantly unglamorous depiction of Britain's healthcare system, staffed not by selfless angels, but by flawed human beings muddling through as best they can under thankless circumstances. Skating deftly on a hairpin between comedy and pathos, it depicts a profession in which the abiding concerns are bureaucracy, people management and death.

This was never more strikingly illustrated than in the scenes in which the elderly Scottish woman who had been slowly dying throughout the series, finally, inevitably expired. Her poor daughter, unable to accept what had happened, tearfully and tetchily instructed her to wake up, as if it was all just a sick joke: a heartbreaking sketch of grief, emblematic of the programme's understatement.

Sister Den (Scanlan) and Nurse Kim (Brand) went through the practiced motions of comforting the bereaved and dealing with the deceased. But they also argued over what to do with the dead woman's untouched lunch.

Keen to vacate another much-needed bed, Den told the bewildered daughter that the body had to be moved immediately. She was bundled from the hospital to deal with her pain elsewhere, while her mother was abruptly wheeled away in full view of the other patients. As a blunt, desperately sad illustration of Getting On's core themes of life's cyclical grind and the pragmatic demands of NHS medical care, it couldn't have been bettered.

Director Peter Capaldi – Scanlan's co-star from The Thick of It, of which this is a spiritual relative – is to be commended for his sensitive handling of this material. His appropriately sickly, washed-out colour palette and the authentic performances from his excellent cast combine to create a bleakly enthralling atmosphere unlike any other British sitcom.

Doesn't sound like a laugh riot? Well no, it isn't, but nor is it trying to be. The humour arises naturally from character, the situations rooted in reality. Getting On is poignant, funny, profound even. Here's hoping for a speedy return.

Sadly, here we must part with our celebration of female- fronted comedy, thanks to The Morgana Show, a witless sketch vehicle for newcomer Morgana Robinson. Why has she got her own show? Is it because her agent is the powerful John Noel, who numbers Russell Brand among his clients? I wonder.

Like the similarly charmless Katy Brand, Robinson's toothless parodies of the likes of Boris Johnson and Cheryl Cole are an apolitical affirmation of the celebrity status quo, not an attack on it. They lack the backbone required for anything other than staggeringly uninspired whimsy.

And when Dom Joly escapes from the jungle, someone should alert him to The Morgana Show's suspiciously familiar bellowing mobile phone businessman. Shameless stuff.

 
 
 

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