BECAUSE I had been so effusive in my compliments on the previous
series, I had thought not to write again about Getting On
(Thursdays) - incomprehensibly still shown on minority-interest
BBC4 - but its excellence demands further mention.
It is a sitcom about a doctor, nursing sister, and nurse who
work in the female geriatric ward of a hospital. It is devised and
written by the superlative (women) actors who take the roles. As
befits the setting, there is no squeamishness about its subject:
incontinence, madness, and death run through the plots.
I am struck anew by the courage of the acting. The heroes are
anti-heroes indeed, their motivation and actions largely
self-serving, greedy, insensitive, careless of others; yet not in
that exaggerated comic mode that makes it easy for the audience to
separate the actor from the role, in order to make us realise that
they are just playing a part. The level of exaggeration is so
finely tuned that we can assume that this is, indeed, what they are
like as people.
This is particularly the case with the doctor, who is portrayed
as insecure, vain, almost entirely without empathy for her
patients, and hectoring to her juniors. Yet, somehow, this monster
does not overbalance the comedy, and is judged so precisely that,
despite being an ogre, she is one in whom we recognise our own
The show's excellence is clearly acknowledged in the acting
profession: last week's episode had a guest appearance by Tilda
Swinton, and yet it had the confidence to refuse to allow her to
speak a single line. She merely appeared as the put-upon partner of
a teacher whose pupils disrupt the ward with an art project.
This is a good example of the brilliance of the conception: the
comic hopelessness of the enforced intergenerational transaction
between young people and elderly patients was given full rein, yet
its results were movingly portrayed as, despite everything,
This range of emotional response, constantly surprising the
audience by revealing something human and fallible about characters
set up to be objects of fun and dislike, seems to me quite
extraordinary in a sitcom.
The show's other delight is its debunking of institutional
failure, and its portrayal of the time-wasting obfuscation that
undercuts all attempts to get on with the work of healing, while
providing an effective shield behind which the second- and
third-rate can hide their fear of actually engaging with the needs
of patients. Thank heaven that such a scenario has no relevance to
the workings of the Church of England.
Our beloved Church last week received a breadth of TV coverage
that we would normally long for, except that it was universally
bemused with irritated incomprehension. Most of the coverage
wheeled out the usual suspects; so hats off to Sky News for
trawling a little bit deeper, and coming up with, for example, a
West London vicar. I thought that I made some excellent points.
4thought.tv (Channel 4, every evening) last week
considered "What can religions learn from atheists?" These
pocket-sized statements are nearly always thought-provoking. The
question they raise is: why does TV think that the longest an
audience will consider the large questions of life is for one
minute 40 seconds?