Hospitals aren’t an obvious source of comedy at the best of times, given that they’re rife with sick patients, superbug scares and petty bureaucracy. Medically-speaking, things are particularly grim at the minute, as Cameron’s cabal of public sector sceptics continue chopping the NHS up like a chorizo sausage; dishing up cuts and redundancies with the apathetic regularity of a McDonalds worker serving Big Macs on a Friday night in Glasgow.
Set in a hospital ward where depressed elderly patients are tended to by depressed middle-aged staff, I’d wager downbeat Getting On is probably the least glamorous sitcom ever made. And I’ve endured an episode of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps. Getting On shouldn’t have any right to be funny, but unlike the aforementioned Two Pints, it is. The show follows the daily lives of nurses performing routine tasks in an NHS hospital.
Getting On made a triumphant return to BBC Four last night for its third series in a modern and clean new premises, but the with same old problems. Symptomatic of the wave of cuts and closures overseen first by Andrew Lansley, then Jeremy C*nt since the last series ended: the show was forced to film in a new hospital after the old one was forced to close down.
Written by and starring Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine, Getting On presents an unflinching tribute to the NHS (or what’s left of it). Down-trodden nurse Kim (Brand) is the only main character who displays any empathy towards the patients. Kim is more withdrawn than Brand’s stand-up persona, though not averse to a humorous acerbic riposte.
In this episode, Joanna Scanlon’s lazy ward sister Den revealed her pregnancy, paving the way for a who’s-the-daddy? scenario to play out over coming weeks – her husband or ex partner and male matron, Hilary (Ricky Grover). Condescending consultant Dr Moore is the worst type of monster, a box-ticking monster, seemingly unperturbed about the people she comes into contact with at the hospital. She’s more supericial than one of the contestents on The Apprentice.
Like many single-camera sitcoms devoid of a studio audience, the humour is very subtle: eschewing easy laughs for gritty realism and three-dimensional characterisation. The characters, all flawed, are never sentimentalised. Getting On is a gritty cross-examination of the National Health Service, depressing and hilarious in equal measure.
Getting On returns next Wednesday at 10pm on BBC Four.