Getting On well with medical comedy

Jo Brand, Joanna Scanlan and Vicki Pepperdine's series is more than just your average sitcom

I hate all things medical. I get motion sick, even on sports centre treadmills. And I generally prefer stories written by, and about, men. So why have I fallen head over heels for Getting On – a black comedy set in a hospital, defined by shaky camerawork and dreamed up by its three female stars?

Advertisement

Clearly, I enjoy the show because it’s clever comedy with deft lines and an appealing cast. Medical professionals who watch it say they’re all too familiar with the sort of things Nurse Kim Wilde (Jo Brand) and Sister Den Flixter (Joanna Scanlan) get up to on ward B4 – not to mention those frequently mocked rules and regulations. But there’s much more to it than just a bunch of good jokes at the expense of the NHS.

One of the first things you notice about Getting On is how amazing people look. Now, you might not believe this, given that the series is set in a geriatric ward staffed by actors who look convincingly like medical staff, not catwalk models.

But the ladies have lucked out with director Peter Capaldi. Double chins, wrinkles, hollowed-out eyes or Nora Batty-style stockings – those cameras look beyond them all and see that true beauty lies in vulnerability.

Take insufferable and insecure Dr Pippa Moore (Vicki Pepperdine). In a scene worth a million L’Oreal ads, she stands alone in front of a mirror, studying her crows’ feet and the dark circles beneath her eyes, and asks, “What the bloody hell happened?” With a jolt, we realise the sacrifices this supremely irritating woman has made to get where she is and the pressure she’s under to maintain her position. She’s never been more fragile, yet suddenly she’s beautiful.

And even though you’re laughing at the next scene – where she flirts with unrequited crush, psychiatrist Peter Healy (Capaldi), only to have him transfer his attentions the minute he claps eyes on her stunning younger colleague – your heart breaks for her, too. It’s the seamless mingling of the tragic and the ridiculous that elevates the series above your average sitcom.

Every character is brilliantly drawn, down to the shyest medical student, weakest patient or bereaved family member. The whole thing is tinged with an air of quiet desperation, as people struggle to do their best but end up only getting by. The washed-out greys, blues and whites of the ward give the relentlessly stark lie to the staff’s sporadic attempts to inject warmth and normality into their patients’ often soon-to-be-snuffed-out lives.

Advertisement

So there you have it: a comedy that not only makes you laugh but also has something meaningful to say about the human condition. And the prognosis? Well, our relationships may be fractured, our tolerance strained and our best intentions strapped up in red tape but, with our hearts in the right place and the occasional injection of humour, there’s hope for us yet.