In 2013, HBO debuted three new comedy series. One was Christopher Guest’s first significant work in decades, featuring many of the regulars from his beloved improvised films. One was the first major solo project from Stephen Merchant, co-creator of “The Office” and “Extras.” And one featured the creators of “Big Love” attempting to adapt a British series about the neglected nurses and patients in a hospital’s elder care wing.
Going into that year, I doubt a casino would have even given you odds that the only one of the three to survive would be the latter, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Last month, HBO declined to go forward with Guest’s “Family Tree” and Merchant’s “Hello Ladies,” and tonight the pay cabler decided to order a second season of “Getting On.” It will again feature six episodes, and debut later this year.
Adapted by Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer from the Brit original of the same name, “Getting On” follows nurses Alex Borstein, Niecy Nash and Mel Rodriguez and doctor Laurie Metcalf as they deal with bureaucracy and indignity with equal measure while caring for elderly patients. It seemed like such a wildly uncommercial premise, even for the network that brought us “In Treatment” and “Enlightened,” that I half-wondered if HBO execs had greenlit it on a dare, and assumed HBO was dumping most of the episodes into December as a sign of a show with no future.
And when I saw it, I took a strong dislike to the early episodes, in which all the characters save Nash’s came across as grating cartoons. But as noted in that review, “Getting On” grew on me in its season’s later episodes – especially after Metcalf’s character came back from a trip toned down significantly from her earlier appearances. It wasn’t wildly funny, but it was recognizably human, at times very touching (Nash in particular was excellent in a rare dramatic role), and didn’t feel like anything else on HBO’s air or elsewhere. At the time, I wrote
“The later episodes of ‘Getting On’ suggest a show I’d enjoy watching more of if HBO decides to make it another charity case like ‘Tremé’ or ‘The Wire or that second season of ‘Enlightened.’ I just don’t know how many people will have the patience, or even the initial interest, to get to that point.”
Many critics didn’t bother to watch that many, but the show received glowing notices in a few places. And I suspect – like the time when “Enlightened” survived while fellow bubble comedies “Bored to Death,” “Hung” and “How To Make It In America” were all canceled – somebody in the HBO executive suite simply liked this one better than the others, wanted to see a bit more, and figured, “If we don’t make this, who will?”