It took me about three viewings to comprehend just how complex this episode of Getting On is, but by the end of my last watch, I was convinced: This episode is masterful. The show is juggling so much in this episode, and it’s amazing how it doesn’t drop a ball. It’s a tightly written episode, and for that alone, impressive—the amount of effort it takes to put this much story into 22 minutes must be astonishing. The whole package lands with a perfect dismount. Plus: It’s one of the more upsetting half-hours you’ll see on television this year. Fun for the whole family!
“Make Someone Happy” zeroes in on how all of these characters are falling apart. It’s all in slightly different ways: self-delusion, borderline personality disorder, the unreasonable demands of being on the poverty line, and a terrible and desperate loneliness. It’s also pitching four different plotlines from one character to another, and then watching as the streams cross midair. Patsy accuses DiDi of homophobic slurs (this is from last week, when she repeats “fat fairy” to him after Varla says it). Dawn had a good date last night… with Patsy, as it turns out. Patsy starts a new customer-service initiative in the ward (the tagline is where the episode gets its title), and Jenna James hates it (or is just upset she wasn’t asked for permission). Jenna’s leaving for Cleveland for a few days to debut her stool-sample research, and under her sloppy management, the ward’s ventilating patients are getting a terrible infection.
And this is just the beginning. Each initial plotline pivots quickly to the next causality: Because Patsy has started the customer-service initiative, a woman named Marguerite (“It’s pronounced ‘Margaret.’ The ‘u’ is silent and the ‘ite’ is just a schwa”) is going around to the patients and taking surveys on how well the hospital staff is doing their jobs. Because the surveys are coming back abysmal, Patsy calls Dawn in to give her a terrible performance review. Because Dawn had sex with Patsy, and Patsy is vegan, Dawn starts a “special diet,” which in turn prompts Jenna to preach to her residents about the obesity epidemic. Because DiDi won’t apologize, the entire nursing staff is forced to sit in an awkward meeting where Dawn discovers Patsy is gay (much to his chagrin). My high-school English teacher would be so happy: “Make Someone Happy” is full of clear, strong thesis statements.
The whole episode catapults forward on the strength of these arcs, with only a few situations that arise out of thin air—the most prominent of which being the old couple who starts fornicating pretty much wherever and whenever they feel like it. It’s hard to argue with the inclusion of something that is simultaneously so cringeworthy and so hilarious; especially because the blowjob echoes Dawn’s blowjob with Patsy, the night before. The episode is marvelously self-referential, without being meta. It just calls to its own observations again and again.
Writing about sitcoms is more challenging than writing about dramas, in my experience, because dissecting comedy is a lot less intuitive than dissecting drama. And because the show is shorter, the action moves faster. There’s less time for lingering, less time for processing. A comedy has to be pretty nimble to work.
Ultimately, what makes Getting On particularly brilliant is how honest and sad it is in between the grossness, the comedy, and the mean-spiritedness of our sad heroes. All of the women are shown offering moments of true tenderness to their patients—even Jenna softly talks a woman through her pain, trying to make her comfortable as possible. As deranged as they all get, we see their perspective: This job would drain the available compassion from saints, but at the end of the day, they all did come into this profession for a reason.
What Getting On is sort of trying to do is point the finger at the system, instead of our hapless hospital staff. The structures that get implicated the most are the hierarchies of bureaucracy, presented as hollow, farcical instruments that rarely help anyone. Dawn’s performance review gets nowhere, because Patsy’s hamstrung himself from being able to really manage or chastise a woman he’s slept with. His hearing over DiDi’s insult is a waste of time. Red tape (literally) lines the ward at some point, as Patsy and Jenna get into a power struggle over how to best clean up the infection. DiDi is taking on her sister’s children, which means fielding calls from social services and that other bureaucracy. And paperwork interferes with the old lady’s ability to get laid by her lover, which ends up going into the customer-service review. It’s an indictment of the system—a little too subtle for a little-watched show on HBO, but still a powerful one.
- “Men will put their dicks into anything.”
- Patsy wears his bluetooth earpiece even during his meeting over homophobia in the ward. Also, he needs 24 hours to determine if DiDi’s apology is satisfactory.
- Jenna’s husband is selling some bogus raffle tickets.