"The Concert" returns Getting On to a meaner sensibility—specifically, that streak of cruelty that distinguished the pilot episode, "Born On The Fourth Of July." It uses some of the exact same plot elements, in fact: Dawn is once again forced into the position of mediating Jenna's cruelty and neglect into some semblance of patient care; a patient dies on the ward in an anticlimactic way marred by the incompetence of the nurses; and perversely, Jenna's rewarded for her bad behavior with even more career perks and a continued career at the hospital. Oh, and there's another stray turd. It's never a bad idea to toss in poop.
There's nothing wrong with the storyline, but it's a bit disjointed, coming on the heels of a few very strong episodes of the show. Getting On has done such a good job exploring the interiority of its characters, it's hard to go back to a viewpoint that pushes them away at arm's length again, so that they can be critiqued and mocked anew.
Worse, though, this first season finale is just recycling stories, repackaging what worked well in the pilot for a finale that lacks emotional resolution. Getting On is too good to produce an episode that's disappointing—"The Concert" is hardly a bad episode—but it doesn't show us anything new about the characters. Rather, it goes for a different goal—exposing how awful humans are, and presenting that sloppiness for laughs.
Well, there's no shortage of evidence. In this episode alone, the ward barely avoids two lawsuits—one because DiDi accidentally injures a patient while bathing her, and one because two unsupervised patients get into a physical altercation. Jenna gives Dawn misinformation about a patient twice, meaning that Molly Shannon's character has to change her plans several times and then misses her mother's death because she's arguing with Jenna and Dawn at the nurses' station. And Patsy either forgets or won't admit to the fact that he and Dawn had anal sex, which is joke that is by turns upsetting and hilarious.
As the closing episode of a season that functions a bit like a demo tape—because it seems like the show is still testing the waters here across the pond—"The Concert" is perfectly adequate. It circles back onto all the major themes of Getting On, and it gives a new viewer a taste of what the rest of the season offers—albeit with a bit less character development. It's fine, but girl, "The Concert" is a really depressing episode. And it's hard to imagine watching several episodes of a show that is quite so painful to watch. It's a little easier when either a) you have some hope that the characters are getting better or b) you have been granted free license not to care about any of the characters involved. (For example, I think Curb Your Enthusiasm works because we never care whether or not Larry David turns out okay at the end of his adventures; similarly, Louie works because we know he'll learn something from the proceedings, even if it's not in the way we expect.)
Getting On is a brilliant and uncomfortable show precisely because it seems unwilling to either distance us or give us hope. And because it deals with the massive American health care system, it draws us into its implications. Now, I feel, I'm waiting to see what the show will do with this material (and these talented actors). "The Concert" scrapes moments of greater emotional resonance—DiDi's impassioned admonition to Jenna, when she's asking for her husband's fee, is an incredible moment for the character and for the show; Jenna's face when she realizes her boss, who she has a bit of a crush on, maneuvered her into this position so he could get out of doing it is almost as profound. And the end, where the three main characters sit in the arranged rows of chairs for the staff concert, talking and not-talking while they try to come to terms with the fact that they still work in this hospital ward, still with each other, and then gamely move to a round of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" for the patients, is both beautiful and painful.
In short, the only reason "The Concert" is even mildly disappointing is because Getting On has set a high standard for excellence. I hope we get a season two so we can see where this quiet little show is going.
- Dawn got Patsy and herself matching brooches. Seems like a natural post-anal-sex move.
- DiDi has six kids she's taking care of, now that she's adopted her sister's. Wow.
- Next season (if we get one), we're getting a research assistant. And more funding. And time for experiments. And our old parking spot.