In September Netflix introduced Ricky Gervais' "Derek," about a slow-witted fellow who works in a nursing home. It was unusually gentle for a program starring Mr. Gervais but also predictable and not that funny.
HBO's new comedic half-hour "Getting On" (10 p.m. Sunday) takes a similar setting and piles on the laughs. It's one of the best new comedy series of 2013.
Based on a BBC series of the same name and redeveloped for American television by "Big Love" creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, "Getting On" is set in the Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit of Mt. Palms Hospital in Long Beach, Calif. The story is largely told through the eyes of the ward's newest nurse, DiDi (scene-stealer Niecy Nash, "The Soul Man"), whose no-nonsense approach makes her the ideal audience surrogate.
DiDi suffers through the condescension of Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf, "Roseanne"), whose study on stool samples consumes her working hours while she mostly ignores the patients in her care, and the low self-esteem of Nurse Dawn (Alex Borstein, "Family Guy"), who is so desperate for a boyfriend that she hits on her supervising nurse boss, Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez, "Community") even while he's giving her a bad review.
HBO made five of the six episodes that comprise the series' first season available for review, and "Getting On" definitely gets deeper into the personal lives of its main characters as it goes.
For humor, it's tough to top the series premiere, which centers on the disposition of feces left on a chair by a patient in the lounge. DiDi reports the mess to Dawn, who freaks out about following rules for the disposition of fecal matter while also procuring a sample for Dr. James' study. DiDi can't quite fathom all the fuss; she just wants to clean it up. She also has never heard the mess called "feces" and gets confused by the plural sound of the word: "It wasn't a gang of 'em. It was just one piece."
DiDi is also the voice of reason when Dr. James suggests sedating a noisy patient: "Are you all really gonna sedate somebody just because they're talking too much?"
Ms. Nash is a revelation in her "Getting On" role. In many respects she gets to play the showiest character by being the most down-to-earth in a group of damaged individuals. She conveys volumes with a slowly cocked eyebrow.
As Dr. James, Ms. Metcalf brings a brittle, superior attitude to a character who won't acknowledge her failings. Dr. James comes off as a bit of a caricature in early episodes, but later episodes bring more depth and maybe even sympathy for a generally unsympathetic character.
There is some pathos in "Getting On" with regard to the elderly patients, but that's seamlessly interwoven in the darkly funny personal stories of the hospital staff. Episodes are shot in a documentary style and slowly build the comic tension, which can come from a racist stroke patient wreaking havoc or Nurse Dawn finally admitting her greatest life fear and how it relates to her job.
HBO debuts a second comedy series this weekend, "Ja'mie: Private School Girl" (10:30 p.m. Sunday), a spinoff of "Summer Heights High" from Australian comic Chris Lilley. It's basically a one-joke show -- a guy in drag plays the leader of a clique of mean girls -- that pales compared with the smart unpredictable chaos of comedy in "Getting On."
Turns out it's really tough to kill "The Killing," which has been canceled twice and has now been uncanceled a second time. But this time the show won't return to AMC: Netflix ordered a six-episode, final season of the murder mystery.
Comedy Central has renewed the Chris Hardwick-hosted "@Midnight" for a 40-week order, and new episodes will air in January.
This week ABC announced its midseason schedule -- comedy "Suburgatory" is back on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. starting Jan. 15 -- and "Betrayal" is not mentioned. Consider low-rated "Betrayal" canceled at this point.
USA canceled "Necessary Roughness" this week after three seasons.
WTAE's next 'Chronicle'
The next edition of WTAE's "Chronicle," hosted by Sally Wiggin, will look at "Concussions & Our Kids" (8 p.m. Dec. 3), about the traumatic brain injuries some children in the Pittsburgh region suffer while playing youth sports.
The CW's "Nikita" returns for its final, six-episode run tonight at 9 on WPCW. ... Reruns of "The Simpsons" will begin airing in August 2014 on FXX. ... CBSNews.com will stream coverage from the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy beginning today at 1:48 p.m., the exact minute the first breaking news aired alerting viewers to shots fired on the presidential motorcade in Dallas. ... During Erin Burnett's upcoming maternity leave, Jake Tapper will anchor "Erin Burnett Outfront" for the first three weeks of December, with Don Lemon filling in at the end of December and in early January. Mr. Lemon also will host a half-hour test show, "The 11th Hour," at 11 p.m. in early December.
Tuned In online
Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "The Mentalist," "Will & Grace" and why cable dramas are eating the broadcast networks' lunch. This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Almost Human," Amazon's "Alpha House" and "Betas" and MTV's "Generation Cryo." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.
This week's podcast includes conversation about "Almost Human," "Alpha House" and "Doctor Who." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.
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