Saturday 20 January 2018

Getting on's gags sneak up on you

Getting on ****
Bodysnatchers of New York ****

Jo Brand has a wonderful face. If you were to say that TO Brand's face, it would probably laugh back in yours, but it's true. If the face is a vital weapon in the arsenal of a comedienne (can you still say comedienne, or has everyone been politically corrected to comedian?) then Brand's is an armour-piercing missile.

It was put to explosively comic use in pitch-black NHS hospital comedy Getting On, promoted from three episodes to six for this second series. An elderly woman, giving off a retch-inducing stench that could vaporise your septum, is wheeled into the geriatric ward where Brand's character, nurse Kim, works.

As Kim and ward sister Denise (Joanne Scanlan) set about removing the woman's clothes, the mixture of pity, apathy and disgust that flickered across Brand's face was a cruel joy to behold.

Luckily, Getting On has more going for it than just Brand's face. The script, co-written by Brand, Scanlan and Vicky Pepperdine, who plays the vain, pompous Dr Moore, is deliciously dark and mordant, and often (an overused expression, this) laugh-out-loud funny.

"It's like an every-orifice cocktail, isn't it?," says Kim, totally deadpan -- or should that be bedpan? "Can we just stop there and get used to that layer?"

And then, discovering the woman is wearing an old sheet of tabloid newspaper under her clothes, she suddenly comes over all nostalgic: "Oh -- Dirty Den! Do you remember that? 'Dirty Den in web sex scandal'!"

Yes, I remember it vividly. The story broke, I think, round about five or six years ago. It takes round about five or six seconds for the implication of this to sink in, and then the gag hits you in the mental gut. There are a lot of gags like that in Getting On. They sneak up on you.

Seinfeld was, famously, a comedy about nothing. Getting On, shot in the shaky, hand-held style of an observational documentary, is a comedy about little or nothing; last night's episode revolved mostly around Kim, Denise and Dr Moore trying to offload their patient onto someone else.

It's brilliantly funny -- though probably best avoided if you happen to have an elderly relative in hospital.

From the mordant to the morbid and Bodysnatchers of New York, a horribly compelling documentary that's also likely to make you think twice about what might be happening in hospitals.

This chilling feature-length film told the gruesome story of Michael Mastromarino, a "defrocked dentist" who made more than $5m from harvesting the bones of the recently deceased and selling them on, via his tissue recovery company, to various medical corporations, who then sold them on to public hospitals for transplant.

The practice is perfectly legal in America -- provided, that is, you get the consent of the dead person's relatives before you start butchering their corpse. Mastromarino didn't bother with such niceties. He just struck a deal with an unscrupulous funeral parlour which sold him bodies -- many of them with severely diseased tissue and bones -- at $1,000 a throw.

The scandal came to prominence when it was discovered that legendary broadcaster Alistair Cooke, 95 and riddled with cancer when he died, was among those whose bodies were plundered. As he did with all the bodies, Mastromarino removed Cooke's bones and replaced them with PVC pipes.

Mastromarino, currently serving a sentence off 18-59 years and relating his side of the story from prison, he still can't understand the awfulness of what he did.

Complaining about how the newspapers labelled him "a ghoul" and cowering under a cloak of victimhood, he's no monster. There are no such things as monsters; merely men. That's what makes the story all the more disturbing.


Getting on (BBC4)

Bodysnatchers of New York (More4)

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