'Getting On' Creators on Taking Big Swings With the Series Finale

by Stacy Lambe 10:25 AM PST, December 14, 2015
Photo: HBO

After three hilarious -- and all too short -- seasons, HBO’s Getting On drew to a close on Sunday. The series, which follows the lives of the doctors and nurses working at an extended care medical ward, earned critical acclaim throughout its run, with Niecy Nash’s performance as nurse Denise “DiDi” Ortley picking up a 2015 Primetime Emmy nomination. Following Sunday’s finale, the show also picked up two 2016 Critics’ Choice Award nominations.

MORE: For Alex Borstein, 'Getting On' Is the Icing of Her Acting Career

An adaptation of a British series of the same name, Getting On relied on subtle humor and sharp wit rooted in unexpected emotion that brought tears of joy and sadness. The finale was no different as the staff -- Dr. Jenna James (Laurie Metcalf), Dawn Forchette (Alex Borstein), Patsy De La Serda (Mel Rodriguez), and Didi -- made a last-ditch effort to save their ward from closure. The final season also dealt with a health crisis as Dawn went on dialysis due to kidney failure, leading to an unexpected shift in the relationships between the nurses. Sunday’s finale wrapped up the series in typical Getting On fashion. SPOILER ALERT: There were unexpected revelations -- Marguerite (Lindsey Kraft) coming out as transsexual, Patsy seducing Dr. Ron (Grant Bowler), and Dawn crying wolf -- as well as an emotional goodbye.

MORE: How Niecy Nash Is Changing Lanes and Getting All the Laughs 

In an email conversation with creators and husbands Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, they opened up about the show’s final moments and their favorite scenes from the season. “It really doesn’t get any better than this,” the two revealed of working on this series. 

ETonline: What’s your favorite scene from the series?

Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer: We loved writing the whole “Dr. James doesn’t want to follow through on her public promise to give Dawn her kidney” story. This is really a sequence of scenes and it takes us from the beginning to the end of the finale. We love the whole dynamic as it feels like classic Getting On. And it winds its way through some of those other favorite scenes: Rita Moreno scavenging for nurses, Jenna trying to get Janis Ian to stop singing, the sharing circle where we find out a real doozy about Marguerite. We loved writing our big action sequence and how it all ends in our most favorite moment when Jenna tells Dawn what she really wants to tell her about there being no justice in the world. 

Describe the writing process and how it came together.

All our ideas come from our life, our own family, our marriage -- out of the “air” when we bat around things together. This season was built very carefully and some ideas you have right at the start and some you find because you need them. We took big swings this season and we wanted to make sure we wrote a finale that would hit the sweet spot. Our scenes come from hearing our characters in our heads all the time and from images that just pop into one of our heads and that we then elaborate on, together. A friend of ours described us a having a “vulcan mind merge.” And other people have said that. We’re very different, but we’re really two sides of the same coin. 

What does the final scene -- the flash forward to Dr. James and Dawn heading into surgery to make good on the promise to donate a kidney -- mean for the show and its characters?

The last scene where Jenna speaks her truth to Dawn was meant to show that we knew these characters all along. They may have surprised us, or disappointed us with their failures sometimes. But we knew them to be just who they were. We really love all our characters (and boy these ones in particular) and so the final scene just seems right to us. Our characters have only grown in the sense that they’ve become more of who they are. Maybe they’re a bit more conscious of who they are -- but they’d probably make the same mistakes and be the same characters we’ve come to love in their next show.

Photo: HBO

What do the actors bring to the script? Did they add any unexpected moments on screen?  

Actors always add the unexpected to the moment. At least the ones we are interested in working with. They know what the moment is; they don’t try to make it a different moment than the one we’ve written. But they commit and bring themselves in such a way that they inevitably enrich the moment. Our actors are true gems to us. A look, a glance, a rhythm that we didn’t write but that they made is what makes the work alive. I think when there is trust between really great actors and good writing and directing then you get a feeling of absolute necessity and specificity, a sense it could not have been ANY other way, yet a feeling of truth and spontaneity. Like they aren’t acting. Like ballet dancers who don’t make it look hard to do the impossible. 

How does being married and creative partners work for you two? 

It works for us. We’re a good team. Half of our careers we wrote as single entities and it was those works that got the attention of people and we both had successful careers as writers before we started to write together. We still write solo, but in some sense we know that we were somehow fated as much to fall in love as to fall into writing together. I (Will) never thought I’d be part of a writing team, truthfully I had pretty strong doubts I’d ever be part of any team -- but Mark makes me a better person and a better writer. I’d say it’s Double Happiness if it weren’t so hard, too. 24/7 365 days a year all up in each other’s faces is not for the faint of heart. But we’ve gotten better at all of it, I (Will) think. We’ve gotten better at fighting and better at surrendering and better at knowing what we each bring to the marriage and the collaboration that makes it good for us. And hopefully that translates into good for the people who like our work.

How do you come up with ideas? Is it together or separately?

Both. We have different processes so we come up with ideas from different place in ourselves and then we also talk and talk and talk and that engenders coming up with ideas together. We don’t write together. We write separately. But I’d say we create together. And it would take a whole lot more space and time to explain that to you than we have. Thankfully for all of us.

The entire series is now available on HBO Now and HBO Go. Watch an exclusive, NSFW gag reel from the making of season 2 below: