The comfort of a familiar Brand

Getting On

Getting On, featuring the wonderful Jo Brand. (though actually, they’re all good)

Jo Brand walked past me in the National Theatre foyer on Wednesday, and I felt a little star struck.  The humanity of the character she plays in Getting On, and the way she comes across elsewhere – a kind, open, friendly and intelligent person.  I ought to have loved her already because she provided a rather wonderful quote for the cover of this.

But there you are – sometimes it takes time to work out how you feel about someone.

I’ve come to Getting On, the comedy set in a geriatric hospital, VERY late.  That is, I’ve watched the last two episodes of the third series.

It is REALLY good.  Quite different.  Seems to be filmed in a bright, washed-out light that I associate with fridges   As Deborah Orr has pointed out, Getting On may be unusual, but it succeeds in part because it deploys the familiar ‘rule of three’, or comic triple.  It’s the same formula, she explains, that brought such success to The Office, Only Fools and Horses, Father Ted and Frasier.  So, it has three central characters, where the one with ostensibly the most status is actually the most idiotic. The next one is almost as desperate but deserves a better mentor and, and then there’s the smart one, who enjoys observing the others, but is not smart enough (or sufficiently motivated), to escape.  With Jo Brand’s character, as with Martin Freeman’s Tim in The Office, you know they’d be better off working somewhere else: anywhere else.  And you care enough for them to half wish they would leave.

One hears about these rules.

The seven basic plots.

The Rule of four in US local news (avuncular-type; younger female co-anchor; jockish sports guy and camp/jolly weather person).

The Rule of Three in beer commercials (a lone drinker looks sad, two looks gay, four or more looks like a gang, so three it is).

The Wingman – in detective dramas, so that the smart one can explain how he solved the case. Also applies to chat-shows.  And Doctor Who (a wing-woman)

Hero(ine), Love Interest, Confidante and Enemy – the four people all dramas need (I heard from someone in a pub once)

It seems that once the audience is presented with these standard elements, its mental space is freed up to absorb what else is happening.  Same reason why President Obama always wears the same clothes – it’s one less decision he has to take.  We like a familiar setting – our brains can cope better with the uncertainty about what’s coming next.

PS.  I’m being asked what play I was at the theatre to see.  It was The Magistrate.  And here’s the thing.  It’s a comedy, starring John Lithgow, which has been well-reviewed. Anyway, because I was tired, I found myself dropping off a few times (my fault, not the play’s).  And after a while I had NO IDEA who the characters were.  The humour was all about tangled relationships and the problem of little lies that become bigger, but I didn’t know WTF was happening.  It became so depressing to sit in an audience that is laughing along and not knowing why that I became annoyed and then upset.  It was torture.

So I left at the interval.

And I really wish Jo Brand was still in the foyer, because she would have cheered me up.


Jo Brand. She’s as wonderful as the sister I actually have

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