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'Getting On' With It: A New HBO Show Doesn't Tiptoe Around Death

Set in the geriatric extended-care wing of a California hospital, Getting On is a different kind of workplace comedy. Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer adapted the show from a BBC series.


Other segments from the episode on November 14, 2014

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 14, 2014: Interview with Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer; Review of two new albums by Eric Hofbauer's jazz quintet; Review of the film "Foxcatcher."


November 14, 2014

Guests: Will Scheffer & Mark Olsen

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.


LAURIE METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) I'm Dr. Jenna James. How are you? Do know where you are? You're in the Billy Barnes Extended Care Unit. I'm just filling in until they get someone permanent. I'm actually a real doctor over at the hospital.

DAVIES: The HBO comedy series "Getting On," which began its second season Sunday, is set in the women's geriatric extended care wing of a Southern California hospital. That was Laurie Metcalf as a doctor who considers working there a demotion.

"Getting On" is told from the perspective of doctors and nurses dealing with patients near death who have dementia and often don't know where they are. The stressed-out nurses are dealing with body fluids, end-of-life issues and doctors and patients who don't appreciate what they do.

But, yes, this is a comedy. New York Times TV critic Neil Genzlinger wrote, (quote) "this fictional hospital unit, in all its ridiculousness, feels somehow true to life." Our guests are the creators of "Getting On," Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer, who also created the HBO series "Big Love." "Getting On" is adapted from the BBC series of the same name but has a lot of new material that comes out of experiences Scheffer and Olsen had when their mothers were in care facilities at the end of their lives.

Terry spoke to them last year during the first season of "Getting on." Here's a scene from the first episode. After some fecal matter is discovered on a chair in the common area, the head nurse of the unit, Dawn Forchette, played by Alex Borstein, is going over the incident report prepared by nurse Didi Ortley, played by Niecy Nash. It's Didi's first day on the unit. Dawn, the head nurse, speaks first.


ALEX BORSTEIN: (As Dawn Forchette) Found a feces in a chair. No, no. The incident reports need to be really, really specific.

NIECY NASH: (As Didi Ortley) OK, what else should I put?

BORSTEIN: (As Dawn Forchette) Well, for starters, it's not a feces. It's just feces.

NASH: (As Didi Ortley) But, I mean, it wasn't a gang of them. It was just one piece.

BORSTEIN: (As Dawn Forchette) But - yeah, but there's no singular form for feces. It's not fece (ph) or a fece (ph). It's just feces. Who found it?

NASH: (As Didi Ortley) Me.

BORSTEIN: (As Dawn Forchette) When did they find it?

NASH: (As Didi Ortley) I found it. See, this is my name right here.

BORSTEIN: (As Dawn Forchette) Technically, because it's a potential agent of infection, we would have environmental services come down to collect it. But the backlog is horrendous. So I'm just going to go ahead and have you red-bag it.

NASH: (As Didi Ortley) If it'll make it quicker, I could just pick it up with a Kleenex, wipe off the chair with some bleach - boom.

BORSTEIN: (As Dawn Forchette) Yeah, that might be what you do at home, but you cannot do that in the hospital.


TERRY GROSS, HOST: Will Scheffer, Mark Olsen, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on the new series. I want you to describe the premise in your words.

WILL SCHEFFER: We used to say you can't avoid death and taxes in this culture, but it's gotten to the point now where you can't avoid death, taxes and caring for the elderly. And really, you know, we are all dealing with this now, and we wanted to find a safe, funny, warm place that we could come as an audience and experience that.

MARK V. OLSEN: It's funny. I think both Will and I have over the course of the last five, 10 years been devoted to the care of our mothers, who are aging. And I think we've both had different takeaways from it and different pieces that we've learned or have become important to us or whatnot.

An additional item for me on this show is going through my mother's care and going through it with her extended team of caregivers. There's such a value to the work that those people do that we kind of wanted to take a different approach to the workplace comedy. And instead of dramatizing or highlighting the ways in which the workplace dehumanize us and make us invisible and whatnot, we wanted to actually celebrate the workplace and celebrate the fact that in many instances, particularly amongst this group of caregivers, it gives value to a life.

And that's something that was very much on at least both our minds, I think.

GROSS: Yes, but...


OLSEN: Yes, but, yes, but, yes, but...

GROSS: Yes, yes, yes but, you know, there's - one of the nurses in there, Didi, is just - she has such a gift for wiping somebody's behind in the gentlest, most respectful way, knowing how to lift somebody out of a chair and clean up puke and stuff. She's just wonderful at what she does. She's incredibly undervalued.

But, you know, there's other people who work there who are really, like, going through the motions but think that they are the most wonderful caregivers, and they're, you know, in touch with death. And really, like, they're not even paying attention half the time.

And, you know, for those of us who've had loved ones in facilities, we've seen both extremes.

SCHEFFER: I think, you know, in our show, you know, we love all these characters, even the crazy ones who are sort of all wrapped up in their own egos and sometimes miss the point of what they're doing. And I think you're right, Terry, that we've witnessed both extremes. You know, Mark's mom, we brought her out here to California. And out here there are these little boarding-care places, where you can have skilled nursing that are sort of the opposite of what our show dramatizes, which is a more institutional wing, a more, you know, nursing home-like, you know, wing of a hospital.

And we used to love going to see Mark's mom, you know, and be with the three or four women who had Alzheimer's there and the family who cared for them, because we laughed a lot there, and we felt like we were in a family. My mom in New York City, on the other hand, would be shipped out of a hospital into one of these rehabs. And I'd have to go get her out, which was a real process of, like, getting her out under orders that I should not do that by the doctors there.

You know, and that was the experience I think you're referring to, where it just seemed like an elder mill, where the elderly were ignored. And we're sort of trying to mix both those experiences that we had and also do something with our characters where you can fall in love with even the most careless of our caregivers.

GROSS: So Will, you had to fly from the West Coast to the East Coast when your mother was sick?

SCHEFFER: Yes, I did. I had grown up on the East Coast, and she was still there. And...

OLSEN: The story of "Big Love" was both of us being on the West Coast, taking care of our mothers - Will's in New York City, mine in mid-state Nebraska.


OLSEN: And so we would - we sort of alternated weekends flying out from the last flight, you know, Friday night from Burbank, me landing in Omaha at midnight and getting into my mom's house at 2 in the morning to make sure the food was good, the caretakers were on schedule, her hygiene was good, the doctors' appointments were being met, everything that everyone who's tended to a, you know, a parent in their latter years deals with, to get on the plane at 5 in the morning Monday back to Los Angeles and stages for "Big Love." And Will in turn making that same schlep from Burbank to New York. And so the show kind of grew out of that process for us.

GROSS: OK, well, knowing this and knowing the trips that you had to make so frequently in the final time of your mothers' lives, there's a scene I want to play from your new series "Getting On." And this is a scene in which Molly Shannon plays the daughter of one of the women in this extended care facility.

And Molly Shannon, like, flies in. You know, it's been a seven-hour trip. And she wants to talk to the doctor. And she has her ideas of what the doctor should be doing, which of course irritates the doctor. And I think most people who have a parent in a geographically distant place has experienced something similar to this...



GROSS: ...To this scene. So this is Molly Shannon as the patient's daughter and Laurie Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James.


METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Dr. Jenna James, how can I help?

MOLLY SHANNON: (As Phyllis Marmatan) Yeah, my mother is in a lot of pain.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Yes, we're doing the very best we can to alleviate that.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) Yes, it's just that I - gosh, I know nothing about this, of course, but I did read on the Internet...

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) We caution relatives not to do too much Googling. A little knowledge...

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) I did drive seven hours to get here. So I feel a responsibility to be my mom's advocate, and I did read that people with my mother's level of pain should be on either Tramadol or a more, like, morphine-based drug like Oramorph.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Well, the Internet is awash with other drugs that people could be on, but rest assured we are doing our very best.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) I just, I printed up this, with all respect to...

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Well, it could be this, could be that, but I've considered the many choices.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I think what Dr. James is saying is that we - there's always alternatives.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Absolutely, could be oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, Percocet, Pethadine, morphine, Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) You know what? I really feel like nobody's listening to me. I'm trying to show you this, and I feel like nobody's letting me talk.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) You're absolutely talking, and I'm absolutely listening.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) No, I'm trying to tell you that she is in pain. She needs more help in dealing with her chemotherapy.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) No, no, there's no chemo.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) What do you mean there's no chemo?

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Well, the tumors were much more invasive than we thought, and we're well beyond chemo. Dr. Luccini said that this was all explained on the phone.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) This was not explained to me. Dr. Luccini told me that he would be sending her to rehab.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Yes, well sometimes rehab is the palliative - I'm sure there's a note in my...

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) Well, may I see the notes?

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) No, you won't be able to understand the notes.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) But they're my mom's notes. So I think I have a right to see my mom's notes. I'd like to see the notes.

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) They're incomprehensible. Yes, but they are misunderstood or misinterpreted and usually in very negative ways. For example SOB, that's not going to mean what you think it's going to mean.

SHANNON: (As Phyllis) So palliative? So what are you saying? You're saying she's dying?

METCALF: (As Dr. Jenna James) Yes.

GROSS: OK, that's a scene from "Getting On," and my guests, Will Scheffer and Mark Olsen, are the creators and writers of this new HBO series. So did you have scenes in your life that were similar to that, where you kind of flew in and either found out something that you should've already known but nobody told you, or you had suggestions that the doctor didn't really want to hear?

OLSEN: We go through our scripts, and we can usually assign etiology. This is a 90 percent I experienced it, this is a 90 percent you experienced that.

GROSS: (Laughter).

OLSEN: This is probably a two-thirds Will experience and a one-third Mark experience. Most of those moments Will experienced with his mom in New York, sort of, landing in the land of Stalinist-Maoist medical doublespeak and trying to penetrate it.

SCHEFFER: And my mom, you know, like just hated being in hospitals. So I'd get it from both ends because, like, she'd inevitably, you know, say something like what took you so long, you know, when I got there and just would be like get me out of here, and, you know, and the nurses would look at me with - sheepishly, like oh boy, you've got it hard.

GROSS: (Laughter).

SCHEFFER: You know, my mom still had all her marbles, and she was a tough cookie. But yet, you know, this kind of having to advocate, you know, endlessly for your loved one, it takes all of your energy, and you have to really suck it up. And, you know, I would Google things and knowing, you know, that it was probably not a good idea.

But, you know, I'd go right up to the doctor and just get into it with them, and of course, doctors don't like being challenged. They're the experts. And - but this was my experience largely with dealing with doctors. And, you know, but I think advocacy is the word that we learn as we have to, like, fight our way through the medical system.

GROSS: Yes, and the Molly Shannon scene also reminded me of trying to walk that line between advocate and pest.


GROSS: And you never know which side of the line the medical staff perceives you as being on.

SCHEFFER: I think that's spot on, you know, because I - you know, you have to learn this kind of strategy of, like, I'm going to be firm, yet I'm not going to alienate anybody, you know. So it's this dance that you do when you get to the hospital of, like, I'm going to get that nurse to give my mother another painkiller, but I'm going to do it in a nice way so that they don't hate me.

You know, and there've been all sorts of - I have lots of stories of, like, I've fired nurses from rooms.

OLSEN: Yeah, I think actually I took a whack on the first draft of that scene. And part of it was channeling anecdotes that Will brought back, you know, over the years with his mother's care in New York. And part of it was just eavesdropping on his care of me when I was in UCLA hospital with some major surgery four or five years ago.

And just, it was sort of an armchair seat watching him as an advocate trying to fire nurses, trying to get different antibiotics, trying to get, you know, a different regimen of healthcare and a different treatment plan going, and pretty fierce, pretty fierce stuff.

GROSS: Did you...

SCHEFFER: I think I learned my lesson with Mark, actually, that I was a little too aggressive. So that when I got to my mom...

OLSEN: Well, it is true. I'd lie in my - I'd be lying in my bed at 6 in the morning and hear the clip-clop of his shoes coming down the linoleum hallway, and think oh God, here comes trouble.

GROSS: Why would you think here comes trouble?

OLSEN: Because within 10 minutes he's going to be at it with the doctors when they're on their rounds. And I'm going to be sitting here on morphine kind of watching this pageant going on in front of me as my beloved is fiercely advocating on my medical benefit and perhaps not initially, in his first outing in this capacity, doing it in the most diplomatic of manners.


GROSS: So Will, I have to ask you how does it make you feel to hear Mark say that - that here-comes-trouble part?

SCHEFFER: Well, you know, it's funny. He tells two versions of the story. He tells one where the clip-clop of the shoes was the most beautiful sound he ever heard. And now I hear the...

OLSEN: That's true, too.

SCHEFFER: I hear the version about the clip-clop is more like the Wicked Witch of the West, you know, coming to create a disaster. But, you know, I think that it's a learned skill, you know. And luckily or unluckily, I had to do it a lot, you know. And I think I became a good advocate, you know, by making mistakes and finally learning that there was a way to sort of navigate the system and be firm and not be a pest, as you say, but really sort of get what my mom needed done.

And, you know, sometimes it was getting her out of a place. I have to say that was sometimes under her pressure of, you know, get me out of here, get me out of here. And that would sort of fire me up. And there was more than one time where we just wound up leaving a, quote-unquote, "rehab" with the doctors saying, well, you go without my medical advisement, but I can fill this bed in a minute, so it doesn't really matter to me.

DAVIES: Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer are creators of the HBO series "Getting On," which began its second season Sunday. They also created HBO's "Big Love." We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR and we're listening to Terry's interview with Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer, creators of the HBO series "Getting On," which began its second season Sunday.

GROSS: There's a really nice scene in which the most caring nurse, Didi, played by Niecy Nash, who had been on "Reno 911," she's very gentle with this, you know, very old woman who is on the commode. And Niecy wipes her behind and helps her up just in the most respectful way. And then when you're thinking, wow, like the patient and the healthcare worker, you know, the nurse, they're just like really bonding.

And then the patient says to her can you help me find my keys, dear, I have to get to the office. And you realize that, you know, that this patient is living in the past completely. She has no idea where she is or why she's there. And it just made me think about how difficult it is when someone you love is a patient in a facility, and the people taking care of them will never really know who your loved one is because of dementia or because they're too sick to explain.

And it's just this - just a really sad reality.

SCHEFFER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we try and, like, show that reality and then bring some laughter into it so it's safe to go there. But Mark, do you want to talk about that?

OLSEN: Yeah, and boy, there's so many, so many, so many - you push a lot of buttons with that one, or a lot of questions come up, or a lot of feelings come up. When - my mother was diagnosed with non-stroke aphasia in 2001 or 2002, which is akin to Parkinson's. There's a slow, growing attack on the capacity to speak, understand speech, read words, that ultimately leads to dementia. And over the course of the last 10 years, that was her progression.

And as she - you know, when there was that first diagnosis of aphasia, you know, I had that poetic little moment that was quite narcissistic that, oh my God, there will come a day when she says I love you for the very last time. And that was sort of my self-involvement with it initially.

But over the course of those years, I certainly learned that - that day did come, certainly, but the relationship did not die in any way, shape or form. It continued and progressed and had great value. But a long road back to this - but when my mother finally lost the capacity to speak - because she was a very articulate woman, a very verbal woman with a very storied past - when she lost that ability to speak, and she was left with caretakers, it saddened me tremendously.

And it didn't matter who the caretaker was, good caretaker, bad caretaker. It didn't matter - that they would never know who this woman was. They would never know, you know, her escapades in the U.S. Navy or her adventures in the South Seas. They'd never know her interest in linguistics. They'd never know her rich, deep sense of humor.

And it hurts. It hurts on a deep, true level that we really didn't know what to do with except put it in a show, in a way.

SCHEFFER: And be with it. I mean...

OLSEN: And be with it.

SCHEFFER: One of the things that was so - I think what caring for our mothers really taught us, all the way up through the hospice experience was, like, that this part of life, you know, that so many people are afraid of, and for good reason, it's kind of a privilege to be able to be there when you can. So we would go over and see Mark's mom.

He'd go over a lot and talk, you know, for hours, carrying on these one-sided conversations with her. And it always touched me to see how much energy it took to carry on a conversation when you're the only speaker. And I'd go and...

OLSEN: It's not that different than a marriage.


SCHEFFER: Well, you see, "Big Love" was about marriage. And luckily we were married at the time, and still are, that we were writing that. And this is about caring for the elderly. And we were doing that at the time we were writing it, too. But, you know, I think that that act of carrying on conversations with someone who can't speak to you and being with them as they're dying, there was a kind of sense of privilege that we began to feel and sort of a sense that gosh, you know, I was so afraid of this, I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to be here.

But being here is starting to feel like a good thing, a good part of life, something that we avoid in this culture but that actually is a rich experience, albeit painful. It actually is so much a part of life. And so many people never get to be in it.

DAVIES: Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer will be back in the second half of the show. They created the HBO series "Getting On," which began its second season Sunday. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're listening to Terry's interview with Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer, creators of the HBO comedy series "Getting On," which began its second season Sunday. "Getting On" is set in the geriatric extended care unit of a Southern California hospital. It focuses on doctors and nurses caring for patients at the end of life and dealing with the hospital bureaucracy. Some of the storylines are drawn from their experiences, when their mothers were in care facilities at the end of their lives. Olsen and Scheffer also created that HBO series "Big Love." Terry spoke to them last year during the first season of "Getting On."


GROSS: Although "Getting On" is based in part on your personal experiences, it's also adapted from a BBC series, which - was that also called "Getting On?"

OLSEN: It was.


GROSS: So how did you...

SCHEFFER: Yes, it was.

GROSS: How did you find out about that series and why did you decide to do like an American adaptation of it?

OLSEN: We decided to do the American adaptation because it was stunningly close to some ideas that we had been working up. Over the course of a couple of years, we were batting ideas back and forth on our commute up to "Big Love" every morning about an adult woman and her two adult daughters - so the architecture of the three women working in the elder-care industry - with much the same feel as the show, showing, you know, the class differences and the comedic moments.

And serendipitously, we were on a trip to London three years ago, and Jo Brand's face was all over the Tube from a new book she had out. And...

GROSS: She's the star of the British series.

OLSEN: She's the star of the British series. Googling her in the hotel room one night led us to YouTube clips of the show. And I remember it was like three in the morning when I was watching them, jet-lagged and watching them and shaking Will and waking him up and going, oh, my God, you've got to watch this. It's exactly what we want to do. It's just spot on. And that led us down the road.

SCHEFFER: And we were lucky enough to - as soon as "Big Love" was over, we - our first meeting was with our producing partners, BBC Worldwide. Jane Tranter, the head of that organization, had run the BBC and "Getting On," this little show in England, you know. Also it was the last show she had green lit. And I remember her saying to us - you want to do an adaptation of "Getting On" after "Big Love?" That's crazy. It's such a small little gem of a show, you know, don't you want to do something big and grand and operatic? And we said no, we want to do this.

And she got the rights for us and we were able to talk to the British women who created it, and they were lovely. And we used an awful lot of their material, of course, mixed in with our own, to make this show. And the whole documentary style of the show and the comedic treatment of these very kind of difficult medical, you know, situations is based on their treatment of the material.

GROSS: So there's some wonderful actresses playing the older patients in the extended care facility in your series. And I'm wondering what casting them is like? Are they retired actresses?

SCHEFFER: The extras are mostly just, you know, women who have gotten into extra acting work after their retirement. And so we had a wonderful casting, extra casting agent and also, you know, extras casting agent who brought us wonderful faces. And we were able to see who we really, you know, could work with. And sometimes we'd give them a speaking bit. And we just, you know, here we are in Southern California, the land of face work and, you know, we knew that we wanted our show to be authentic. And we had to find authentic elderly people to fill out a lot of the background.

OLSEN: Well, and that's true as to the extras. We wanted a great tableau to - a great backdrop, a great background of great faces, as it were. It's almost Norma Desmond-esque. We wanted faces in our show. But they're such an amazing pool of incredibly gifted actresses, you know, up in years. And I don't want to say that it was, you know, ripe for the picking because these women obviously still work.

June Squibb, for God's sakes is, you know, legendary in the film "Nebraska" that's just out. But, you know - and when Ann Guilbert came in, she has a nice role that runs the course of the season. And she was Millie on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."


OLSEN: And when Ann - yeah.


OLSEN: She was Millie Helper. You know, that's who she is.


OLSEN: And when Anne Jeffreys came in it's like, my God, she goes back...

GROSS: Anne Jeffreys from "Topper?"




GROSS: The ghostess with the mostest?

OLSEN: She was Donna in episode two, I mean, or episode three. I'm sorry.

SCHEFFER: No, episode two. You're right.

OLSEN: Episode two, yeah - who played the, who had the one featured moment in a film in the '40s called "Singer In A Gift Box" in our show.

GROSS: Oh, and they Google her.

OLSEN: Yeah.

GROSS: She's the one they Google and they find out she was beautiful when she was young. Wow.

OLSEN: Exactly. You know, and June Squibb - it's, writing for these women is joyous. Having them on the set is joyous. You know when we did "Big Love" and got to hang around Harry Dean Stanton, you know, we developed a keen appreciation for Hollywood legends. And, well, Harry's, you know, more than just a legend. He's an amazing human being. But these women are - they're treasures and we adore being able to write for them and give them parts.

GROSS: So I have to ask you, you are legally married now, right?

OLSEN: Mm-hmm.

SCHEFFER: Yes, we are.

GROSS: So has that affected your healthcare? I know you could probably afford healthcare. I mean, you do HBO series. You're not poor.


GROSS: But, still, has it affected either like your healthcare or your ability to do things, like have all the perks, like if one of you or one of your loved ones is in the hospital to have all the perks that are allowed only immediate family.

SCHEFFER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, when I had to take care of Mark at UCLA, we weren't legally married. And I remember having to sort of fight my way sometimes into a room and say, I am his domestic partner. And, you know, it was tough and sort of - I guess, demeaning would be the word that comes to mind. But we have a good healthcare policy through the Writers Guild of America, thank goodness. But if before we were legally married - before this year - we were to pool our healthcare as a married couple and take benefits as a domestic partner, let's say, before we were married, we had to pay taxes on those benefits. And now that we're married, that goes away.

OLSEN: And God knows, it's made just, you know, when DOMA fell and the federal government changed its stripes, it made just incredible differences in, you know, inheritance and the macabre, byzantine way we had to structure our estates and whatnot to protect each other.

SCHEFFER: As we think - as we think about getting on, you know, ourselves as a gay married couple, you know, it was always really scary to figure out what was going to happen with our, you know, with our lives - how we were going to take care of each other, how, if one of us died first, it was going to affect the other.

And I have to say that it was a tenuous situation still for us, you know, as a not-recognized married couple in California, federally. And, you know, this year we filed our first, you know, joint tax form together. And that was a huge symbolic step for us. I mean, this has been a huge experience being recognized, federally, as a married couple.

GROSS: Since you mentioned thinking ahead to the future about getting on yourselves, having just done this series "Getting On," do you worry about what happens, you know, years from now if, you know, if you get, you know, chronically ill or dementia or something and you end up needing full-time care?

OLSEN: Terry?


OLSEN: Worried about it? It consumes every waking thought we have.


OLSEN: On our commutes to work, standing in line at the bank - it's all we think about. We have internal debates. We toss coins. Who's going first? I'm not sticking around if you're not here. And you're not going to leave me holding the bag. And...

SCHEFFER: Do we have enough railings in our house?


OLSEN: Yeah. We redid our house over the last couple years and trying to think prospectively, but not wanting to tip our cards too much, we insisted that we needed a few more wash rag hangers in, you know, in the bathtub...


OLSEN: ...when really, we're basically talking about grab bars and trying to be prepared for the future.


OLSEN: So, you know, is this doorway wide enough for that wheelchair in 30 years? Or, of course, you can't, having gone through it, you can't help but, you know, look ahead obsessively about what it will be like for you as well.

GROSS: So the long-care facility is called the Billy Barnes Extended Care Facility. There is a Billy Barnes who wrote the song "Have I Stayed Too Long At The Fair." You didn't name it after him, did you?

OLSEN: Oh, yes, we did.

GROSS: Did you really?


OLSEN: Yeah, the song, you know, well, you know, you just say the title of the song.

GROSS: Oh, I get it. "Have I Stayed Too Long At The Fair?" Oh.

OLSEN: Yeah.


SCHEFFER: Well, you know, and it's interesting because we actually got a message from - an email from someone who was friends with Billy Barnes' long-term partner. And so we didn't know that Billy Barnes was gay or that he had a long-term partner. So this all comes full circle. He, through this friend, wrote us saying how much he appreciated that it was named after Billy Barnes and it moved him so much. And that was a just nice little...

OLSEN: Yeah.

SCHEFFER: know, perk.

GROSS: Well, guess what?


GROSS: We have a copy of his song, "Have I Stayed Too Long At The Fair?"



GROSS: So we can end with that.


OLSEN: Aww, that's lovely. That's lovely.

SCHEFFER: That's really nice.

GROSS: Great, Oh, wow. Oh, what a surprise. OK.


GROSS: Will Scheffer, Mark Olsen, it's great to talk with you again. Congratulations on the new series. And thank you so much for coming back to FRESH AIR.

OLSEN: Oh, thank you.

SCHEFFER: We always love being here. Thank you.


BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) I wanted the music to play on forever. Have I stayed too long at the fair? I wanted the clown to be constantly clever. Have I stayed too long at the fair? I bought me blue ribbons to tie up my hair, but I couldn't find anybody to care. The merry-go-round is beginning to slow now. Have I stayed too long at the fair? The music has stopped and the children must go now. Have I stayed too long at the fair?

DAVIES: Barbra Streisand recorded in 2006. Mark Wilson and - Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer spoke with Terry last year. They created the HBO series "Getting On," which began its second season this week. It airs Sunday nights at 10:30. Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews jazz reinterpretations of some classical pieces. This is FRESH AIR.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. Boston jazz guitarist Eric Hofbauer's quintet has two new CDs out, playing 20th century classical music pieces. One is the year's second jazz version of Stravinsky's "Rite Of Spring" following The Bad Plus's version. The other is Olivier Messiaen's very un-jazzy "Quartet For The End Of Time." Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead likes him a lot.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Easy to hear why jazz musicians have taken to "The Rite Of Spring." Stravinsky's pulsing rhythms, thick bitonal harmonies and catchy little themes are jazz ready-mades. Eric Hofbauer's compact quintet makes that plain while recalling the village band from Stravinsky's "Soldier's Tale." That's Hofbauer on guitar with the fine drummer Curt Newton.


WHITEHEAD: Eric Hofbauer's quintet hit on all of Stravinsky's themes, giving them jazzy articulation and timing. They open them out for improvisations that stay true to the material. The players never fight it. It helps to have musicians comfortable in both worlds. And clarinetist Todd Brunel, trumpeter Jerry Sabatini and cellist Junko Fujiwara, who sometimes mimics a swinging bass player, their Stravinsky sounds surprisingly Ellingtonian.


WHITEHEAD: "The Rite Of Spring" is one of two volumes of Eric Hofbauer's so-called "Prehistoric Jazz" - that title taken from a comment Leonard Bernstein once made about The Rite. Volume two is more daring - a recasting of Olivier Messiaen's "Quartet For The End Of Time." Hofbauer's "Quintet For The End Of Time" is for the same versatile band.


WHITEHEAD: Playing the Messiaen requires delicacy. The quartet's inseparable from the circumstances of its creation. It premiered and was mostly written at a German POW camp where Messiaen was being held in 1941 and played by captive musicians, including the composer on piano. The quartet deals with time, but not in a pounding Stravinskian in way. The slow tempos seem to take the listener out of time - music for prisoners. Messiaen borrowed some timeless melodic material from blackbirds and nightingales - symbols of freedom outside the barbed wire.


WHITEHEAD: Messiaen wasn't the only wartime detainee contemplating birds. Ezra Pound saw how birds sitting on wires outside his detention camp looked like notes on a musical staff. There's no guitar in Messiaen's Quartet. And Eric Hofbauer's six-string can sound jarring when he shadows a written solo line. You can think of guitars' parallel wires as standing in for the camp fence looming in the background.


WHITEHEAD: Once in a great while, Eric Hofbauer's "Quintet For The End Of Time" sounds almost jubilant. Messiaen, after all, did play his way out of prison like Lead Belly. A sympathetic guard forged some papers and got him released months after the Quartet's premier. Hofbauer's two smartly arranged, impeccably played volumes of "Prehistoric Jazz" are all the more remarkable because the whole project's such a long shot. To pull off the Stravinsky is tricky enough. To jazz up the Messiaen without messing up - now that is a great escape.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and Wondering Sound and is the author of "Why Jazz?". Eric Hofbauer's CDs are on the Prehistoric Jazz label. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new film "Foxcatcher." This is FRESH AIR.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. The new film "Foxcatcher" is based on the true story of the wealthy chemical company heir John du Pont and his fraught relationship with two Olympic wrestlers - Mark Schultz and his brother Dave. Is directed by Bennett Miller, who made "Capote" and "Money Ball." And it stars Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: At the center of the true life drama "Foxcatcher" is Steve Carell as you have never seen or heard him before. He plays John Du Pont of the Du Ponts. And the performance confirms what F. Scott Fitzgerald said of the rich - they are different from you and me. Oh boy, they're different. Carell tilts his head up at a 45 degree angle, looking down his long beak, which is false by the way. His inflections are peculiar - rhythmless. He's so abstracted that he's eerie, as if the rules of human intercourse don't apply to him. He's also obsessed with wrestling. The film is set in the late '80s and '90s. And DuPont wants to fund and house and coach a team on his vast estate near Philadelphia, Foxcatcher, that goes all the way to the Olympics. Wealth is not enough for him. Like many regular Americans, his identity hinges on winning. So he summons Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum - a former Olympian who's presently at low ebb.


STEVE CARELL: (As John Du Pont) Do you have any idea why asked you to come here today?

CHANNING TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) No.

CARELL: (As John Du Pont) No. Well, Mark, do you have any idea who I am?

TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) No.

CARELL: (As John Du Pont) Some rich guy calls you on the phone. I want Mark Schultz to come visit me. I'm a wrestling coach. And I have a deep love - the sport of wrestling. And I wanted to speak with you about your future- about what you hope to achieve. What do you hope to achieve, Mark?

TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) I want to be the best in the world. I want to go to world and win gold. I want to go to the 88 Olympics in Seoul - win gold.

CARELL: (As John Du Pont) Good. I'm proud of you.

EDELSTEIN: The good thing about that scene is it's deadpan. One bizarre rich guy reaching out of his solipsistic haze to a poor, seriously depressed athlete. It's cloud cuckoo land, played to make you laugh uncomfortably and prepare for a strange journey ahead. "Foxcatcher" has wowed many critics at festivals. There's talk of awards for Steve Carell. My own response is cooler. After that first meeting between Schultz and Du Pont, Bennett Miller directs the next two hours in exactly the same key. Tatum and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman never make clear why Schultz is so sunk in gloom from the opening frame. He seems generically tortured. And Carell runs out of variations. All that is left is to watch him get crazier and potentially explosive while everyone around him pretends not to notice. In real life, some people around Du Pont did notice and considered institutionalizing him just before he picked up a gun and committed an act of shocking violence. But Miller wants to create a vacuum in which little is spoken aloud. He doesn't oversell the movie's thesis, but it's easily inferred. Even in America, a man like Du Pont can behave with the capricious destructiveness of old monarchs. He can buy himself an Olympic medal. It's a fascinating case study perfect for a magazine article or book. But as drama, it's one sick joke. You know everything you are going to know about these people from their first scenes. I had a similar problem with Miller and Futterman's acclaimed Capote. Sure, in the title role, Philip Seymour Hoffman killed. But the film itself was sour and ponderous - a long slog exposing Capote's duplicity and self-loathing with no regard for his art. You don't even get that much out of "Foxcatcher." Cinematically, it's more resourceful. But in the end, it's just a bloated true crime story. My favorite character is the most normal - Schultz's brother, Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo. Du Pont brings Dave in as a so-called assistant coach, though of course Dave does all the coaching, Du Pont being absent and ineffectual. Ruffalo comes off as a real human being, puzzled by his new job, but happy for the opportunity. In the best scene, Du Pont sends a film crew to interview Dave on the subject of Du Pont's genius as a coach. They want Dave to say he considers Du Pont a mentor. I woke up from the stupor the movie put me in when Ruffalo registered subtle disbelief and then struggled to get those words out. It's the only time in "Foxcatcher" when you don't know what a character will do next.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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