LOS ANGELES -- She's appeared in numerous film and TV productions since the 1990s, but folks are most likely to recognize Alex Borstein only after she opens her mouth.
The 40-year-old actress is the nasally voice of long-suffering Lois Griffin, wife of hapless hubby Peter Griffin on the Fox animated series "Family Guy."
But soon, Borstein's face could become familiar, too.
Though the actress logged five seasons on the Fox sketch-comedy series "MADtv," only now does she seem ready for her close-up. Borstein joins Laurie Metcalf and Niecy Nash as one of the three leads in HBO's Americanization of the widely acclaimed British comedy "Getting On."
Like the original, HBO's version, which debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. EST, gleans laughs from the most unexpected place: a hospital's neglected all-women's geriatric wing.
It spoils nothing to reveal the pilot's series-defining moment, as nurses played by Borstein and Nash frantically attempt to understand a woman's pleas for help. Problem is, she's shouting in a foreign language. It takes the caregivers two desperate and side-splitting minutes to decipher what is being said, but an interpreter's translation is worth the wait:
"I can't stand this. I wish I was dead. Please kill me."
The patient could well be referring to the hospital wing's hilarious yet heartbreaking "M-A-S-H"-like setting and characters.
"There are really funny things that happen," Borstein commented in a recent interview. "(But) we're not laughing at anyone. It feels like a real honest peek into this world."
In fact, "Getting On" is also serious business, even for the frequently funny trio of leads.
"Laurie, Niecy and I are actresses of a certain age," said Borstein, "and most places don't want to look at that anymore. I just think it's amazing that HBO says, 'No, I think people do.'"
Borstein brought her 2-month-old daughter (with actor-husband Jackson Douglas) to the set while filming the pilot, and she clearly left work that day with a grasp of what "Getting On" was getting at.
"I had to clean her bottom and take care of her," Borstein said of her newborn. "And you can't help notice: We're the same coming in as we are going out."