LINK | Posted by Robin on Monday, August 06, 2012
Within the first few seconds of the season premiere of the fourth season of Childrens Hospital, an epidemic of airborne amnesia affects all the staff in the hospital. It's up to Glen (Ken Marino) and Lola (Erinn Hayes) to find the source before they, too, succumb. Meanwhile, Doctor Blake Downs, who is immune to the virus, has manipulated the affected staff into believing he is king of the hospital and creates his own society. Meanwhile, hospital director Sy Mittleman does his best to cover up the source, caused by a toxic sledge dump, and retreats to his personal panic room. Chaos ensues before Dr. Blake Owen develops an antidote, saving everyone.
Amazingly, this story plays out in under eleven minutes. Childrens Hospital is a fifteen-minute time slot on Adult Swim, a genius idea that most shows would benefit from. Childrens Hospital is so bizarre, farcical, and broad that eleven minutes is all it can sustain, so you leave it on a high note. Over the past three seasons, it has been the single most hilarious fifteen minutes of my week.
First conceived by comedian/writer Rob Corrdry, Childrens Hospital began as a web series that was a timely parody of popular hospital-setting shows, such as Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy. True to its inspiration, the staff was more concerned with their own shallow lives than that of the patients. There were the usual archetypes: the handsome suave doctor, the tough-as-nails surgical chief, the neurotic relationship-obsessed woman, and the bumbling idiot. Even though hospital-themed shows are no longer in the pop culture zeitgeist, Childrens Hospital continues to barrel through parodies of just about everything else.
Rob Corrdry still steals every scene and is likely the most recognizable character on the show. He is always in full clown makeup because he believes in the "healing power of laughter" and a running gag is that he will choose this route over medical need. The rest of the cast is brilliant in their roles, each its own center of a running gag including Megan Mullaley as the hyper-sexual head of surgery, the ubiquitous Rob Huebel as Dr. Owen Maestro, Lake Bell as the selfish Dr. Cat Black , Ken Marino as the ultra-orthodox Jewish Dr. Glenn Ritchie, and Malin Akerman as the unknowing sex symbol of the office, Dr. Valerie Flame (in season 2, it was revealed that she is really John Hamm in disguise. God, I hope they come back to that at some point.)
The key to the comedy of Childrens Hospital is not only the actors' delivery and commitment to the absurd humor, but in the power of parody. The whole concept of the show is a parody, but as the seasons have progressed, individual episodes have carried on as mini-parodies, including my favorite episode, a send up of Our Town. The show perfectly captures all aspects of the genre it is parodying, making the recognizable riffs the biggest payoff.
The second episode of the new season deals with the arrest and charge of Owen Maestro with the death of child. Immediately, and I mean within a few seconds of the beginning of the show, it immediately jumps into a perfect recreation of Law & Order, complete with with Cat and Glenn playing the role of the "I've seen it all" investigators, the all-too helpful witnesses, and Lola Spratt taking on the role of the green but agile lawyer, who succeeds with the help of a coke addiction. Other hallmarks of Law & Order make it like a comedy itch that is nicely scratched, because it hits on all the other hallmarks, like a judge who lets inappropriate court proceedings continue for the sake of the story, surprise evidence, and a last-minute surprise confession.
In a time when the comedy that is praised is quiet and pensive (Louie) or must be wrapped up in complicated multi-arc stories (Arrested Development), Childrens Hospital revels in its manic, absurdity and sight gags. The stories barely take a beat in the jokes, but since it is a shorter show, you really get more bang for the buck. Anyone new to the show can watch an episode and immediately be in on the joke.
Being on Adult Swim also allows for a lot of humor that one wouldn't see on primetime. Dead children, drug abuse, terrorism, disabilities, bodily fluids, STIs, rape, and racial stereotypes are all up for grabs. If this isn't your type of humor, I can never convince you to watch it, but if you appreciate comedy that is an equal-opportunity offender, you must take fifteen minutes out of your week to watch comedic genius happen.
To the surprise of the cast, Childrens Hospital was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Special Class Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program, but don't let that deter you. The fourth season of Childrens Hospital premieres August 9th at midnight on Adult Swim.