More accessible than Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, riskier than Family Guy and only slightly more linear than Robot Chicken, Childrens Hospital is a comedy gem in the Adult Swim line-up. Underneath its juvenile humor and wholly idiotic characters is a smart satire of TV medical dramas from M*A*S*H to ER and Grey's Anatomy. The third season pokes fun at the “secret romance” storyline, flashback episodes, Our Town, and on-set cast feuds, and while the humor might be off-kilter, the show never goes too far off the rails.
Childrens Hospital, a hospital for children and named for Dr. Arthur Childrens, is set in the present day or the 1970s, South America or small town America, whatever the writers need it to be depending on the episode. The only constants are the characters. Glenn (Ken Marino) is the hot-shot Jewish doctor secretly (and later not-so-secretly) dating Valerie (Malin Akerman) who is really Jon Hamm in disguise. Meanwhile, Valerie is girl-crushing on Dr. Cat Black (Lake Bell), and her housemate Lola (Erinn Hayes) is trying to get over her ex Dr. Brian (Jordan Peele) who left Childrens Hospital to be a medical consultant on Marlon Wayans' hit TV show Black Hospital. Dr. Owen Maestro (Rob Huebel), Sy (Henry Winkler), and Chief (Megan Mullally) round out the cast, and Blake (Rob Corddry) is the face of the show as a clown doctor looking to prove the healing power of laughter.
Though Rob Corddry is the show's creator, the best way to gauge someone's enjoyment of Childrens Hospital is how much they enjoy David Wain's humor like Wet Hot American Summer or The Ten. Most of the cast and creators of Childrens Hospital have ties back to David Wain who has written forty-four episodes and directed four episodes of the show, and his influence is clearly evident. What the show does very well is setting up a parody of an overused TV medical drama trope without being too obvious in how they do it. In the episode “The Night Shift,” the episode appears to be the medical show staple “the gang has to work the night shift” episode with sexual tension in the on-call room and kooky night shift doctors. Partway through, though, it seamlessly shifts into the “major character's death” episode complete with the gang carrying their dead friend out of the hospital to a song by an obscure indie musician. The scene reminded me of the “How to Save a Life” montage from Scrubs or the “Breathe (2 AM)” montage from Grey's Anatomy, and it is familiar to anyone who has watched TV dramas in the past 20 years.
What kept me glued to season 3 of Childrens Hospital beyond its poking and prodding at TV tropes was the pure silliness of it. Nothing is taken seriously, and nothing is sacred. The show jokes about male chauvinism, criminally insane children, sex with the physically handicapped, abortion, and that awkward moment when you realize you have been giving new parents the wrong babies from the nursery. While shows like South Park or even It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia try to work teachable moments in amongst the crude humor, Childrens Hospital is purely about killer jokes, and since the characters and circumstances are easily malleable, the show is well suited for lots of guest stars and recurring characters. The line-up of guest stars from season 3 was particularly impressive, and I had a tough time picking my favorite. If I had to choose, it would probably be a tie between Nick Offerman as Detective Briggs who goes undercover in the children's psych ward as a murderous child (complete with ratty teddy bear) or David Wain as Jewy McJewjew who helps Glenn prepare for his long overdue bar mitzvah. Then again, I am still getting over the shock of Matthew Perry's cameo at the end of “The Black Doctor.”
For people still on the fence about Childrens Hospital, the advantage that it has over other meta-comedies like Community is the short running time. Each episode is only 15 minutes long and the show has very little continuity, so new viewers can jump in at almost any point and finish a whole 14-episode season in a little over 3 hours. Plus, every episode is so packed full of jokes that it holds up to multiple viewings. I've already watched the whole season twice and “The 70's Episode” and “Ward 8” three times over. For me, it is definitely worth owning on DVD for the show alone, not even mentioning the season's hilarious special features.
DVD Bonus Features
Special features include a bloopers reel, deleted scenes, and a series of web promos featuring Dr. Owen Maestro teaching a group of bratty children about the human body. Usually deleted scenes were deleted for a reason, but they were so funny that I was wishing for more after they were over. Also, I suspect that anyone familiar with children's TV will get a huge kick out of Dr. Owen's hybrid of “Magic School Bus” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
"Childrens Hospital: The Complete Third Season" is on sale July 24, 2012 and is not rated. Comedy. Directed by David Wain, Rob Corddry. Written by David Wain, Rob Corddry. Starring Erinn Hayes, Henry Winkler, Ken Marino, Lake Bell, Malin Akerman, Megan Mullally, Rob Corddry, Rob Huebel.