Television

'Childrens Hospital' Season Three - Alicia Silverstone Arc

As if to underline the show's awkward angle on humor, the characters here are extremely abstract, referencing stock players from famous medical dramas, but twisted.


Childrens Hospital

Airtime: Thursdays, midnight ET
Cast: Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Rob HUebel, Megan Mullally, Malin Akerman, Henry Winkler
Subtitle: Season Three - Alicia Silverstone Arc
Network: Adult Swim
Creator: Rob Corddry
Air date: 2011-08-11
Website
Amazon

Childrens Hospital never fails to deliver laughs, though in recent episodes, these have been fewer than before. The current season, which began in June, doesn’t really stand up to the inspired lunacy of the first, released in 2008 as a series of five-minute webisodes on TheWB.com. After it was picked up by Adult Swim, Childrens Hospital was extended to 15-minute episodes. Since then, the focus has shifted from absurd anti-comedy to parody of medical dramas like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and St. Elsewhere.

This more conventional format has sapped the original webisodes' energy and edge. The superficial signs of the change are easy to see: for instance, employees of the titular hospital don't die and then pop up again inexplicably in the next episode. But for a show as original as this one, even small movement into the realm of situation comedy feels like a defeat.

Even in its new, less aggressively innovative form, it's hard to describe what Childrens Hospital is “about,” and trying to do so can't really get at the viewer's experience anyway. For one thing, the series assumes a television-literate audience, and serves up exactly what is unexpected. As with many shows in the anti-comedy tradition, this one often draws attention to the limitations of the joke form by highlighting the predictability of set-ups immediately followed by punch lines. Where “normal” jokes would pay off, anti-comedy lingers in pointedly awkward situations, requiring expert delivery and unflinching commitment from performers.

As if to underline this awkwardness, the characters here are extremely abstract, referencing stock players from famous medical dramas, but twisted. Valerie Flame (Malin Ackerman) is a nod to the noble female physician who works long hours but somehow looks perfect after a double shift. Sy Mittleton (Henry Winkler) is an affable hospital administrator, though everyone assumes he's a backstabbing company man. The crutches of Chief (Megan Mullally) allude to Dr. Weaver's in ER, though she also has a bit of the battiness of Aunt Bea from The Andy Griffith Show, coupled with the randiness of Samantha from Sex and the City.

Pulling together a couple of themes, Dr. Blake Downs (Rob Corddry) is a strong believer in “the healing power of laughter.” We're not precisely reassured of this by his regular appearance, namely, clown makeup and scrubs that are always stained with blood. Like a demonic Patch Adams, Dr. Downs keeps to his alternative medical philosophy even where more traditional medicine probably would be more helpful. Throughout the series, we've seen him in surgery, telling jokes into his patients’ open chest cavities while blood-soaked rubber chickens and whoopee cushions lay on the instrument table with the scalpels and rib-spreaders. He never understands why people are always dying on him.

The episodes airing 11 August and 25 August, “The Night Shift” and “Party Down,” like many before them, are structured around gags set up by ridiculous circumstances: the hospital's used as a set to shoot pornography, a fake nurse is electrocuted to death, Dr. Downs' rival clown doctor (Seth Morris) returns, and so does David Wain as Rabbi Jewy McJew Jew.

As the rabbi's name and appearance suggest, Childrens Hospital occasionally takes aim at political correctness, much like other anti-comedy shows (say, The Sarah Silverman Program). “Being a Jew is fantastic," he says, "We have big hands, we kick ass at math, and we can lift three times our body weight.” Or again, “Every Jewish boy dreams of being an older Jewish man.” The use of the stereotype challenges the stereotype: it's a familiar trick, but not ineffective.

Similarly, the show is hardly invested in common plot devices: it's not precisely a spoiler to say that a main character dies during these two episodes. Death has no meaning in the world of Childrens Hospital. In fact, the saddest aspect this passing is that it likely will remind fans of earlier seasons when characters were dying almost every episode. Nick Kroll’s appearance as a lusty shift manager will likewise remind fans of his much funnier role as Little Nicky, the boy from Season Two with the advanced aging disease. It seems unfair to complain that Childrens Hospital isn’t great. But given that what it used to be, good isn't really good enough.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.