TV

'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

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image