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Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Childrens Hospital's Triumphant Return

The 15-minute absurdist Adult Swim comedy Childrens Hospital had its third season premiere last night, delving back into the world of solemn medical dramas to mine for more humor. Season 3’s first episode picked up right where the show left off, delivering everything fans have come to expect from Childrens Hospital: big-name cameos, rapid-fire meta-jokes, and a complete disregard for plot, continuity, and basic standards of good taste. Also, Rob Huebel’s bare ass.

“Run, Dr. Lola Spratt, Run” begins with a cold open typical of the procedurals it’s parodying but new to Childrens Hospital, in which we get a short glimpse of the terrible accident that leads this week’s patient into the lives of our favorite Brazilian hospital staff. In the opening, a 13-year-old boy is manipulated into chasing a soccer ball into a fenced-off portion of a quicksand farm by two teenage girls who promise they’ll let him “play German soldier girl prisoners” with them, only to find himself encased in quicksand seconds later. After doing a little research, I found that this plotline was inspired by an actual Grey’s Anatomy episode, in which the staff must treat a boy trapped in a block of concrete. It must make Rob Corddry and company’s jobs easier when the show they’re parodying is so over-the-top in the first place that they can just slightly tweak an actual episode to turn it into a great comedy premise.

The premiere featured snazzy new opening credits, complete with the hilarious faux-names for the actors playing the characters on the show within the show. We learned many of these false names in the Season 2 episode “End of the Middle,” but there are some new ones here that are quite amusing. At the bottom of this recap, you can take a look at the full roster of names, complete with screenshots. My favorite is Ken Marino’s “Just Falcon,” but they’re all pretty funny. These credits were a nice touch and I wouldn’t mind seeing them each week if this was a full-length show, but continuing to use them would eat up too much of the show’s scant 11 minute runtime.

The medical emergency at the center of this episode occurs on a Saturday, so hospital administrator Sy Mittleman (returning Henry Winkler) calls the Childrens Hospital group in from their weekend activities. Cat Black is rock-climbing, Owen Maestro is piloting a jet without any pants on, hospital founder Derrick Childrens (played by Jon Hamm, who is back for a surprise cameo) is summoned by his butler to don his Batman-esque guise of Dr. Valerie Flame, Blake Downs rides a lightcycle out of  “a Tron-like world,” Dr. Glenn Richie is in bed with House star Lisa Edelstein, Chief is watching over a city as an attractive, able-bodied superhero, and Lola Spratt is working with a voiceover coach, apparently looking to be Childrens Hospital's new narrator. This “getting the gang back together” montage is a very dynamic sequence full of funny visual gags, and it’s a great way to reintroduce put the show’s main characters back in action for the new season.

Dr. Lola Spratt may be the only one who can save the teen boy from drowning in quicksand — and she’s the one staffer missing from the hospital. Lola’s quest to arrive in time is made near-impossible by her car’s dependence on fossil fuels and a run-in with her disturbed ex-boyfriend Greg, who’s been drinking a lot lately and wrote a book in his head after his whole family committed suicide. Lola rises to the challenge, though, passing through a trippy cartoon world to save the boy’s life just in time. The episode’s B-plot (if you can call it that) plays off the doctors’ trademark incompetence nicely to find Drs. Maestro and Flame spending the episode trying to figure out why Nurse Dori has gained so much weight over the past nine months.

At 11 minutes in runtime (without commercials), Childrens Hospital is a snack, not a meal, but it’s a very fun and enjoyable little treat. As Rob Corddry’s character notes in a meta-gag, “Nothing here, no story, no sense of continuity, interchangeable characters, mostly a lot of bathroom jokes.” That’s exactly what’s so great about Childrens Hospital. The show’s refusal to play by the rules makes it feel unlike anything else on TV. Childrens Hospital's wanton disregard for what we’ve come to expect from a weekly series is a refreshing break from the monotony of the television landscape. If the season premiere is any indication of what to expect from the rest of the third season, then the show is back in full form, promising a memorably-ridiculous 14-episode run.

Next week (spoilers ahead):

Sarah Silverman guest stars as a Blake’s ex-girlfriend, and Nick “Ron Swanson” Offerman returns as Detective Chance Briggs, policeman and former partner of Dr. Maestro. After a significant presence in the initial web series that composed Childrens Hospital's first TV season, Offerman was underrepresented in Season 2, only appearing in one episode. This may have been due to Parks and Rec's hectic shooting schedule to cover for Amy Poehler’s pregnancy last summer. With Parks' schedule running normally this time around, we’ll hopefully get to see a little bit more of Offerman on Childrens Hospital this season.

Stuff you should know about:

  • As with a typical Childrens Hospital episode, this one was packed with blink-and-you-miss-it cameos from some comedy mainstays, including Ian Abercrombie (Elaine’s boss from Seinfeld) as Jon Hamm’s butler, The Mighty Boosh's Rich Fulcher as Lola’s creepy ex-boyfriend Greg, and Mr. Show's Becky Thyre as Lola’s voiceover coach.
  • The parade of alt-comedy guest stars won’t end there, as the rest of the season will feature guest spots from a slew of talented actors and actresses that include Rob Riggle, Matt Besser, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Jordan Peele, Alicia Silverstone, and Michael McKean, as well as the aforementioned Sarah Silverman and Nick Offerman.
  • Rob Corddry and Rob Huebel live-tweeted the episode last night. If you’re interested, the tweets are likely still up, barring some calamitous meltdown of Twitter as we know it. Rob Corddry tweeted and Rob Huebel confirmed that the cockpit set from the scene with Huebel’s character piloting a plane butt-naked was the same one used for the movie Airplane!
  • Speaking of Twitter, there’s now an official Childrens Hospital Twitter account for the hospital P.A. system operator, featuring what look like rejected non-sequiturs that are read off over the loudspeaker by the disembodied voice of Michael Cera in every episode.
  • Rob Corddry gives us a glimpse of some Childrens Hospital episodes we can expect to see later this season in this recent interview. Far and away the most promising is an episode entitled “Party Down.” Here’s how Corddry describes it: “It’s discovered that Glenn has never had a bar mitzvah, so Malin Akerman’s character Valerie throws him [one], and it’s catered.” Whether or not this will be a full-on Party Down reunion remains to be seen, but there are some very significant ties between the two shows. Most notably, both shows star Ken Marino and Megan Mullally, while Corddry guest starred on Party Down and Childrens Hospital producer David Wain directed an episode of the gone-too-soon Starz series. IMDB lists Party Down refugees Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, and Ryan Hansen as guesting together in a future Childrens Hospital episode together, leaving out only the very busy Adam Scott and Jane Lynch. Here’s hoping it’s more than just a throwaway gag.
  • Here’s screenshots of the opening credits sequence, in case you missed some of the amazing fake names of the actors within the show:

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    I enjoyed the episode, I never noticed that was Michael Cera on the PA before.

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Joshua Ungerleider Yeah, he's been doing it since the days of the web series.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Caroline-Anderson/731041782 Caroline Anderson

    Childrens is my favorite show and it would be impossible to name a favorite joke, character, or even episode.

    HOWEVER- I feel like Brian Huskey doesn't get nearly enough credit for his work. He's rarely credited in press, but his part is fairly substantial and HILARIOUS. The fact that they partnered him with Zandy in the opening hopefully means that he'll be back a bunch this season (although, I know that Zandy had her child at some point in the season. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say who is taking over for her role, but it's someone great).

    I can't wait to show him my sexy costume. Not kill him!

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Caroline Anderson Brian Huskey's really creepy and great on this show. John Ross Bowie deserves more credit, too. I also hope that Huskey's placement in the title sequence means he'll be around more this year. We'll have to wait and see.