Checking In with Adult Swim’s New ‘Childrens Hospital’ Spin-off ‘Newsreaders’
Adult Swim added another 11-minute comedy to its roster last night – or yesterday morning. The network’s new series, Newsreaders, is a spin-off from Rob Corddry’s Childrens Hospital, but whereas Childrens Hospital riffs on over-dramatic medical dramas, Newsreaders skewers news magazine shows like 60 Minutes and 20/20. Like Childrens Hospital and Adult Swim sister show NTSF:SD:SUV, Newsreaders is jam-packed with great jokes, and the show’s first two episodes find it full of potential.
Newsreaders is hosted by actor Mather Zickel, a veteran of producer David Wain’s comedies, as serious newsman Louis La Fonda. As he proved during the three Childrens Hospital episodes that inspired Newsreaders to spin off into its own show, Zickel can nail the newsman look and cadence, while adding an absurdist edge to the proceedings. The episodes of Childrens Hospital that he appeared in involved La Fonda and his news program profiling the cast of the medical drama, but in the spin-off, the wildly-talented Childrens Hospital cast isn’t there to back La Fonda up and he’s instead at the center of the show. The writers flesh out and silly-up Louis La Fonda’s character well for the spin-off, but the show is missing the rich ensemble casts of its siblings Childrens Hospital and NTSF. Aside from Mather Zickel, the only person who’s in both of the two episodes that were screened for critics is Twin Peaks‘ Ray Wise, closing out the shows beautifully with a short-but-sweet segment as a demented Andy Rooney-esque news curmudgeon. Funny folks like Kumail Nanjiani, Beth Dover, and Dannah Phirman play recurring Newsreaders correspondents in future episodes but aren’t on the show full-time, meaning Newsreaders lacks the repertory cast that works so well for Childrens and NTSF.
Newsreaders plugs that hole with a cavalcade of talented guest stars. In the two episodes I’ve seen alone, the show ropes in both big names (Conan O’Brien, Dan Rather), beloved comedic actors (Brian Posehn, Missi Pyle, Thomas Middleditch), and dramatic actors you’d never expect to turn up in an 11-minute Adult Swim show (Mad Men‘s Aaron Staton). Staton and Middleditch are paired up in the premiere episode, “Auto Erotic,” which finds Louis La Fonda investigating an internet porn series called “Fuck Van,” and the two are pitch-perfect as the pair of crusty college guys who created the line of dirty videos. Posehn and Pyle turn in solid performances in this one too as a Brian Posehn-y creepy guy and a morally dubious corporate spokesperson, respectively. Leaning heavily on different guest stars each week adds to the show’s news magazine feel by only keeping Mather Zickel onscreen week-to-week, and if they continue to pull in impressive performances from impressive folks like this, it’ll keep working. Future episodes are set to include ringers like Tom Lennon, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ed Begley Jr., Rachael Harris, Dave Foley, Kerri Kenney, and Dennis Haysbert, making it feel almost like there’s not room for an ensemble cast because there are too many funny guest stars packed into every episode.
In reviews, outlets like The AV Club have compared Newsreaders to a long Daily Show correspondent segment, but off of the two episodes I’ve seen, that doesn’t seem that accurate. Because the show is populated with fictional characters and tightly-scripted with quality jokes you can’t get out of the ordinary citizens The Daily Show tends to interview, it has its own unique feel, even though both shows are satirizing investigative journalism. Newreaders is also dealing with completely made-up news stories, instead of real ones – even though the real stories The Daily Show investigates often feel just a hair away from something a comedy writer would concoct. There is a lot of Daily Show blood in Newsreaders, however. The series was co-created by Daily Show alumnus Rob Corddry (along with his Childrens Hospital cronies David Wain and Jonathan Stern), Wyatt Cenac and Rachel Axler each wrote an episode, and the showrunner is Jim Margolis, who served as a producer on the Comedy Central fake news juggernaut for six years, where he first met Corddry. Margolis is also a veteran of the kinds of news magazine shows that Newsreaders is parodying, having worked as a producer for Frontline, the BBC, and 60 Minutes before transitioning from real news to fake news.
Childrens Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV each grew exponentially between their first and second seasons (not that they weren’t great from the start), and with Newsreaders already starting as a funny and well-oiled show, it could developed into as respected a comedy show as its 11-minute Adult Swim brethren if it continues to build on the solid work that’s been established in its initial episodes.