‘Childrens Hospital’s Fake British Version Was Just as Crazy as the Original
‘Structurally Sound’ is a recurring feature where each week a different structurally unusual, rule-breaking anomaly of an episode from a comedy series is examined.
“This Hospital is in the UK!”
Childrens Hospital is such a mainstay for Adult Swim that you might almost forget that the series began as a humble web series on TheWB.com. Now the series has amassed six seasons, several Emmys, and become sort of the Godfather of live-action programming on the risk-taking network. The series, which Rob Corddry masterminds, also features a real murderers’ row of talent in both the cast and the people behind the camera. With no end in sight for the series, it truly looks like there’s nothing that the show isn’t capable of tackling.
Childrens Hospital has repeatedly changed its genrea, relocating to Japan for a year (moving them out of Brazil, because remember, this show is set in Brazil), or taking on numerous ambitious structural departures that have seen the series transforming into a legal drama, fan fiction, a Herzog documentary, or even being a continuous single shot for the whole episode. The show even did a fake “live” episode much like Look Around You did, but managed to explore new ground for the concept, too. The series has even built an impressively thorough and complicated backstory for itself where Childrens Hospital has been running for decades like an old soap. Even two other Adult Swim programs, NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Newsreaders began as Childrens Hospital jokes before spinning off into their own series. With the series being so game with mixing things up and never taking itself too seriously, the idea of turning the show into an old British series, not unlike Eastenders, is right up their alley.
“British Hospital” is pretty staggering for how comprehensive it is. This British version of the usual show has an entirely new cast, even going as far as changing the names that appear in the opening credits. None of the usual regulars make any sort of appearance here, even through name alone. There’s a fake “Previously On” sequence that kicks things off and does an effective job of somehow not having you be completely clueless in this new universe. The sequence also manages to show a good chunk of this fake series, getting more mileage out of the idea than a single episode’s worth (it’s actually a little surprising that the series hasn’t returned to this universe, considering how long it’s been on at this point). Even the color palate appears to be skewed to provide a slightly different look to the episode.
It’s important to note here that “British Hospital” isn’t just an episode of Childrens Hospital that ends up being an entry from an entirely different show. This is still an ambitious device, but it’s one that’s been done a fair bit at this point. What’s happening here is that this is the British version of an existing US series. It’s a subtle, albeit fundamental difference between these two concepts, but the more challenging of the two as it also takes the idea of adaptation into consideration. A small touch like the ending music of the series now being a different, more fitting number for this show’s different sensibility is an example of just how much is being done.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with watching how this parallel version of the series follows in its footsteps as well as subverting concepts when necessary. The episode features a heavy amount of narration, aping Childrens Hospital’s style in its earlier seasons, while also using the device to be indulgently British. The relationships and dumb sexual tension that so regularly populate the main show still are prevalent but are steeped in areas like class systems, and moving on with the times and technology, applying a Downton Abbey-like makeover to it all.
Seeing the British equivalents of all of these characters and how the British adaptation process has occurred is delightful, such as Blake’s clown approximate being a mime — who of course uses “the healing power of mime” as opposed to laughter (which is such a good joke). Elsewhere Megan Mullally’s Chief is replaced by Frances Fisher’s Headmistress, and across the board these other name transformations can’t help but make you smile. Lola Pratt becomes Lulu Pratt, Valerie Flame is now Valerie Flume, with Kitty Black, Cyrus Mittleman, Glenn Richard, and Oren Meastro (played by Dominic Monaghan no less) being the other swap jobs. All of these feel just parallel enough to their counterparts to work. The episode even sees Michael Cera’s PA announcer experience a replacement in the form of Peter Serafinowicz doing an equally large guest role for little reward (and in an impeccable Michael Caine impression, adding further mileage to this voice-only gag). There is tons of material to be taken from this concept, and the episode never lets up. Even the British-ized (de-Americanized?) names are each laughable in their own regard
Childrens Hospital has been fortunate enough to feature a lot of guest writers during their run, but “British Hospital” goes for broke here by hiring the prestigious Sam Bain (Peep Show, Fresh Meat) to pen the script to make it extra authentic. Bain has a field day sending up his own culture, adding a beautiful extra layer to this experiment. If Peep Show weren’t wrapping up its nine-season run right now, the prospect of Bain letting Corddry and company muck around in his playground for a little bit holds a lot of potential. It’s a shame this relationship couldn’t see further expanding between parties.
”British Hospital” acts as a successful example of Childrens Hospital learning that they can basically do anything. Presenting a British approximate of their own series might not be the craziest thing that Childrens Hospital has ever attempted, but it’s certainly a healthy, earlier example of them letting loose. If not for this episode being so palatable and accepted by its audience, the much more incredulous endeavors that the show would embark on later would be harder to swallow. We may never return across the pond and see how Dr. Richard, Dr. Flume, et al are performing, but it’s comforting to know that they’re out there eating Jaffa Cakes and watching X Factor.