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The Best Medicine? TBTS Looks at Childrens Hospital

June 14, 2011

Late last week I wrote about the decline of the animated comedy program, which may be happening and it may not be, and in that column I referenced Cartoon Network’s once-juggernaut Adult Swim, with its wacked out, adult-targeted, self-referential cartoons like Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law and Sealab 2021. In that same column I mentioned that the Adult Swim block had begun to give more and more way to filmed programs like Tim and Eric: Awesome Show Great Job and the one-off Check It Out! With Steve Bruhle.

I also made brief mention to Rob Corddry’s serial hospital “drama” Childrens Hospital, which has just returned for its second (network-shown) season. The fifteen-minute show, which began as a series of web programs put together by Corddry on a lark that paid off, is a parody of the ERs and Grey’s Anatomies of the world, with its lead characters being a team of doctors — each with his or her own abstract storylines — and the rotating cast of patients being gurneyed in and out of the hospital’s doors each week.

The cast reads like a dream: there’s Corddry himself, of The Daily Show and Hot Tub Time Machine, plays Dr. Blake Downs, a Patch Adams-esque doctor clad perpetually in clown makeup (it’s assumed he can’t take it off, and that’s how his face actually looks) who believes in the healing power of laughter instead of the conventional, proven power of medicine. There’s also Dr. Glenn Richie (Ken Marino of The State), the lothario doctor clad in a yarmulke, Dr. Owen Maestro (Rob Heubel, Human Giant) as a tough ex-cop-turned surgeon, Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) as the handicapped head of hospital staff, Dr. Lola Spratt (Erinn Hayes), who faked her death in a previous season and now is casually and acceptedly thought to be a ghost, and Sy Mittleman (Henry Winkler) as the hospital head who may or may not have a strange sexual attraction to butterflies. This brief collection is only a small trace of the massive alt-comedy ensemble staff rotating in and out of Childrens Hospital’s each episode, with guest stars abound — including Sarah Silverman, Nick Offerman, Jon Hamm, Nick Kroll and my personal favorite, David Wain as the ludicrously named Rabbi Jewy McJewJew.

It’s encouraging to see this many funny people in one place, having fun with a project that can’t make a tremendous amount of money. But that’s one of the best things about Childrens Hospital — one can almost trace each connected individual in the show back to the likely point of their meeting. Henry Winkler can be tied to Michael Cera (who plays the faceless voice of the hospital PA announcer, a character listed as “Sal Viscuso” in an homage to the anonymous PA voice on M*A*S*H) in an Arrested Development connection, Ken Marino was a co-hort in The State with David Wain, Megan Mullally is tied to Parks & Rec’s Nick Offerman because the two are married, and Rob Corddry can be tied to Lake Bell through the Ashton Kutcher vehicle What Happens in Vegas and Ed Helms from his Comedy Central days. That’s only the tip of the iceberg in a cast of eclectic comics whose paths cross intermittently in more mainstream venues, and it makes Childrens Hospital a somewhat “hot” show for an alt-comic to make his or her way onto. It often comes across as a group of people just goofing around and happening to make a television program.

Each episode has a great deal of fun sending up different conventions within the hospital show framework; a recent episode featured a cop going undercover in Ward 8, a special wing for criminally insane children, and an episode from last season nodded to Do the Right Thing when the hospital lost its A/C in the heat of summer. It’s completely absurd, all of it, and even with a showcase like Adult Swim it still seems to be flying completely under the radar.

You can link Childrens Hospital in with outlets like Comedy Bang Bang (formerly Comedy Death Ray Radio) and other comic hubs we’ve written on in the pages of TBTS before, and it certainly does seem that there’s a clique of L.A. comedy performers — the type you often see playing side-parts in movies as second banana more mainstream comics — just doing their own thing. Maybe it’s keeping busy and maybe it’s just having a laugh, but it works, and almost all of it is exponentially funnier than Kevin James’ upcoming film Zookeeper, which will make a zillion dollars this summer, will likely be. Someday, perhaps, these supporting-character comics will rise up and take over the comedy landscape proper, but until then we have solid, clever outlets like Childrens Hospital to keep the resistance movement broiling and growing, and that’s something for which we should be thankful.

 New episodes of Childrens Hospital air Fridays at midnight (EST) on Cartoon Network.

  1. Matt Shorr permalink
    August 2, 2011 2:22 pm

    Shame on me for not noticing earlier that “Sal Viscuso” also appeared in Pinocchio’s Revenge:

  2. Abner permalink
    August 28, 2011 6:56 am

    I love the rabbi. He has the religious schtick down to a tee. What is the 12 day period called where he is prohibited from screwing?

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