“Attention Staff” S4 / E11
- B+ Community Grade
I remember, when I started watching Childrens Hospital, it took me too long to realize that that was Michael Cera reading the announcements over the PA. Like, I’d hear the announcements and chuckle, and then I’d see his name in the credits as “Sal Viscuso” and wonder what the hell was going on. It took me at least a couple episodes before I put it together, which is very embarrassing, because Michael Cera’s voice is pretty distinctive.
I’m honestly surprised it took the show this long to tackle the mystery of Sal, whose announcements can be bizarrely specific, completely meta, and rarely useful. His name is a TV in-joke—after the actor who voiced the PA system in M*A*S*H, perhaps the greatest hospital comedy of them all. The Rob Corddry-penned effort “Attention Staff” is kind of a blockbuster—along with a brief, ridiculous appearance by Cera (who is cultivating a very peculiar look right now) there was Jon Hamm as hospital founder Arthur Childrens, and an elaborate Ghost Hunters spoof that Corddry has obviously wanted to bust out for a while.
Although Dori, Lola, and Val ave brief appearances watching the madness unfold (and getting very excited about Owen’s barely buried anguish over being molested by his uncle as a child) and Chief sets up shop in a doorway and doesn’t move for the rest of the episode, this is a pretty pared-down effort after last week’s epic, which makes sense to me. Since Owen is in such hilarious, sad denial about his tragic past (which he equates to the actions of ghosts, making him a skilled ghost hunter) Blake gets to do all the hero business, including trying to take down a hidden door with a bunch of files in probably the funniest sight gag of the episode.
Obviously Childrens Hospital has a very fluid sense of character and it’s no big thing for circumstances to drastically change from week to week, but Blake has been the butt of jokes for so long now, it’s funny in and of itself to see him act like a straight-man hero. The only problem being, there’s nothing for him to really resolve. Sure, he finds out who Sal is—a kid whose aging process was halted during Arthur Childrens’ mad experiments in search of the fountain of youth. But since we need some kind of pat conclusion, we get one with Michael Cera, wearing a hat and carrying a cane, who gives Blake some vague advice and calls himself a “friend.” “Thanks, friend,” Blake says, but the whole thing feels meaningless. Which, I assume, is the point.
I do wish there had been a little more for Hamm to do. He looks wonderful in his vintage suit and his scenes with a delirious Sy are fine, but I feel he gets a little lost in the chatter since the episode is so focused on Sal. Since the concept of Childrens is so ridiculous, I hope we get another episode devoted to his mad experiments sometime. Just do a ’30s throwback, guys, and cast everyone in weird past-self roles! The thing writes itself!
The Ghost Hunters spoof, which certainly comes out of left field, is hilarious, especially since Huebel plays his anguish so perfectly. It’s instantly ridiculous that he doesn’t understand he had been molested, of course, but then when Blake casually mentions it and it hits him, Huebel just goes full hog. Not over the top screaming and yelling, but he lets us know that Owen has been rocked to his very core. Plus, you know, shots of people’s faces as they run around in the dark screaming is just funny. Put the Childrens cast in a regular episode of Ghost Hunters and I’m sure I’d be laughing.
- Sal gets to everyone, except for Dori when he makes a blonde joke. “That’s offensive, but most stereotypes are based in truth.”
- Sal steals Val’s eraser. “Dammit! I was just about to make a mistake, too! There goes that plan!”
- Sy’s right arm is crushed under a shelf. “Now I’m gonna have to learn to bat lefty. That means I'm gonna pull all the balls to right field! NOOO!”
- Owen gives his ghost hunters a pep talk. “Remember, it’s your fault, and if you ever speak about it to anyone, Santa Claus will never come to your houses again.”