Childrens Hospital premieres tonight on Adult Swim at 10:30pm EST.
If there's one thing I learned from the WGA strike a few years ago, it's that when given total creative control—unencumbered by network "stakeholders"—showrunners do great things. Exhibit A: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
Exhibit B: Childrens Hospital, initially a web series for thewb.com. Rob Corddry, former Daily Show correspondent and all-around funny guy, conceived of the series after watching tons of Grey's Anatomy and realizing, hey, it's freakin' ridiculous - yet trying really hard to be taken seriously. (David Wain is a co-producer as well.) Thus Childrens Hospital was born, a heavily satirical look at the lives of doctors who treat sick kids. Now the series is finding a new life on Adult Swim, airing the 10 five-or-so minute webisodes in groups of two, starting tonight and ending with a brand new second season August 22.
There's a lot about the series that could have only been born out of the strike. For one, the cast of characters is a comedy dream team (they were all probably pretty available), each with his or her trope exploited for effect. Corddry's character is perpetually in clown make-up and believes only in the healing power of laughter. Megan Mullally is the chief and walks with two canes, a la Dr. Kerry Weaver. Lake Bell is fickle about romance. Ken Marino is Jewish. And within the first few minutes of episode 1, Ed Helms and Nate Corddry ogle Mullally's character, with Helms offering, "I would like to bang her in her clumsy vagina."
The show ain't messing around. There are jokes about cancer, retards, AIDS, minorities, and even 9/11 during the series. But the topics themselves aren't the butt of the joke, rather the characters who are so callous and self-involved, they hardly recognize just how offensive they are. There's very little plot other than a little bit of dating drama, thus the jokes take center stage and Childrens Hospital becomes a bunch of adult comedians fucking around—exploring their dark sides with zero consequences.
It's surprising what they find. The first half of tonight's premiere has Erinn Hayes so desperate to break up with Rob Huebel's character that she fakes having a brain tumor; when she goes back on it, Huebel's so obsessed with the disease he refuses to hear a word she says—and this is after he demands to cut open a girl because he wants to make sure she has the right kind of "arm guts" inside her broken arm. The show's loose, improv-like sensibility includes plenty of callbacks to earlier jokes and TV tropes, not just medical ones either. Later, in what would have been the second episode online, Huebel meets up with his former police partner, played by the brilliant Nick Offerman, and the two reminisce about the good ol' days on the force.
This show succeeded because the Internet demanded fast and furious joke writing, and smartly Adult Swim lets the episodes pretty much stand on their own, airing two at a time. There are only a few bleeps; strangely for "Jesus Christ" at one point. And in the new season—at least the one episode I could see on the press site—the string of wonderful guest stars continues with Adam Scott and Clark Duke (letting themselves be way over-the-top dorky), and Jeffrey Ross (oddly at ease with total self-mockery). Though the series was born on the Internet, it feels right at home on Adult Swim. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and a rare chance to watch comics I love do whatever the hell they want. And if the show takes Grey's Anatomy down a notch in the process, even better.
- I was bummed at first with how little Ken Marino does in this first episode, but he gets a lot more later on.
- Those looking at the WB site for the other episodes, well, Adult Swim took them down to direct people to its own site. Ah well.
- "Did you know in space there are no laws? We should go there."