Typically, on TV comedies, jokes are the byproduct of lots and lots of set-up. Characters need to be memorable and fully realized; the world those characters exist in needs to have clear boundaries and specific social norms. The groundwork is laid to establish a foundation to churn out joke after joke after joke, and if none of that writerly stuff is there, the comedy flops. So many great comedies kick off the series by showing how the characters know each other and what sorts of things they find funny/offensive.
Well, Childrens Hospital throws all that out the window. The series, which debuted on the web two years ago, is an exercise in simply writing joke after joke after joke. The characters exist in service of the joke. Plot is only thrown in as a way to get to the jokes faster, and 99 percent of the stories are thrown out when the episode is over. It's exhausting, but it works when every comedic actor is game to give their most outrageous performances—and when the episode doesn't exceed the 11-12 minute mark. Childrens Hospital isn't trying to change the face of comedy forever, but it's become a primer to learn who the funniest people working today are and what they find hysterical.
Plus, very little changed when Childrens Hospital went from being an undercover side project on the web to a proper, albeit bite-sized, televised endeavor. Well, one thing changed: the level of ambition. Season one had the excellent, atypical episode told from the perspective of a visiting doctor. The second season, though, has seen Henry Winkler, Malin Akerman, a film noir-tinged episode, and Adam Scott wearing Klingon make-up. And as of tonight, we can add "fake live finale commenting on the ridiculousness of stunt TV" to the list as well—not to mention the return of David Wain in front of the camera, and Matt Walsh.
So, yeah, it wasn't live. I got a screener, in fact. But the episode wasn't any less fun knowing this (and it's not like you wouldn't be suspicious anyways). David Wain sets it up, then we watch as one of the cameras is knocked over and promptly put out of commission. Rob Corddry gets fed up because things derailed, and storms off, replaced first by Rob Huebel saying both parts of dialogue, and later by camera guy Walsh, wearing shoddy clown make-up of his own. Ken Marino continually walks into the wrong door, revealing the crew behind the camera, then cuts off his own finger. And the episode ends not on the surprising reveal of Jon Hamm, but in an awkward moment where Wain comes on the loudspeaker and tells the cast to fill 20 seconds of dead air. The show is committed to the live show conceit while openly mocking its challenges.
"The Sultan's Finger" is also Childrens Hospital at its densest. The big moments on the show draw a lot of comedy, but so much happens in the background to add more humor. At one point, Wain instructs the cast (via loudspeaker again) that the elevator isn't in service, so they have to take the stairs. The mad dash, though, means that the sultan has to rise from the gurney and run along with everyone else. (They also make mention of the fact that Childrens Hospital is filmed where they shot Scrubs.) When Marino opens the door on Wain and company, everyone ducks, but not everyone fits behind the monitors. There are jokes around every twist and turn, and the pace never slows.
Honestly there's not much more to say about this show. It's simply a hell of a lot of fun—a nice palate cleanser after Mad Men and, recently, The Walking Dead. There are more reliably funny shows on TV now than there have been in quite some time, yet Childrens Hospital provided more laughs-per-minute (LPM, very scientific) than any of them. It's going to be sorely missed in the off-season, but Adult Swim has wisely picked this thing up for a third season. What exciting developments await? Who cares? I'm here for the jokes.