The Hilarious Show About The Least Funny Thing Ever
There’s something about medical dramas that fascinated people so much in the 2000’s that those shows dominated network programming and clogged up TiVos across the nation. The eternal struggle between life and death manifests itself in so many unique ways within the confines of a hospital’s halls that there’s a never- ending well of manufactured tear-jerking drama potential to tap into. Just ask Grey’s Anatomy – the ABC medical monolith is set to say goodbye on May 26th after a whopping 18 seasons.
But in all the self-serious serialized shows about the professional, social, and sex lives of attractive doctors in their late twenties, the absolute ace in the hole, break glass in case of an emergency, we desperately need an emotional moment move, is to throw in a melodramatic multi-episode arc about a sick child. Some of the most serious, sob-inducing moments of these shows came from such storylines. There is absolutely nothing funny about a dying kid.
Except ,of course, on Childrens Hospital. The collaboration between Rob Corddry of The Daily Show and Hot Tub Time Machine fame and David Wain, writer/director of Wet Hot American Summer, did seven seasons and garnered four Emmys on the premise of a Scrubs/ER/Grey’s Anatomy parody set in, well, a children’s hospital. The Adult Swim project crafted comedy gold out of literal dying children, fifteen minutes at a time.
Childrens Hospital began as a web series on TheWB.com in 2008. Rob Corddry, David Wain, and Jonathan Stern shot ten episodes at four to five minutes each. The star studded cast featured Lake Bell, Rob Corddry, Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel, Ken Marino, and Megan Mullally, with early cameos from late aughts comedy icons such as Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jason Sudeikis, and Nick Offerman. Both Nicks, Kroll and Offerman, would return to play recurring characters throughout the show’s run once it made it to TV.
The web series attracted the interest of both Comedy Central and Adult Swim, but Rob Corddry decided that the series was best suited for the fifteen-minute time slot Adult Swim offered and not the full half-hour that Comedy Central required.
The set-up was pretty simple – shoot the show in the style of a Grey’s Anatomy or a Scrubs (they even filmed at the same defunct hospital where Scrubs was shot), but apply a Wet Hot American Summer lens of over-the-top genre parody with a dash of madness.
All six leads from the web series reprised their roles in the new format. Megan Mullaly played Chief, the chronically and ambiguously disabled chief of medicine. Rob Corddry played Dr. Blake Downs, a member of a race of clowns who dons his makeup and signature painted on blood stains to evoke, in his words, “the healing power of laughter” with next to no success.
Arrested Development stars Michael Cera and Henry Winkler also joined the project, with Cera playing Sal Viscuso (a little MASH reference), the voice of the meandering hospital announcements, and Winkler as Sy Mittleman, an oft-abused administrator with a fondness for butterflies.
The rest of the main cast, Hayes, Huebel, Marino, and Bell, all filled the various roles and archetypes of a typical hospital drama, each with their own quirks added on. Every episode would feature some sort of budding relationship or breakup between one pair of doctors, only to be hand-waved away moments later when they’re back together, or pregnant, or dying, or revived from the dead, or … honestly, it’s impossible to keep track.
In signature David Wain style, the continuity is deliberately muddled, obfuscated, and flat-out contradicted countless times in each fifteen-minute episode. Backstories change, character traits are randomly assigned and removed, and huge plot twists appear out of thin air only to be forgotten moments later.
Spoiler warning - In the second season finale, Malin Åkerman’s character Dr. Valerie Flame removes her disguise and reveals that she is actually Derrick Childrens, played by Jon Hamm, long lost son of hospital founder Arthur Childrens, who has returned to take over his father’s hospital. This does not come up again until the end of season four, despite Dr. Valerie Flame appearing in almost every episode of seasons 3 and 4.
In fact, the only piece of continuity that does stay – well – continuous, is the fact that the show takes place in Brazil, a detail that is hammered repeatedly by the main characters, but does not have any tangible effect on the plot whatsoever.
Childrens Hospital constantly delighted in breaking the fourth wall. Many episodes were filmed as a fake, 60 Minutes style “behind the scenes” show called Newsreaders, which would eventually become its own spin-off show. The Newsreaders episodes featured the fictional actors who played the fictional doctors with their own dysfunctions and scandals. The running gag is that the entire cast and crew of Childrens Hospital (with the exception of Corddry’s character) desperately want the show to get canceled so that they can get out of their contracts, but the universe (and Corddry) cruelly refused to release them from their special hell.
Very rarely on Childrens Hospital does anyone ever actually cure a sick child. More often than not, the families that survived their visit to Brazil’s worst hospital would leave it worse off than when they arrived. Most of the time the children were ignored completely, as their issues were merely a launching pad for pandemonium rather than a medical case to be solved.
Childrens Hospital was a surreal, messy, chaotic, vulgar, stupid, brilliant work of satire that expertly skewered the beloved hospital dramas and dramedies that all completely failed to accurately portray any medical issue. The deeply serious nature of those shows was the perfect fodder for the irreverent styles of Corddry and Wain, and they pulled off one of the greatest acts of parody of the 21st century.
A sequel series, Medical Police, ran for one season on Netflix with Erinn Hayes and Rob Heubel returning to work with Corddry and Wain on a hybrid spy thriller/medical drama parody.
All seven seasons of Childrens Hospital are available to stream on Hulu. If you need a reprieve from the constant sorrow and tragedy of today’s world, take a load off and spend fifteen minutes laughing the maniacs who can’t be bothered to save sick kids.
Top Image: The Corddry Company / Warner Bros. Television
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