Warner Bros. // 2008 // 185 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // May 24th, 2011
"By using only the healing power of laughter, I cured her cancer completely! Yeah, and then she died."
What do Daily Show correspondents do in their spare time? Well, if they're Rob Corddry, they apparently spend a lot of time thinking about new and unique ways to skewer Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs. What began as a series of webisodes created by Corddry, David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer), and Jonathan Stern (The Ten) to pass the time during the WGA writer's strike of 2007-2008 has now turned into an unexpected Adult Swim hit. With a third full season already in production, the first two seasons of Childrens Hospital are now available in convenient DVD form for your viewing pleasure.
Set in a children's hospital in Brazil ("We did make it clear that we're in Brazil, right?"), Childrens Hospital is the story of medicine, and the men and women who make that medicine...um...as medicinal as medicine can be. Like sand in the vaseline, so are the days of their days. With all the drama and sex and intertwining destinies to handle, it's a wonder they have any time to treat patients at all. In fact, they don't have any such time.
The type of humor on display in Childrens Hospital is on display right there in the title. Where, O learned judge, you may ask, is the apostrophe? Well, it's not there because the hospital is actually named after Dr. Arthur Childrens. Silly, right? Well...there's a lot more where that came from.
Childrens Hospital is more than just a medical-themed gag reel, though -- much more. It's also a biting satire of the lazy tropes and hackish situations one often finds in contemporary medical dramas like the aforementioned Grey's Anatomy or E.R.. Another clear influence is Scrubs, specifically that show's often abrupt shifts in tone from "gag" to "pathos." (The show is also filmed in the same closed Los Angeles-area hospital that was used for the Scrubs interiors.) Childrens Hospital doesn't just satirize these shows; it satirizes them to the point of absurdity. The Chief (as played by the incomparable Megan Mullally (Will and Grace)) isn't just handicapped; she's a cringeworthy, shambolic juggernaut of braces, crutches, and flailing limbs. Yet somehow, of course, every male doctor wants to bed her. (Authority figures get all the tail!) Dr. Blake Downs (Corddry in clownface) is a doctor who believes (a la Patch Adams) in the healing power of laughter. Literally. As in, he does not actually treat his patients with medicine, but with meticulously-explained sleight-of-hand gags. Doctors wander the halls aimlessly, having mental monologues that often make little to no sense. Administrator Sy Mittleton (Henry Winkler, Arrested Development) is a genuinely nice person who cares about both the hospital and its doctors -- but because he's in administration, everyone hates him with a passion. It's absurdity piled on ridiculousness layered with obtuseness, written, acted, and shot down to the smallest detail.
A good deal of the credit has to go to the sharp, skilled cast that brings the hospital to life. Besides Mullally, Corddry, and Winkler, the show features several former members of the Upright Citizen's Brigade troupe (of which Corddry is a veteran), as well as two established TV actresses who are not necessarily known for their comedic acting -- Lake Bell (Boston Legal) and Erinn Hayes (Parenthood) -- as its main female protagonists, Cat Black and Lola Spratt. Bell and Hayes prove more than able to capture the vapid essence of their characters. We never see either of them do any actual medicine; instead, they spend most of their time complaining about relationships, and breaking up with various boyfriends. Eventually, Lola fakes her own death due to an excess of email in her inbox, and Cat beds (and is impregnated by) her six-year-old patient (don't worry -- he suffers from advanced aging syndrome, so it's okay...right?) Ken Marino (The State) and Rob Huebel (Funny or Die Presents...) are their male foils, Glenn Richie and Owen Maestro. For the second season, Malin Akerman (Watchmen) joined the cast as Valerie, the new doctor replacing Cat after her untimely death in childbirth (arriving almost immediately after Cat is mourned as being someone who could never be replaced, of course).
Fans who have only seen Childrens Hospital on the Adult Swim schedule will be surprised and delighted to find that this 2-DVD set includes the original webisode versions of the Season One "episodes," not the edited-together versions shown on the Cartoon Network. Since these never aired on broadcast television of any sort (they were serialized on the website of The WB during the strike), they are uncut and uncensored. They are also fairly short, and the individual episodes don't feel nearly as developed or as finished as the Season Two episodes (which were written from the get-go to fill the standard 15-minute Adult Swim schedule block). On the other hand, this brevity often works in their favor, as they avoid the (very occasional) tendency of the Season Two episodes to linger on a particular joke or string of jokes for too long. The first season is also more consistent from episode to episode, establishing a tone early and staying at that level through all ten episodes. But the second season is ultimately the superior product. It starts slow, but by the fifth episode, "Give A Painted Brother A Break" (with Paul Scheer (30 Rock) playing Blake's ne'er-do-well brother, Sir Tinkle Button), the show locks into overdrive, culminating in a fake "live" broadcast that requires at least three viewings before one could even hope to spot all the tiny little comedic details in every shot.
As this is an Adult Swim show, I set my expectations low when it came to included extras and bonus material. Unfortunately, the disc lives up to the Swim's poor reputation. The bonuses included are very solid and entertaining, but there are far too few of them, especially for a two-disc set. Disc One contains the wraparound segments shot by Wain and Corddry to serve as filler on the combined webisodes aired as a single episode on Adult Swim...but it doesn't include the faux commercials that were inserted between each webisode. This is especially puzzling given that the fake cop drama featured in most of those commercials, "National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle," is actually being produced as a new series for Adult Swim. There are also two "Dr. Maestro Answers Your Questions" segments with Huebel and (apparently) real children, where Dr. Maestro answers childrens' health questions with his exceptional blend of arrogance, dismissiveness, and stupidity. These are hysterically funny, but criminally short. Disc Two has a faux featurette, "Rob Corddry and Cutter Spindell: The Man Inside The Man Behind Childrens Hospital," a music video based on Glenn's "I Killed Cancer" song, and an assortment of gag reels, outtakes, and deleted scenes. Again, all great stuff -- but there's not nearly enough of it. The picture and sound quality for the episodes is average, which is more than fine for this type of program.
There's one moment that stands out for me as the point at which I decided that Childrens Hospital wasn't just a good show, it was a great show. It comes as Lola and Cat are having an intense discussion about feelings and love and breaking up in the hallway, the two of them framing a little boy sitting in his hospital gown on a gurney. A running joke through the first season involved Cat's transmission of a cold of some sort to Lola during their abortive lesbian encounter. (Because hot female doctors always have lesbian encounters, right?!) During this intense discussion, Cat sneezes...and wipes her hand on the boy. She never breaks eye contact with Lola, and doesn't miss a single beat in her Very Intense Conversation. That...is just beautiful comedy. Without a word, Cat speaks volumes about how totally irrelevant and useless the children are to these doctors. Brilliant.
There's the standard rebuttal and caveat emptor that goes along with virtually everything coming out of Adult Swim: this isn't for children, it's highly offensive (if you're extremely sensitive to comedy that touches on child abuse, for example, stay far away from this show), and not everyone is going to find it funny. It's very edgy, pushing-the-envelope stuff.
My biggest complaint about this package, other than the paucity of extras, is the complete lack of commentaries. Admittedly, I do understand this decision to an extent: given the 4-5 minute running time of the webisodes, it would be hard for an audio commentary to add much in such a short time. But Childrens Hospital has so many funny people involved in its production, I'm sure that something could have been done. Even a spoof commentary would probably have been great. Instead, we get nothing. On the plus side, at least there aren't commentaries here that subtract from the value of the package. (Yes, that's you I'm laying my stinkeye on, Aqua Teen Hunger Force DVD sets...)
That's it -- this kid is getting a vasectomy!
Guilty of gross malpractice, but innocent of all other charges.
Review content copyright © 2011 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 185 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Music Video
* Official Site