The TV Room: Childrens Hospital Season 6, by David Bax
There aren’t a lot of shows that could get away with the season that Childrens Hospital just had. By almost any standard, it was a very odd run of episodes. But how do you define oddness in a show like this one?
It’s been seven years since Childrens Hospital premiered as a web series of ten episodes running less than an hour in total. What felt like a lark has now run for six seasons (a seventh has been ordered) and the heavy hitters that make up the cast have busy careers to attend to. The show struck upon a solution to that problem this year. Each episode only featured a portion of the main cast.
Childrens Hospital was able to roll with this bizarre method of major characters not appearing for weeks at a time because a fluid identity is woven into the show’s fabric. Is an episode weird because it only features one regular cast member (Ken Marino) or is it weird because this hospital show suddenly becomes a parody of Radio Days? The answer is neither. That’s what the show is. Like Spaced or Community, the series can pivot into whatever genre or tone it wants to lovingly mock next. This year also saw an Ocean’s Eleven parody about stealing sperm samples and a Fawlty Towers homage wherein Sal (Henry Winkler) scrambles to get the hospital ready for a visit from author Dean Koontz (himself).
What truly sets Childrens Hospital apart – the key to its lunatic design – is that it manages to have its chameleonic nature coexist with one of the densest mythologies and most complex continuities on television. It toys with its viewers a bit by picking and choosing which elements are real and which aren’t – Nurse Dori got killed at the end of one episode this year and then was back the next week – while asking us to remember both that the show takes place at a children’s hospital – founded by a man named Arthur Childrens – in Sao Paolo, Brazil that only caters to the children of American expatriates, while also remembering that the show we see most weeks is actually the show within the show. In other words, Malin Akerman doesn’t play a doctor. She plays a Swedish actress who plays a doctor and who also learns all her lines phonetically because she doesn’t speak English.
These logistical gymnastics aren’t the main reason we watch Childrens Hospital, though. We watch because it’s always funny. One thing does inform the other, though. In fact, the funniest episode of this season was the behind-the-scenes installment in which the actors appear on a morning news show to promote their Kickstarter for a Childrens Hospital movie. That installment’s ferocious goofiness culminating in a gonzo parody of TV-to-movie adaptations had enough laughs in eleven minutes to fill a feature itself.
Season six of Childrens Hospital was all over the map in terms of tone and story and, admittedly, quality in some cases. But as long as it keeps on being hilarious and incomparably weird, complications offscreen and convolutions onscreen are welcome.