By Caryn James | James on Screens June 1, 2011 at 1:30AM
Blake Downs, the clown-faced doctor at the center of Children’s Hospital, has taken “the healing power of laughter” as his mantra – and also uses it as a medical procedure. It seems that tickling can bring a person back from a state of near-death. Feel free to try that at home before heading to the Emergency Room.
A supersmart absurdist satire of hospital dramas, Children’s Hospital was created by Rob Corddry (who also plays Blake) as a web series during the 2007 writers’ strike. The series then leapt to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, where it begins its third season on Thursday.
With 15-minute-long episodes, the series feels halfway between TV and the web, in a good way. Its ludicrous plots and scattershot humor might be hard to sustain for longer; its freewheeling form allows for plenty of guest stars to drop by for a quick-and-easy shoot, the way Jon Hamm does for one crucial scene in the new season opener.
The meta-comedy doesn’t target hospitals, but the TV hospitals we all know and laugh at. Megan Mullally plays the Chief, known only as Chief (aren’t they always?). Or, as the mock opening-credits in Thursday’s episode put it: “Lady Jane Bentick-Smith as Chief.” And Blake Downs, with his Patch Adams-inspired approach to medicine, is no less competent than his colleagues; when paramedics carry in a boy caught in a trough of quick-sand, the staff stands around agonizing about how to get him out. Conspicuous pregnancy also appears to baffle them.
Other regulars include Malin Akerman, Ken Marino, Henry Winkler and Rob Huebel, but it’s the revolving door of guests that keep Children’s Hospital fresh. Next week Nick Offerman (better known as Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson) returns in the recurring role of Detective Briggs, who goes undercover as a child in an eerie kids’ ward, spoofing medical-horror movies. Sarah Silverman turns up as Blake’s clown-faced ex.
The humor is more clever than laugh-out-loud funny, very much in line with the wit of David Wain (Wainy Days, Role Models), who has written and directed some earlier Children’s Hospital episodes. Just right for this easy-to-like show’s hit-and-run approach.
You can watch full episodes from seasons 1 and 2 at the Adult Swim site.
Here's their new-season teaser.