Before Adult Swim was the content juggernaut that it is now, it began as a humble, avant-garde repositioning of Cartoon Network’s programming mandate. As it slowly began to accumulate content, they began setting their sights on live-action programming to compliment its animated fare. Childrens Hospital was the boundary-pushing show that would help redefine the network in the process. Created by Rob Corddry, the extremely silly satire of hospital drama surprisingly began as a web series for TheWB.com, slowly growing into the multiple Emmy-winning hit that’s one of the network’s flagship shows. There have even been several spinoffs, too.
As long as it has been on air, Childrens Hosptial has been a hub for excellence amongst actors, writers, and directors of the “alt-comedy” fringe. Consistently re-inventing itself and playing with a reality that’s as elastic as the waistband on hospital scrubs, Childrens Hospital is showing no signs of slowing down. They’ve been to Japan and back at this point, and as their new season is sure to mess with the status quo in new and exciting ways, we thought we would look back at the series’ strongest, funniest entries to date.
The Sultans Finger: Live (Season 2, Episode 12)
Written by: Rod Corddry & Jonathan Stern & David Wain; Directed by: David Wain
“No retakes, no editing, you’ll watch the drama unfold in real time as our actors perform it in front of our three cameras.”
A sultan’s finger is in need of reattachment (another typical day at the hospital) with the stakes never having been higher for the staff. A number of hiccups along the way naturally arise, whether it being a case of fingernapping or the Sultan’s insistence that he won’t let a Jew or a clown treat him. This throws Blake into a real existential crisis over whether he should remove his makeup or not, which is pretty wonderful. However, the real thing to get excited about here is the gimmick that the whole episode is happening “live.”
A lot of shows have played with this device before to various degrees of success, but Childrens Hospital does some pretty brilliant things with the idea. For instance, the episode was filmed using three cameras, allowing a certain degree of editing work, but when two of these cameras crash into each other, it forces the episode to go on with a lone camera. The filming technique and strategies change accordingly, and watching this chaos become more and more extreme pushes the show to be at its best. Watching characters break (or in Blake’s case, outright bail) as others angrily whisper, “Stay in it!” is great comedy, and just the beginning of things going off the rails. This episode is also the first time that Jon Hamm appears as Derrick Childrens/Valerie Flame, in the episode’s big “surprise ending.” This is one of the first examples of the show really letting loose with style and format, and it’s success is only a testament to how far they’ve pushed themselves after the fact.
The ’70s Episode (Season 3, Episode 6)
Written by: Rob Corddry; Directed by: Steve Pink
One of Childrens Hospital’s most impressive magic tricks is that in spite of it acting like nothing matters and the series not caring about deeper story, it actually has an incredibly intricate mythology coursing behind the show within the show. An example of this is the premise that Childrens Hospital is a soap opera-esque series that’s been running for nearly fifty years at this point. With that sort of groundwork established, the series is allowed to show you an episode from any of those said fifty years, with this one being plucked from 1976.
Part of what makes this episode so much fun is the slightly different cast that the show had in the ‘70s, with Jordan Peele’s Dr. Brian being apart of the gang. The other fun to be had is in just how badly this episode hammers in that it’s taking place in the ‘70s. The introduction of Lola as a female doctor that isn’t taken seriously, the rampant disco, and the fact that Glenn is returning from Vietnam (and becoming an abortionist, no less) are all great gags. This experiment is so successful that it’s a little surprising they haven’t tried to do another “lost episode” from a bygone era.
Childrens Hospital: A Play in Three Acts (Season 3, Episode 14)
Written by: Rob Corddry & Jonathan Stern & David Wain; Directed by: Michael Patrick Jann
“Welcome. If you’ll lend me your patience for a spell, I’d like to tell you about a little place called Childrens Hospital. It’s a whole day’s ride from the big city, and things move a little slower here…”
This is probably the episode of the show that I’ve watched more than any other. It’s so, so silly, and of all the ridiculous concept episodes that the show has pulled off, the cast seems to be having the most fun in this repositioning of the series. For this episode, Childrens Hospital becomes a play not dissimilar to “Our Town,” and every staple of hammy, amateurish theater is in full force here. Watching the cast have fun with these exaggerated performances is wonderful, but even small details like the way the episode does transitions between scenes, and the hackneyed clichés forced upon its characters are delightful. Audience applause even compliments scenes at times, completing the illusion of theater. Also, I defy you to watch the Electro-City scenes from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and say that they aren’t inspired by Owen’s residency at Laser Hospital here.
British Hospital (Season 4, Episode 7)
Written by: Sam Bain; Directed by: Tristram Shapeero
“This hospital is in the UK!”
Tremendous respect needs to be given to “British Hospital” for just how much it commits to its concept. The idea here is that there is also a British version of Childrens Hospital, and so, why not show you an episode of that for a change? It’s a pretty brilliant idea, but the fact that the episode has an entirely new cast (headlined by Dominic Monaghan), loaded “Previously On” sequence, and even a different lighting scheme for it all to reflect a different series are all impressive touches. The series even outsourced Sam Bain (Peep Show, Fresh Meat) to write the installment, giving it a further authentically British touch. There’s definitely a story going on in this episode, but the real meat of the entry is just watching how everything becomes “British-ized” in perfect fashion. I still think the gag that Blake’s UK clown equivalency being a mime is one of the smartest jokes to come out of the series. Again, it’s a little surprising that the series never returned to this well in all years since, but that just makes “British Hospital” all the more special.
A Kid Walks In To A Hospital (Season 4, Episode 9)
Written by: Rob Corddry & Jonathan Stern; Directed by: Lake Bell
“Everything is connected.”
This one is insanity from top to bottom, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We learn that Sy used to be an assassin in this episode, and when a coma patient continues to disappear, it’s only a matter of time until we learn that, yes, this patient is Sy’s daughter, and yes, she’s been trained by the league of assassins to finally kill him once and for all. That in itself is a strong premise to lean on (not to mention the wonderful fight that goes on between the two of them at the end of the episode), but there’s also all sorts of disconnected madness in “A Kid Walks In To A Hospital” as well. The episode keeps doubling down on its nonsense, insisting that “everything is connected” when in fact nothing really is, building to a faux sense of gravitas that’s perfect for the note the episode concludes on.
And that’s not even touching on the twenty seconds that start the episode—all of which is filmed in Rio, for completely no other reason than being awesome. Plus, that sight gag of Lola getting around “dressed up” as a plastic skeleton (twice, at that!) is one of the stupidest/best things the show has ever done.
Children’s Lawspital (Season 4, Episode 12)
Written by: Jason Mantzoukas; Directed by: Ken Marino
“I don’t have any pets or friends, I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I’m single. So I got a law degree and passed the bar last summer.”
I think this episode is the best work that Erinn Hayes has ever done. She’s bonkers good here. Plenty of debates go on over who is the best between Cat Black, Valerie Flame, and Lola Spratt, and while I may not always be the biggest Lola fan, I say look no further than this episode to see how incredible she can be. Granted, this bravado of a performance is primarily cocaine fueled, but God, just watch her go. Manic Lola needs to come up on the show more, for sure.
Jason Mantzoukas knows how to write an episode of Childrens Hospital. He’s incredibly efficient at transforming the series into a new vehicle entirely, yet still cutting to its essential core. This episode sees the show becoming a sleek Law and Order aping courtroom drama and Mantzoukas’ script doesn’t waste a single second. It’s so much fun to see the usual cops and robbers tropes being checked off in this episode, and Reginald ValJohnson’s judge is a revelation. I laugh every time that he says, “I’ll allow it.” Childrens Hospital is at its best when it’s at its silliest, and this episode is much more concerned with making you giggle than making sense.
The C-Word (Season 5, Episode 3)
Written by: Diablo Cody; Directed by: David Wain
“You’re not in a time loop, and judging by the look on your face this is the first time you’ve heard somebody tell you that.”
Season five of Childrens Hospital took the doctors to a medical base in Japan for a year (for no other reason than to do it). This season saw some fresh stories stemming from the relocation, as is the case here with Glenn trying to put together a USO Show sort of thing. Meanwhile, Owen is pretty sure that he’s stuck in a time loop (he’s most definitely not) with the episode immediately addressing and having fun with the stupidity of all of this. A lot of great jokes come from here, and this is coming from someone who is not at all a Diablo Cody fan (she’s the writer of this episode, believe it or not). She undeniably gets the voice of the show though, rallying off plenty of clever wordplay and entendre, while also indulging in the intensely silly whenever possible. It’s worth mentioning too that this whole thing is predicated on a solid M*A*S*H homage, where a plane full of hologram performers has gone down overseas, so right from the jump the tone of this is pretty clear.
Things move along nicely and Glenn begins worrying over the success of his show rather quickly. There are some Bieber gags that date the episode slightly (and yet the M*A*S*H reference feels timeless), but so much is going on here that it’s hardly something to get held up on. The end of this episode truly does not give a fuck and it’s one of my favorite moments within the series. A number of celebrities come at the last minute to save Glenn’s big show in the form of Madonna, Rhianna, Freddy Mercury, Kate Upton, and Louis C.K., all of which are being played by the versatile James Adomian. Somehow this is the show’s version of the day being saved, but really just marveling at this spectacle is what it’s all about.
A Lot of Brouhaha Over Zilch (Season 5, Episode 11)
Written by: Rob Corddry; Directed by: Ken Marino
“We’ve got fairies right here in the real world, my friend. You just gotta know where to go.”
A big riff on the works of Shakespeare is on the menu in this episode, with the series pulling from its deeper lore to help it all come together. Once again we are reminded that Valerie Flame is actually Derrick Childrens in an elaborate disguise (and the episode gets some smart use of Shakespeare’s “man masquerading as a woman” trope). Childrens is trying to pull off a Machiavellian scheme that will ensure him control of the hospital and prying it away from Sy in the process. As you might imagine, Corddry’s script has far too much fun trying to jam in as much Shakespeare as possible, but what’s more so the focus here is the air of Shakespeare rather than any particular works of his; the machinations of people, the scheming of the jilted, and verbose anguish are on display. It’s a bit of a weird strategy, but it remains consistent and reflects the sort of atmosphere that Corddry seems to be after (and feels a lot more successful at this sort of thing than season six’s similar, “Just Like Cyrano De Bergerac”). Things are always fun when Blake is trying to pull the strings, whether it’s successfully or otherwise, and hanging his puppets on such fancy strings this week makes for a memorable episode.
My Friend Falcon (Season 5, Episode 12)
Written by: Jonathan Stern; Directed by: Michael Blieden
“I never really knew Mr. Wain really well. But he kept hiring me for acting jobs. And for that, I am grateful.”
So this might be the deepest cut that the show has ever pulled off. There have been a lot of crazy concept episodes and instances where you’ve really had to give the series your trust and just go with what they’re doing. When the show started playing around with such experimentation though, I don’t think anyone expected the documentaries of Werner Herzog to eventually become on their radar. Jonathan Stern obviously has a deep love and understanding of the complicated “Behind the Scenes” history of the fictitious Childrens Hospital program. He’s been responsible for many of the episodes that have been telling a story for years now (spread across through the installments, “End of the Middle,” “Newsreaders,” “Behind the Scenes,” and “Eulogy”), as well as masterminding the NewsReaders spinoff that broke off from the series.
I love these behind the scenes episodes, and honestly there are maybe a few others from this “collection” that might have fit on here just as well, but “My Friend Falcon” isn’t just a culmination of a lot of what’s gone on in the previous episodes like this, but also lampshades itself on a fairly different stylistic construct. Paying respect to Herzog’s My Best Friend as well as I’m Still Here, this episode is set up like a documentary exploring director David Wain’s relationship with the eccentric Childrens Hospital cast member, Just Falcon, who portrays Glenn Richie in the series. Marino’s detached Joaquin Phoenix-esque performance is always entertaining, but is particularly strong here. The episode only gets better when it switches from a documentary on Falcon to one Falcon is doing on Wain. It’s also pretty crazy when actual sketch footage of Wain and Marino together in college is used in the episode, adding further layers to this madness.
Fan Fiction (Season 6, Episode 4)
Written by: Megan Amram; Directed by: Marco Fargnoli
“I’ve written a ton [of fan fiction]. Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Daily Show.”
Childrens Hospital has turned to so many different genres and entities at this point, with this upcoming season seeming to keep the tradition going (there’s an episode in the seventh season about Childrens Hospital being based on a classic piece of sketch comedy, that I can’t wait for). The “framing du jour” of this episode sees Childrens Hospital Superfan Contest winner, Carol Torton, getting to pen her very own episode. It’s title, by the way, is “The Lovers, The Fighters, The Heroes (or Who Cures the Doctor But the Moon & Blood?)”, so yeah, you’re in for a treat. Torton happens to focus her episode on Nurse Beth, which is a pretty good gag in itself, as this tertiary character is suddenly hurled into the spotlight.
Admittedly, I wasn’t the craziest about this episode the first time that I saw it, and even now I think it’s a bit lesser than the rest of the episodes that have been singled out here. That being said, Megan Amram’s script is such a strong execution of this concept, and it’s coming at a time that couldn’t be any more perfect that I’ll let style over substance ride for this one. These are such accurate renditions of fan fiction-y dialogue and wish fulfillment.
We’re completely in an age right now where fandom has unprecedented control, and so an episode that completely gives into that idea, while also servicing up topics like slash fiction and shipping which have been going on for decades in television, is really smart. And who’d have thought that you needed a glowing a la Twilight version of Owen Maestro in your life?
Childrens Hospital returns January 22nd, airing every Friday at 11:00 p.m. on Adult Swim.