Children’s Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV air Thursday nights at midnight and 12:15 a.m. Eastern on Adult Swim. By Thursday I mean really early Friday mornings.
Back in the good old days, before season four of Community was all we complained about, there was season three of Community to complain about. Dan Harmon had watched The Wire the previous summer and gave his show an overarching narrative, with the idea that every episode had to be watched in order to best understand the motivations of the characters and to better appreciate the jokes. The meticulous planning ultimately produced some great stuff at times, and abrupt, forgettable conclusions to some subplots at others. This would turn out to be nothing compared to season four of Arrested Development, an incredibly ambitious puzzle of a season of television that also happened to be a comedy, which seemed way too obsessed with trying to pay off jokes that were set up multiple episodes earlier and too happy to have Ron Howard explain the accomplishment. After this past Memorial Day weekend, there was still no comedic series that utilized the model of a contemporary, prestigious, meticulously plotted drama to a wholly satisfying, cohesive, and funny season. It’s possible that it’s impossible to do such a thing, that by knowing what episode 15 will involve, episode 1’s punchlines are hamstrung by the inability to make the funniest joke pitched in the writers room because it would ruin an intended continuity.
Children’s Hospital does not have such a problem, even though for this — their fifth season — executive producers Rob Corddry, Jonathan Stern, and David Wain are attempting to tell a season-long story. Because the Adult Swim live action show makes multiple jokes about the TV and movie tropes they are spoofing, they constantly get away with simply reminding the audience of what information they need to know from previous episodes and seasons ago as a joke through straight exposition. For a show that has only had 45 episodes, each 11 or so minutes in length, a lot has happened — Blake and Nurse Dori had a baby. Blake left to star in his own spin-off. Blake came back immediately because the fake spin-off never happened. Blake was raped by Valerie, who later turned out to be Derrick Childrens, the son of the founder of Childrens Hospital. Blake died. Blake came back from the dead. And that is just basically one character. The show’s plots move as fast as Scandal’s, and it’s still amusing because you’re never lost, the jokes informing the plots as much as the plots inform the jokes.
This season they’ve decided to throw everything out the window and set all 14 episodes at a U.S. Army base in Japan, a fact everyone accepts within the first minute and a half of last night’s premiere. The writers are fully aware that people like myself who watch too much television are watching, and love to go against what any normal show - even a highly-respected dramatic show - would do. Not only does the obvious season long antagonist announce he wont be coming back by the end of “A New Hope,” next week’s “Triangle” expands the new world they just introduced, with only half of the main cast involved, deftly parodying every cop movie and Hair in the process.
All of this wouldn’t matter if the show wasn’t funny. Fortunately, it still is, even though Hospital continues to seemingly throw away most of the best lines in the background1. The show writes for its guest stars well, knowing that Jon Hamm can play a mustachioed authoritative man, Steve Agee can do put-upon sad guy, or Nick Offerman can and should nail mustachioed cop in their collective slumbers. That’s good, because the main cast’s busy schedules mean that Erinn Hayes, Malin Akerman and Megan Mullally are missing, at least in the first two episodes this year, which might mean a fair amount of new characters might get more than a usual share of screen time. Meanwhile, Rob Huebel’s physical comedy has been a highlight so far, managing to get laughs at two moments that weren’t funny on the page just from his ridiculous exuberance.
Meanwhile NTSF:SD:SUV:: is not switching up their setting, mostly because there are only so many places with San Diego’s initials. It isn’t really necessary for the show as it begins their third season to do so anyway, establishing from the beginning an affection for silly action movies that don’t rely on intricate character development, a love that is exhibited every other week on SUV creator and star Paul Scheer and co-star June Diane Raphael’s How Did This Get Made? podcast. Instead, the creative energy goes into projects like Inertia, a 12-part SUV web series influenced greatly by the classic film Speed that ran in between last season and this current one, and in combining jokes about comic-con stereotypes with the Nick Cage masterpiece Con Air in last night’s episode.
Things aren’t all the same: the addition of former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan to ostensibly replace Rebecca Romijn’s irrelevant Jessie character is a plus. Gillan was adept at playing the lighter moments in Doctor Who, sometimes creating them by her charm alone. Like Children’s, NTSF knows how to write to the actors’ strengths, and in next week’s “The POTN’s Speech”, Gillan’s Daisy exhibits a bit of a dark side, giving her multidimensionality, as seen in Amy Pond, knowing full well it wont affect her likability any bit.
There’s a little danger on this show of an over-reliance of basing subplots on movies that a viewer hasn’t seen or those that simply don’t hold up in 2013. As incredibly unfair as it is to evoke The Simpsons, The Simpsons totally didn’t need the viewer to know what movie they were making fun of for it to be funny during their best years. The inherent strength of SUV is that there still will eventually be a joke you will like that isn’t couched in parody, and fast.
1 From the premiere: An insistence that going to Japan is a bad idea because of not liking anime was quickly spoken after a cacophony of whining; Blake is told of his odd penis to testicle size ratio from a television in another area while he’s rummaging through a secret room. Okay maybe that last one was fine being somewhat obscured.