“DOY” doesn’t set a high bar with its Previously On, part exposition that the characters who can make it this week are nominated for Doctor Of The Year and part Blake being the obnoxious bully instead of taking his rightful place as the obnoxiously bullied, but it has a hell of a first line after the credits: “I need to lie down,” says Chet. “All that driving gave me road head.” In retrospect it’s kind of a Seth Morris joke, a fake malady named for a non-medical term, but I burst out laughing nonetheless. And that’s just a hint at the nonchalant sexual comedy to, um, come.

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In general, a show is at its best when it can’t pass for any other show. When it’s most itself. That’s a tricky way to approach Childrens Hospital, since almost everything is so malleable, but it’s as important as ever this far out. Most production limitations are forgivable, like the change of set and the rotating cast necessitated by everyone’s other obligations. I’m just happy to see most of this same cast and crew making 14 episodes of Childrens Hospital a year. But the later seasons tend to float away from what little solid ground there is, compounding the feeling brought on by the skeleton casts and location changes that the show is evaporating. Look at the best episodes in recent seasons, like last week’s “The Show You Watch” or last season’s “Fan Fiction.” They’re quintessential Childrens Hospital, playing with the behind-the-scenes production and evolution of this hospital drama warped by old age into gimmick-heavy wackiness. Or take “Home Life Of A Doctor” and “Me, Owen,” two standouts that have very little to do with working at a children’s hospital—in fact “Me Owen” isn’t far from NTSF: SD: SUV::, which is usually how you can tell a late Childrens Hospital episode won’t be very good—but both of which succeed by building on core components of the show, specifically Glenn’s Jewishness, which is the first thing we learned about him and his defining characteristic, and Owen’s former partnership with Detective Chance Briggs.

“DOY” isn’t all that specific to Childrens Hospital. Blake, Lola, and Glenn get nominated for an awards ceremony in Vegas, Owen’s gonna tag along to visit his mom there, and Chet volunteers to drive because he has a vehicle, the ambulance. The awards stuff is all escalating, seesawing rivalries, but the Owen story goes in an entirely different direction in that he has a vacation fling. With his mom. Give or take a few nods to Childrens Hospital past, such as Owen reminding his mom that he works in Brazil and Lola admitting that she’s had several relationships with Owen over the years, “DOY” could be an episode of another show. So it comes down to how funny it is, and luckily, that premise is basically the skeleton for one funny gag after another.

The Blake story is the bumpiest, because as I said above, he makes a bad bully. “Kick Me,” the one where Blake gets on his high horse and fires everyone, is among the show’s worst episodes. “DOY” makes up for that with little grace moments like Blake politely asking Chet to make bullying him easier, but mostly it succeeds by turning the tables as soon as possible. The barrage of tomatoes gets kind of funny by the end of the cold open; Chet trying his hardest and absolutely whiffing when he gets the opportunity to repay Blake with tomatoes is hilarious. So is everything else that has to do with Blake’s temporary paralysis: Lola looking around all innocent after injecting her rival for Doctor Of The Year with a paralysis drug, Blake discovering he’s trapped across from Owen and his mother going at it, Chet eventually giving up on the tomatoes and resuscitating his patient by stabbing him with a gigantic syringe right between the eyebrows. “This is gonna hurt an enormous amount.” The climax is Blake doing a Young Frankenstein routine at the awards ceremony. Turns out, he always wins doctor of the year because he literally owns the awards. “That wraps that up,” says Glenn. Blake adds, “Be beatin’ a dead horse if we went any further.” The script, written by Megan Amram (“Fan Fiction”) is a model of economy, telling the joke and moving onto the next thing. The premise is just a tree to hang gags on.

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The Owen story makes a nice balance. Where the Blake story is packed with (i.e. contains four) main characters and the plot is full of incident, the Owen story is just a slow burn of two people in love. They happen to be mother and son, but that only heightens the comedic tension. At first they’re just enjoying each other’s company at dinner. Then they get mistaken for a married couple and Owen’s mom, Linda (JoBeth Williams), goes with it. Even once it’s clear this is going to be an incest story, it’s funnier every time we see them: flirting over movie popcorn, rolling around in bed next to Blake, sharing a romantic picnic in the numerous lush green spaces around the Strip. Another balance: Where the Blake story plays up, the Owen story plays down. It’s just a weekend fling with almost no winking. Only when Lola intervenes does the subplot start to underline itself: “That’s my mother!” Owen tells Lola. “I would never…rush into sex with her.” That’s because Owen and Linda have simply never heard of incest, let alone the taboo. “I guess it’s just one of those weird things that we somehow missed,” says Linda, “you know, like I’ve never seen The Wire.”

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Visually it’s a beautiful episode by director Alex Fernie. He plays up the horror with shadows, close-ups, and angles, the force of which heightens the comedy. Rob Huebel and JoBeth Williams play up the romance with flirtatious touching, a somewhat fake elaborate dance number that cuts off just before the passionate kiss, and a shirtless bedroom romp. And the horror and romance combine when the focus racks from Owen teasing his mom and climbing on top of her to Blake frozen in place and forced to endure. So “DOY” continues a resurgent season of Childrens Hospital without a specific premise, simply by focusing on the funny.

Stray observations

  • I’m grateful for the opportunity to review one of the best TV series of the 2010s, but barring any Gonitrol accidents, LaToya should be back next week!
  • Before the “road head” joke, there’s a funny visual gag . As the gang drives into town, the signs for casinos fly by, as they do in such scenes, but they quickly give way to such exotic destinations as McDonald’s and CVS.

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  • If I take the establishing shot correctly, the Doctor Of The Year awards are being held at The Four-Leaf Horseshoe.
  • You know how you can regress when you’re around people from your past? Owen tells his mom, “Good intercourse. My pee-pee was so tingly.” Meanwhile she keeps complimenting her own parenting based on the results. “I’m so glad I made you wear braces.”
  • When Blake manages to text Chet for help, Chet walks in to find him lying in bed, framed to emphasize his lower half by director Fernie. “Dr. Downs, are you trying to seduce me?”

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