Free of context, “Hump Cola” instantly starts off ahead of the game just because of its episode title alone. Sadly, it’s an episode title that doesn’t have much use outside of the context of Childrens Hospital itself, but for the penultimate episode of the series, that’s one quick way to make an episode memorable.
Luckily, “Hump Cola” is also memorable as an episode and one that marks the return of Michael Showalter’s Nils Vildervaan. This particular character made his first appearance in last season’s “Nils Vildervaan, Professional Interventiomalist” (written by Showalter), an episode that I ultimately considered “too weird” on a show that’s very existence is all about being too weird. It was an episode that very much had the surreal feel of Michael Showalter’s brand of humor even before he showed his face onscreen, and as a spiritual successor to it, “Hump Cola” also feels the same way. Where “Nils Vildervaan, Professional Interventiomalist” had Jaws with a cat, “Hump Cola” has Chief’s hump cola; where “Nils Vildervaan, Professional Interventiomalist” had Sy’s intervention, “Hump Cola” has Glenn’s addicts meeting. The two episodes really could be played back-to-back without missing a beat. But in the case of “Hump Cola,”, that weirdness works much better this time around.
It also helps that, in the case of the “Glenn’s an addict” plot, Glenn completely no-sells the entire situation. There’s even a great visual of Glenn’s locker while Blake is accusing him of being an alcoholic, where Glenn’s problem drinking comes in the form of an unused shot glass, a bottle of unopened champagne (that’s clearly a present), and a box of also unopened chocolates (with an orange liqueur center). Glenn eventually bursting into tears when confronted by Vildervaan touches on a classic Childrens Hospital choice to make the characters get overly emotional over nothing, which is why it’s even funnier when it turns out he was just crying to both get the guy out of his face and to let out a good cry. It doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously within the world of Childrens Hospital anyway, since Blake is the one pushing Glenn to get help in the first place.
Because as we all know, Blake is the last character to go to for any good advice—but, as he shows Glenn in this episode, the first character to go to for sexual harassment.
In fact, the plots in “Hump Cola” are both stronger than the A-plot from “Nils Vildervaan, Professional Interventiomalist” (Sy’s new girlfriend), even something as aggressively absurd as the titular hump cola. The catalyst for that plot is a faux-fencing situation between Owen and Chief gone wrong, and it’s a plot about cola—Coca-Cola, to be exact—in a hump. That’s the definition of aggressively absurd. It’s funny that the twist becomes that Chief’s Coca-Cola hump is the original cocaine-filled Coca-Cola recipe, but it’s even funnier to realize that Owen and Lola probably would have treated Chief that terribly even if they weren’t high as a kite the entire time.
The hump cola plot also has one of the most on-point moments of the season, when Chief walks out of her chair without a care in the world. Childrens Hospital’s seventh season has had more of a “fuck it” vibe than before, and that’s exactly what that moment is. Chief’s disabilities have been all over the place from the very beginning of the series, and as the show finds itself on its way out, you can’t get much better than that as a farewell to the show’s focus on those disabilities.
Except for when you have Chief get dumped into toxic waste disposal in the tag. That’s a little better.
Showalter’s Nils Vildervaan also improves upon his first appearance’s commercial by having his own instructional DVD. The best way I can think to describe it is as any one of Michael Ian Black’s You’re Whole episodes, made through the lens of an escaped mental patient with a massive cocaine addiction, and that’s still not enough. The video fully captures that Michael Showalter brand of weird humor, but “Hump Cola” succeeds because it knows that there has to be a balance outside of that. Not everything in this episode can be at the same level of insanity as the DVD with Vildervaan’s Michael Jackson impersonation, and not everything needs to be.
It’s actually kind of amazing that “Hump Cola” ends up being a rather solid episode of Childrens Hospital. Even as I mention how much Showalter reins it in here in a way, this episode is still one of the least accessible of the season and series. That’s not really something Childrens Hospital has ever had to worry about, but that inaccessibility kind of extends to the fan-base itself. On the other hand, the show is on the way out, so it can continue to say “fuck it,” all the way to that big hospital in the sky. And you know what? I don’t have a problem with “fuck it.” Let’s keep in mind that “fuck it” is just doing its thing, trying to make it on this crazy ball of dirt just like everybody else.
- I explained it on Twitter, but I was out of town when “Hump Cola” aired and wasn’t able to get someone to fill in. But I wasn’t going to leave you all hanging with this one.
- Blake: “You’re an alcoholic.”
Glenn: “ Oh, please. If anything, I have a pill problem.”
Blake: “Pills are medicine, stupid.”
- The basement addict meeting has some pretty choice posters, but I’m especially fond of the waterfall poster with the word “RESULTS” on it.
- How can an episode give us Lola on cocaine and then not have her almost say the n-word?
- Of course Telebrasil is there for the unveiling of Hump Cola, as Brazil is where Hump Cola is.
- Lola: “Wait, I thought you were crippled.”
Chief: “Right. Right.”
Lola: “That makes more sense.”
“Hump Cola” was originally supposed to air earlier in the season, but despite the drastic difference in tone, it turns out that it works pretty well as the episode before “The Grid.”
Since the announcement of the end of Childrens Hospital, Ballers’ Rob Corddry has gone on the record in saying that “The Grid” wasn’t planned as a series finale but just happened to come together as one. Upon watching the two-part event, that makes a lot of sense. As much as Childrens Hospital could easily go on with plenty more stories to tell, after seeing “The Grid,” it doesn’t feel like there really needs to be any more. As the episode ends, reminding the audience of the show they’ve actually been watching, it’s the perfect unexpected series finale for Childrens Hospital.
However, before I talk about the ending, I have to address the beginning. There are no previouslies, which is already a standard indicator that business is about to pick up on Childrens Hospital, but “The Grid” truly begins with something that instantly defends this episode being a two-part affair: Lola Spratt has had a mental break and has been in a mental facility for the past nine months. Her psychiatrist, Doctor Parker (Anne-Marie Johnson), recites Lola’s “claims” of being a doctor, a practicing attorney, and a “government agent, skilled with impressions.” Immediately, the excitement of Childrens Hospital going with the “it was all a dream” choice is in the air; the show has done it in smaller forms throughout the series, but the idea that it would commit to it for a two-part series finale is even more impressive.
But that’s the most obvious option, and when it comes to “The Grid,” the most obvious option is nowhere near epic enough to shut it all down.
The thing about “The Grid” is that it actually starts off very much like a typical episode of Childrens Hospital. According to the cut-and-dry episode synopsis: “When Glenn and Owen have bizarre hallucination, and Lola fears she is being pursued, the doctors believe a gas leak is responsible.” The Lola introduction is a quick aside to acclimate the audience to the world this episode’s going to exist in, but the early goings-on of the episode still feel very much like a regular day at Childrens. Sy’s “pep talk” about Lola’s return, Chet approaching Lola to bond over being crazy, a child having to suture her own wound, Owen and Glenn going full “brah” to chase that high, Dori disappearing, a gas leak—that’s all regular Childrens Hospital. But even in all of that, there’s something seemingly “off” early on. It’s all slow-paced for a show that’s generally non-stop insanity, especially in the Glenn and Owen scenes. It’s all slightly askew, which is somewhat understandable when there’s supposedly a gas leak at Childrens.
Then, like in the opening scene, the episode zags, revealing the truth about the world they know:
“25 years ago, there was a war… The victors slaughtered the losing army, killing every last adult. To prevent the children from taking revenge, they were locked away with a massive fortress called The Grid…a computer-generated physical reality… You don’t live in Brazil, Lola. You live in a prison, built in the middle of a war-torn wasteland.”
Childrens Hospital taking place in a post-apocalyptic, computer world that’s not actually in Brazil makes plenty of sense, right? The funny thing is, in true Childrens Hospital fashion, if you give it a few seconds of thought, it’s easy to say it makes sense in a way, even though it’s… Well it’s everything I just said it is. It’s ultimately no more absurd than the idea that everything that happens to the doctors at Childrens exists in the real world version of Brazil. So despite that huge reveal, it’s still kind of an acceptable backstory to come from Childrens Hospital. The audience has accepted that the show has been on since the ‘50s and that basically all of the characters are immortal, so that backstory isn’t the thing that inherently makes this episode different from other Childrens Hospital episodes, especially as the episode fully commits to it.
However, the episode quickly becomes anti-comedy in a way where it doesn’t even feel like anti-comedy; it just feels like a different expression of art. As ridiculous as the whole premise is—and it progressively becomes more so as the techno-babble and jargon litter the plot—everyone in this episode plays this absolutely straight, despite hitting every cliche and trope possible. And this isn’t even straight in the way that season one did it when the show was specifically a Grey’s Anatomy/ER parody. Watch the scene where Lola tells Cat the truth about The Grid. It’s not overly melodramatic acting to let the audience know it’s all a joke. It’s just genuinely good acting, to a point where I’m willing to admit I got teary-eyed over an episode of Childrens Hospital. There’s still a hint of irony in all of it simply because it’s Childrens Hospital, but it’s far, far in the background compared to other episodes. The episode makes it very easy for the audience to immerse themselves in this story in a different way from other episodes. I say on a weekly basis how talented the cast members of Childrens Hospital are as comedic actors, but really, that qualifier doesn’t need to be made: They’re simply a talented cast of actors. Childrens Hospital has always been a show where the actors get and have to do it all, and “The Grid” is the icing on top of that cake. It isn’t just the writing and tone of the “The Grid” that’s different—it’s very much the performances.
When I say that irony is still there, it’s especially obvious in how every other line is really just a long bit of expository text. It’s that constant techno-babble and jargon that I mentioned, as “The Grid” becomes more and more like The Matrix, complete with assuming the pseudo-enlightened complexities of that plot and acting like it’s all acceptable. It all basically goes in one ear and out the other, which has to be expected, as the show that once had Erinn Hayes utter the line “now hacking and stuff” could never honestly say “the mainframe” as much of it does without actually taking the piss out of it all. Ballers’ Rob Corddry is credited with writing this two-parter, and as the actual father of Childrens Hospital, he sends it on its way to a better place with a deft attention to detail, the same way he brought it into this world.
A great deal of credit is also owed to Danny Jelinek for directing the two-parter, not only creating a world that just plain looks like a movie but also making sure that everything plays as straight as it does. In its final episode, Childrens Hospital does the ultimate parody by basically embodying a genre without overly winking or flinching. “The Grid” is the most unsubtle display of subtlety, and if that’s not the most Childrens Hospital way to do something, then I don’t know what is.
Then the final scene happens, and it all being a movie from David Wain and the Childrens Hospital’s show-within-the-show cast explains everything.
Sy: “And there’s no gas leak.”
Owen: “Then why did we hallucinate?”
Sy: “I’m sure there’s an explanation we’re going to discover later on.”
Glenn: “Well, in the meantime, we’ll explore all the possibilities.”
Every instance of these characters has shown them to be self-serious, pretentious, sociopaths who think they’re all God’s gift to art. They also all think they’re very much above Childrens Hospital—which, in their world, is a very serious network drama—and would never want to have a Childrens Hospital movie be true to the show. Last season’s “Up At 5” also had a Childrens Hospital movie in the form of a crowd-funded affair that took a different approach to the post-apocalyptic action movie than “The Grid.” But that version of the Childrens Hospital movie didn’t completely blow up the premise of the series like this one would. That version of the movie wouldn’t have been a good ending point for the series. That version of the movie also didn’t have to stroke each cast member’s artistic egos. After all I’ve said about the performances in this episode, they’re made even more brilliant by the realization that they were the result of the fake cast’s “serious” artistic endeavor.
So as the episode ends with them all being slammed by the studio head for creating a self-indulgent movie that completely spits in the fans’ face and blows up the series, the cast remains so self-absorbed that they genuinely believe they’re geniuses who have created the ultimate form of artistic expression. It’s oddly comforting to know that even in the last moments of the show, they’ll never change. Why should they? That’s never been what Childrens Hospital is about.
- If you haven’t listened to the latest Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast episode, go do that. And not just because Ballers’ Rob Corddry mentions me by name.
- For TV Club synergy, I can’t recommend reading Brandon Nowalk’s TV Club 10 piece on Childrens Hospital enough. Personally, my version of the list is just a random 10 followed by the rest of the episodes as honorable mentions, but I guess there’s a reason I wasn’t the point person on that project. For just general Childrens Hospital appreciation, allow me to direct you to Wired’s oral history of the series. Ballers’ Rob Corddry brings up how The Ten somewhat spawned Childrens Hospital, and all I can think about is how I went to see that movie in the theater with friends, and they all very much hated it. I don’t really talk to those people anymore.
- Doctor Parker mentioning Lola’s other profession as a lawyer makes it even more disappointing that Lola didn’t almost say the n-word in “Hump Cola.” COCAINE!
- Chet bonding with Lola over their shared crazy is good on its own, but it’s even better in retrospect once it turns out that Chet is actually a brilliant, brilliant man.
- Lola: “I just, could really use a friend right now.”
Cat: “Oh, do you want me to help you look for one?”
- Chief: “Hello, Lola.”
Lola: “Chief. You look so real.”
Chief: “Oh, I’m very real. And have got a story for you. Are you sitting down?”
Lola: “No I’m not. I’m standing up.”
- There’s no line about it, but I like to imagine that—after the reveal of the backstory—in-show’s David Wain’s script had a description line about that bringing new meaning to “Childrens Hospital.”
- Telebrasil makes another appearance with the report that the gang kidnapped Sy, but the best part is the scrolling ticker on the network. “PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL ADMISSION RISE” and “NETWORK CANCELS LONG RUNNING NEWSREADERS” are the ones I could make out.
- While cast members came and went through Childrens Hospital’s metaphorical revolving doors, it’s nice to see every original regular cast member (except for Ballers’ Rob Corddry, who at least has the sole writing credit on these last episodes of the show he created) was around to see the show out.
- Just Falcon: “We created something very special.”