Ken Marino, David Wain (Adult Swim)

Everyone who reviews Childrens Hospital is required to try to explain his take on the show, so here goes mine.

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Childrens Hospital is an endlessly re-buildable sandbox for some very funny people to screw around. Free from all but the barest snatches of continuity—they’re doctors—the show is whatever it needs to be each week to fulfill the comic whims of those drawn to creator Rob Corddry’s outré little world. It may have been sold as a straight-up—if lunatic—parody of Grey’s Anatomy (and every other medical drama ever), but Childrens Hospital has gleefully transformed itself into an all-purpose conceptual comedy delivery system, with the unifying doctor jazz as an infinitely deformable framework. Refugees from comedy entities like The State/Stella, Key & Peele, Human Giant, and more, write, star, and direct under Corddry’s big top, with each week’s episode playing out according to who’s driving the clown car. There’s little reward for them but the fun of it, and the chance to explore comic notions as far as they can go in 11 minutes of television, which explains why the cast list is so variable in this sixth season—these are funny, talented people whose gifts are in demand all over the place, so the show has become especially adept at pivoting to focus on who’s available.

Still, this week’s episode is the most extreme example of cast conservation ever, with Ken Marino’s Dr. Glenn Richie the only main cast member present. Zandy Hartig’s B-team supporting character Nurse Dori only pops in at the beginning, introducing the premise that the episode with entirely consist of Glenn’s visit home to his “family’s weekly Jewish Shabbat dinner,” which is exactly what we get, with “Home Life Of A Doctor” playing out as Childrens Hospital’s first full-length Woody Allen pastiche.

This season has seen the show trot out a few similar homages, like Sy’s turn as Basil Fawlty in “Koontz Is Coming,” and the semen-centric Ocean’s Eleven riff of “Sperm Bank Heist,” but “Home Life Of A Doctor” is even more isolated from the show proper, as Glenn’s visit to his family home “in the Jewish suburbs of Sao Paolo, Brazil, which as we all know is where we are right now” trucks entirely in typically silly spins on everything Woody Allen. (Especially early Woody, with Glenn’s Annie Hall-esque asides to the camera, and the Radio Days aesthetic of the whole enterprise.) If there’s a criticism, it’s that the broad Jewish jokes are lighter and gentler than the usual Childrens Hospital fare, although there’s enough weird specificity going on to tie back into the show’s comedy DNA. The query, “Have you started pickling the wine?” is funny enough, but when later we see Glenn’s mother (Mimi Kennedy) carefully placing a huge dill pickle in everyone’s glass of red, it’s another level of silliness altogether.

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The real pleasure of the episode is Marino, who, alongside David Wain’s meticulous direction, Rachel Axler’s screenplay, (and some appropriate Woody-esque jazz), truly grounds the episode. A signature move of Childrens Hospital is to have its protagonists play their ridiculously heightened comic dilemmas with a straight face, and Marino’s outstanding here, the pain of his position as also-ran to his do-no-wrong doctor brother Leo (Mad Men’s Ginsberg, Ben Feldman) paling only next to his unrequited love for his childhood neighbor, the sublimely named Esther Blechblatt (Lindsey Craft). Even while bearing up under his mother’s nonsensical insults about his penis (“Like a crooked horseradish it looks”), or delivering a hilariously extended, incoherent final defense against his family’s abuse, Marino’s face plays it straight, registering genuine pain and longing in the face of non-stop silliness. (Marino makes the case that he’d be a fine candidate for the next Allen surrogate leading man.) And that’s all before Jewy McJewJew shows up.

A few thoughts on Jewy McJewJew. I love Jewy McJewJew. Since the surest way to kill a joke is to overanalyze it, I’ll get started right away—if Glenn Richie is Jewish, and has a Hebrew school rival who’s constantly bested him at every turn, then making the rival’s Jewishness his defining characteristic, right down to the most ludicrously “Jewish” (with a little Irish in there) name is the sort of winkingly stupid joke Childrens Hospital is best at. The construction of [Blank]-y Mc[BlankBlank] is a funny name cliché, but the way that Ken Marino sells his heartfelt dismay every time his nemesis is named takes the joke and smacks it right out of the ballpark. On another level, the idea of a conspicuously “ethnic” or religious minor character being primarily identified only through that one character trait counts as television satire, sure, but David Wain’s characterization of Jewy McJewJew is as cagey as ol’ Jewy McJewJew himself. Jewy McJewJew isn’t stereotypically “Jewish” (tonight’s incessant “my wife’s cheating on me” schtick aside) as much as he’s insufferably reasonable about how he’s better than Glenn. If Glenn had been written Swedish, he’d be sparring with Swedey McSwedeSwede. Which wouldn’t be as funny. I love Jewy McJewJew.

As an episode of Childrens Hospital, “Home Life Of A Doctor” is an outlier, a weird little cul-de-sac in a minor, affectionately silly key. But that’s the sort of rewarding freedom the show offers the people involved. And us.

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Stray observations

  • Glenn’s theory of what Dori’s up to this weekend? “Oyster boil with the gals.”
  • “Hello! I brought 75 onions.” “There must be 50 to 100 in there!”
  • “I could Google it.” “Put away your big city porn machine.”
  • Glenn’s voice-over description of Shabbat dinner includes “cole slaw, piled jelly-high with fat.”
  • “What’s her name, Mine?” “She had it changed to Esther!”
  • “By the way, I’m not married, it’s just a joke structure.”
  • That’s Seth Morris as the brother-in-law, his best line at the dinner table: “I don’t like to reach. That my scratching hand—I’m not gonna reach with my scratching hand.”
  • Everyone keeps talking about Leo’s big schmeckel. Glenn: “If you’re measuring north-south, sure.”
  • “Can I share a secret?” “Of course, I swear on your thick dick.”
  • Leo’s confession: “I don’t live in a fancy house, I live in a crack den. And I don’t work in a hospital, I work in the same crack den that I live in. Also, I’m not a doctor, I sell crack. Also Im very, very addicted to crack.”
  • “It would have been very difficult to be faithful to you when I work with a group of female doctors who look like movie stars whom I’ve had sex with multiple times.”
  • Thanks for reading, everybody, and thanks to LaToya Ferguson for letting me sub in on one of my favorite shows. LaToya will be back next week to take us home with the season six finale, “Kick Me.” (Do not kick LaToya.)

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