This week, Childrens Hospital began with a “previously on” so geared towards my sensibility—a Jurassic Park spoof where Cat moans, “This will teach us to play God!”—that there’s just no way it could live up to expectations. “Imaginary Friends,” written by the great Jason Mantzoukas, was not as joke-heavy as other recent episodes, but had a nice core concept that sustained a single plot. The only side-plot was Cat’s brief flirtation with stealing a baby, which seems like it’s going to tie into the main plot, centered around an orphan’s imaginary friend…then doesn’t, of course. This is Childrens Hospital, after all.
So there’s a kid with an imaginary friend that Glenn and Chief, as a goof, cart off to the ward where everyone does their lounging and smoking. The first half (read: five minutes) of this episode are weirdly slow by Childrens Hospital standards, taking a while to set up the core premise, which is that this ward is in fact filled with imaginary friends, tended to by the much more childlike Owen who still believes and even thought to conjure a Doctor Santa Claus to have some help.
It’s cute, it’s fanciful, and there are moments that have terrific fun with the bizarre rules of such a world, where anything is possible. But I wish we had gotten to that two minutes in so we could have spent more time with the weird assortment of imaginary friends Owen has to deal with, from a pirate who won’t shut up about “me heart…ies” and Drunk Daddy, whose veins are filled with glitter and shaving cream (for some reason). I was on board, but all the action is confined to one room and not much gets to happen, unfortunately.
The best part comes when Glenn and Val invade and start wreaking havoc, which, in a world where anything you imagine becomes real, is extremely easy to do. But as I said, there’s barely enough time to have fun with the concept before we’re wrapping up. It’s amazing how some episodes of Childrens Hospital (like the masterpiece “A Day In The Life”) can cover so much in 11 minutes, and others seem rushed for time.
Lake Bell (whose In A World… I saw and enjoyed this weekend) pretty much steals the show with her instant obsession with baby-stealing and reliance on the diagnosis of “horse AIDS.” Pretty much anything Lake Bell does is funny. I know I’m supposed to be a critic with in-depth analytical thoughts about things, but I have to say: I’ve watched five seasons of this show now, and my expert analysis is that pretty much anything Lake Bell does is funny. There’s just no two ways around that. That’s not to overlook the rest of the cast, particularly Malin Akerman, who has been mostly in the background this season but nails that post-credits sex scene with the imaginary Drunk Daddy.
“Imaginary Friends” hangs together very well, I just longed for a few more big laughs or set-pieces to make it more memorable. As it is, it’s not quite on a par with some of Mantzoukas’ amazing scripts for this show (like “Childrens Lawspital” or “Ward 8”) but no dud neither.
- Cat excuses herself. “I gotta go do some computer stuff in another room.”
- Imaginary Steve Perry is confused by Glenn’s disbelief. “Why'd you stop believing? I told you over and over again, personally. I even added Glenn to it and everything!”
- Cat has no interest in adopting sad little Dylan. “I thought you were talking about the orphan kid over there who was talking to himself and I was like, no way.”