After last week’s trek behind-the-scenes, Childrens Hospital returns to a more standard version of itself with “Grandparents Day.” It’s also an episode that is arguably the kindred sequel to season two’s “Show Me On Montana” and season three’s “Father’s Day.” Those particular episodes were about “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” and Father’s Day, respectively, so the “Bring Your Grandparents To Work Day” aspect here is clearly the natural progression in Childrens Hospital’s sort-of-real-but-mostly-fake holiday trend. In fact, that natural progression lends itself to this being a fairly straightforward episode of Childrens Hospital, even with the bonus Childrens Hospital weirdness to go with it.

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Given the subject matter, “Grandparents Day” is basically the Betty White of Childrens Hospital episodes.

This particular Childrens Hospital episode concepts instantly leads to interesting casting, and the biggest casting get here—at least to the staff of Childrens—comes in the form of Cat’s “celebrity superstar grandma,” Shirley Jones (Shirley Jones). As Childrens Hospital has proven over the years, nothing really gets to the hospital doctors and nurses like a celebrity of any sort (see also: Jeffrey Ross), and that’s what happens here. Sy’s instant connection to Shirley Jones feels right, as the power of ‘70s family sitcoms compels them, but it’s Chet who manages to go the extra creepy mile here, as he his wont to do. But while Chet’s obsession or Cat’s jealousy over her grandmother’s level of fame and recognition would arguably be at the forefront of the Shirley Jones plot in any other episode, “Grandparents Day” instead chooses to go with the ‘70s connection, as she ultimately becomes a mentor to Sy in his ill-advised plot.

The fact that Sy’s plot to comfort Lola as her Grandpa Willy—who used to fish!—is really an entryway into the immersive world of acting, highlights just how ridiculous Sy’s half-baked plan to help Lola out is in the first place. What starts out as Sy doing an arguably selfless thing and getting shut down becomes anything but as it turns into an acting seminar montage and Sy’s desire to convince Lola that he’s her grandpa (simply because he’s a good actor, not necessarily to make her feel better). It also creates the (nonsensical, by the way) Pasadena metaphor for the rest of episode.

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Sy gets a win by listening to Shirley Jones’ superstar advice, and his “acting” gets him a win for Lola. But maybe even more than his jet-pack goals in “Sy’s Tenure,” this is an absolutely bonkers plot. And it includes the most bonkers twist of all, as it ends up being that the reason Lola couldn’t reconnect with her grandfather in the first place was that he died. So now Lola’s grandmother has her ghost husband, she won’t ever let him go, and that’s (most likely) a wrap on Henry Winkler/Sy for the series. That’s actually not the worst way to go out for a character who was introduced as the administrator that everyone hates. Because put in that context, bonkers is kind of sweet. It’s kind of kidnapping, but it’s also kind of sweet.

And it’s supposed to be “sweet” in that strange Childrens Hospital way, which is actually the case for the other plots in this episode. Glenn’s grandfather (Barry Bostwick) seeing Glenn as nothing but a failure and Owen’s grandfather (Paul Dooley) being all about doctor-assisted death are Childrens Hospital heartwarming, Scrubs-esque plots of the week. In fact, both Bostwick and Dooley found themselves on Scrubs back in the day, so it works even better.

When I mention how straightforward this episode of Childrens Hospital is, that’s really because the plots don’t meander to get to the ultimate joke. They’re every bit as by the numbers to get to the actual chaos. After taking all of his crap, Glenn “wins” his moment and grandfather’s acceptance by having Nurse Beth outright kill a patient on the operating table and making Grandpa Richie think he made a mistake; after arguing back and forth, Owen finally accepts his grandpa’s point of view by killing him in an extremely visceral (and hilarious) way; and Cat skulks around on the ceiling offscreen, just to eventually remind her grandmother Shirley Jones that she has no reason to be proud of her… because why would she be proud of the woman who ditched her to hang out with Sy all day?

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In these plots, it’s not a question of how they get from point A to point Z so much as it is one of what weird thing is going to cap off point Z. And Childrens Hospital has never had a problem with its own extreme sense of humor getting it to that finish line. “Grandparents Day” really isn’t trying to do anything fancy like “Childrens Horsepital” was, but it doesn’t need to. Because either way, no one is going to learn anything. That’s why it doesn’t matter that Glenn and Owen both technically commit murder in this episode.

However, despite how simple it all is, the episode also ends with one of the most Childrens Hospital-specific lines of the series:

Shirley Jones: “Wait, why are you guys laughing? How could you possibly get that reference?”
Glenn: “Oh, I don’t get it. I just know it’s funny.”

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That final exchange is Childrens Hospital in a nutshell. It’s a series with reference upon reference upon concept upon fart joke. But for every easy-to-get reference for some, it’s all gobbledygook to another. That either makes it one of the funniest shows ever or too dumb to exist, depending on who you ask. It’s basically the Gilmore Girls or The A.V. Club of short-form, alternative comedy. At least not getting the joke and laughing is a lot better than there not being a joke and laughing, right?

Stray observations

  • This year’s National Grandparents Day is on September 11, so um, never forget.
  • Nurse Dori: “Sy, are you forgetting anything?”
    Sy: “Not one thing. Everyone is going to be welcomed to the hospital, we have the cafeteria allowing everyone to pay by check, and everyone is getting a boxset of The Mentalist.”
    Nurse Dori: “Wow.”
  • Glenn then pushing Nurse Dori out of the way with his hand in her face is a pretty good sight gag.
  • Barry Bostwick is absolutely perfect casting for a relative of Ken Marino. Of course, the 24 year age difference between the two actors makes the whole grandparent thing unbelievable, and he comes across more like a disappointed father than grandfather. But based on Glenn’s age being somewhere in the the early-to-mid 20s age, I guess it checks out…
  • What wacky names do you call your grandparents? “Shitstain” has never been high on my list, but I respect it.
  • Nurse Dori makes sure that work doesn’t cut into her computer solitaire time, and I definitely respect that. I can’t respect her gaffing things though. I just can’t.
  • I am slightly bummed that Chet’s creepy obsession with Shirley Jones isn’t all over this episode. But at the same time, I realize that once Chet has a creepy obsession, it’s always there. No matter what.
  • Owen: “So this is our intensive care unit. Or as we like to call it, NBC’s primetime line-up. Because everything in here is on life support. And also they gave us a pretty big donation.” That last line of the episode may be the most definitive of the series’ comedic sensibilities as a whole, but this one is definitely the highlight of the episode.
  • Sal Viscuso: “Attention, staff. I’m thinking about Cher’s former boyfriend, Gregg. That is Allman.” Sal takes us back to the ‘70s even more with that line. Also, this is the perfect “I don’t get it…just know that it’s funny” line in the episode.
  • Good on Nurse Beth for taking one for the team and helping Glenn out, but what is she going to do with a crisp American $10 bill in Brazil, of all places?
  • In what is most likely a coincidence, this more accessible episode also ends in a similar, uproarious fashion to the opening scene in the previouslies of last week’s so deeply “mythological” Childrens Hospital episode. There’s less spaghetti this week, but there are also more shenanigans.

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