We are five episodes in season six, and it looks like this might be the season that will be known as the gimmick-of-the-week season. In a way, Childrens Hospital has almost always been a gimmick-of-the-week series, but this current season has put those gimmicks more fully on display. Last week was the fan writing competition episode, the premiere had a surprise pregnancy, and in between have been adventures to the White House and revelations about secret siblings. The best way to think of these episodes now, especially after season five’s more “subdued” vibe (due to the locale), is to think of them more as weekly attractions. To think of it as though the show within the show is living sweeps week with every episode. Season four also had its own event episodes, but that season as a whole is more of an exploration of various genres than a weekly grab for hypothetical ratings (like here).
Of course, for the show within the show, what constitutes as sweeps-worthy—for example, a new-found super power—is pretty much a normal “gift” turned deadly.
This all leads to Lola having the super power of the adorable pout, something that can make anyone bend to her will, for better or worse. Anyone, except for her mentor and medical school professor, Dr. Leonard Hillman (Fred Melamed). Hillman has a superpower of his own: his “imperious gaze.” And eventually, Hillman wants Lola to join him in the side of evil, which forces the two to face-off in a battle of good (and pretty) versus evil (and blind).
Oh, and Blake has to go to family mediation with Dori and Billy because of how crappy of a dad he is.
Childrens Hospital is the ultimate example of putting a group of funny people together and having that translate to the project itself being funny. All too often, projects might have some of the funniest people in the world involved with them, and yet they end up tanking in the humor and creativity department. Childrens Hospital, on the other hand, finds a way to make it all look easy—practically effortless—when it comes to the convergence of funny people and funny material.
But sadly, Childrens Hospital isn’t perfect, and it too can fall victim to the same problems as other projects with funny people. In this instance, “With Great Power…” does, and it’s one of the first real instances of the show’s age possibly starting to catch up to it.
“With Great Power…” isn’t a horrifically unfunny episode of the show. It’s perfectly average. There are definitely humorous moments in the episode (as opposed to the typical chuckle-worthiness), and the worst Childrens Hospital still isn’t much of the worst of anything else. But despite all of the intentional “plot holes” you can typically punch through the series, the series’ episode plots tend to have an almost ineffable strength to them, where there’s a weight to even the most nonsensical plots. There’s no need to question anything, no matter how ridiculous, because it’s all so tight and genuinely funny. That strength and weight are sorely lacking in “With Great Power…,” which is especially surprising because the very fact that it’s a Lola Spratt-driven episode would usually elevate its standing.
The episode may be capable of greatness (kind of like Lola and her powers), but it unfortunately is nowhere there.
For instance, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the reveal of Professor Hillman being “totally blind” (which he has in common with Randall Tyree Mandersohn), but the flashbacks are ones that were done much better with Chet and his psychotic break in back in season three’s “The Chet Episode.” And Lola realizing almost immediately that using her pout for personal gain leads to disastrous results is the typical ‘low stakes treated as high stakes’ type of storytelling that Childrens Hospital excels in, but in an episode where Blake’s child with Dori is the other plot, even the little continuity of her uncanny impressions being her “super power” would make more sense. That or her “fantastic melons.”
Jonathan Stern’s script clearly wants to do a lot of work in the 15 minutes allotted to it, and the fact of the matter is that he does. That’s part of why the episode is so messy. Lola’s super power plot and Blake’s daddy issues are easily two separate episodes on their own, yet they find their way here together, never once actually feeling like they’re on the same frequency. Disjointed can work—especially for Childrens Hospital—but neither plot really makes it off the ground, save for the roof scene at the end of Lola’s plot (both figuratively and literally, obviously).
“With Great Power…” is simply better in theory than it is in practice, which if you then take the episode as a commentary on certain superhero movies (see: the recent trailer for Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice), then maybe it’s actually an amazing episode. If you don’t, then you have all of the above.
Also, not to sound like a broken record, but this episode is another one where the lack of certain cast members is simply too glaring. When Owen tells Blake about and Glenn’s bleeding penis, only for there never even being a glimpse of Glenn in the episode, it becomes another cast absence to dwell on. As is Owen disappearing from the episode right after he suggests the mulligan for Blake (and Sy also disappearing after his one scene). Knowing that the cast of busy actors is, in fact, busy makes it easy to accept such inevitabilities, but it’s ridiculous to believe episodes of Childrens Hospital will never suffer for it. Just look at this one.
- The best part of the climactic roof scene wasn’t anything happening in the scene itself but instead the background of Brazil. Subtle touches like that are always appreciated on such an in-your-face series.
- It was the season three premiere that featured Chief as a fully mobile superhero on the weekends, and I actually thought going into this episode that it would be similar to that. This is definitely more “grounded,” if that word has any true meaning in the case of Childrens Hospital.
- David Wain plays the Square Dance Caller. Bless his heart. Even before I was sure of that, his own dancing kind of tipped me off.