“And that’s why, for one day, I was called Doctor Beth.” - Nurse Beth
If there is one constant in Childrens Hospital, it’s that its continuity is one that absolutely transcends the very meaning of the word. And that doesn’t just apply to the series regulars and doctors—that can apply to nurses who were once given the opportunity to be a doctor for a whole day. In fact, that just so happens to be the case for “Doctor Beth,” the origin story of Nurse Beth and fodder for a possible sequel to last season’s Beth-centric “Fan Fiction.” And if Childrens Hospital has decided that it wants to do a Nurse Beth episode once per season, then who are we to question that?
Despite the Nurse Beth-centric plot, the most obvious episode to compare this to is season four’s “Chief’s Origin.” which of course gave us Chief’s backstory. That was an episode that spanned decades instead of 24 hours, an epic fit for a chief. And it wasn’t just about Chief—it was also about the doctors who had to listen to that story and the aftermath of said listening. It also prophesied Detective Chance Briggs shooting Blake to death, and you just don’t get that in a lot of episodes of Childrens Hospital. On the smaller scale, Lola and Glenn’s origin stories are contained in “The ‘70s Episode,” an episode that contributes to so much of the mind-bending timeline of the series as a whole. So “Doctor Beth” exists in a space where it just can’t crib from what came before it; the coming in an out of the story was done perfectly in “Chief’s Origin,” and a decade-specific origin (while more than welcome) could really go either way with a focus on a smaller character. But it also exists in a space where Beth Dover and Zandy Hartig are consistently the unsung heroes of Childrens Hospital, and it acts accordingly.
Having said backstory be a tale of upstairs/downstairs lifestyles, rags to riches, and over-the-top jealousy is really a no-brainer when it comes to Childrens Hospital. However, this is an episode that is all of that, non-stop, and as such, it’s a showcase for everyone involved. The same could probably be said about Downton Abbey, but that show doesn’t have Erinn Hayes talking about poop. And “Doctor Beth” also happens to be a fairly simple episode of Childrens Hospital, choosing not to go off on subplot tangents that may or not meet up, but instead focusing solely on this story that Beth is telling. The reveal at the end that Cat—who, for the third week in a row, is really just trying to get work done—left at the beginning of Beth’s story is a nice button to it all, and the final beat is the right tag to drive it all home. Part of what makes Childrens Hospital so good is its ability to meander, but it’s also important to acknowledge that said meandering isn’t a symptom of the show’s own attention-deficit. It just knows how funny it can be to make it feel like that.
The idea that the nurses would be housed in the basement of the hospital—the “Nurses’ Quarters”—and treated like scum (and pieces of meat) by the doctors is one that makes the most sense of almost anything on this show, and as extreme as it all is, it easily gives a new perspective on the way nurses (especially Dori) are treated around the hospital. Of course Dori is the grizzled, jaded vet to Beth’s wide-eyed ingenue, and of course there is Flossie (The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs), the wise old black woman whose advice falls on deaf ears until its too late. In true Childrens Hospital fashion though, the supposed character development that’s bound to happen over Flossie’s death is hilariously nonexistent. Dori’s “She always saw the best in people. Now I do too.” is one of Hartig’s best line deliveries, hearkening back to Kaitlin Olseo’s reading of “You once were a boy and now you are a man and I am in love with you.” in It’s Always Sunny’s “The Nightman Cometh.” The dryness of this instant character development really sells it, just like the fact that no one (meaning, the self-involved characters on this show) knew Flossie was sick, despite the character introducing herself as “the old nurse who’s dying of emphysema.”
Within Beth’s “transformation” from nurse to doctor, you can really see why the character is the focal character of an episode like this or “Fan Fiction.” Beth Dover’s ability to go from that innocent newbie character to the cold, vindictive doctor is just really fun and funny to watch, as any reminder of her versatility is. Childrens Hospital isn’t the only show to realize that either, as Another Period’s “Switcheroo Day” has such a similar plot to “Doctor Beth” that the two would make an excellent back-to-back viewing experience. As for Zandy Hartig’s role in the episode, it’s not surprising to see Dori as a hardass here, but once she gets into revenge mode, she and the character are in another gear. If there were ever a time I would wonder how any of these actors can keep a straight face, it would have to be in the surgery scene where she somehow deviously hands off a wine opener, a boomerang, a cactus, and guinea pigs.
As for the series regulars, the ones who are in this episode (Cat, Lola, Blake, Owen, and Sy) obviously aren’t given a lot to do, but what they are given is memorable. Cat remains a workaholic (and the reason this story is even told), Lola gets to literally pop up and go on and on about people “soiling” themselves, Blake and Owen get to sexually harass, and Sy gets to give and take away doctor privileges. “Fan Fiction” was the pinnacle of Nurse Beth’s story and “Chief’s Origin” was the pinnacle of Childrens Hospital origin stories. But “Doctor Beth” should never be forgotten. Just like child star Chuggy Simple, Nurse Flossie, and Nurse Janet (even though we don’t know how she died).
- Based on last week’s episode and last season’s “Koontz Is Coming,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there’s a disconnect between the readers and myself when it comes to Sy episodes. It’s actually strange because I think I’ve made it clear that Sy’s not really my favorite character, but for what ever reason, his episodes really do it for me. That is all. Really, that’s all I had to say. Oh, and I appreciate Sy busting out a Fonzie “I was wr-wr-wr-wrong,” just for old time’s sake.
- I also appreciate Dori calling Guinness Book Of World Records, as promised.
- Hi, Samm Levine. Bye, Samm Levine.
- The writer of this episode, Krister Johnson, also wrote this season’s very goofy “One Million Saved” and the upcoming episode “Show Me A Hero.” He was a staff writer on Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, and so far, has his name all over this season both as a writer and a co-executive producer. He’s doing well with this name.
- Owen: “Good thing Sy isn’t here.”
Sy: “I am here.”
- Flossie: “Meanwhile, I’m dying.”
- Fun fact: Marla Gibbs also played the wise old black woman in an episode of Dawson’s Creek, only she didn’t die there. As far as we know, that is—we never got an update.