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As an endorser of series that break with established formats — a half-hour drama like Homecoming or a sub-18-minute gem like Special — I approach any show transitioning from unconventional to conventional with some trepidation.
I always enjoyed Childrens Hospital, especially in its earliest incarnation as five-minute shorts on TheWB.com, cherishing its episodic brevity most of all. The show’s ability to get in and get out with nothing extraneous was one of its greatest charms, so I didn’t instantly warm to the news that Childrens Hospital was getting a Netflix spinoff with standard 30-minute-ish blocks.
Air date: Jan 10, 2020
It’s with some relief that I can report that through seven of its 10 first-season episodes, Medical Police works in most of the same ways that Childrens Hospital succeeded. Yes, the season is padded and it feels like a 90-minute movie might have been a smarter experimental expansion, but even the Medical Police filler is fairly entertaining and at no point do episodes lag. Heck, you can probably watch it in 10-minute bites if that’s what you prefer (though Netflix will know and if Medical Police isn’t renewed, it maybe be your fault).
Created by Rob Corddry, Krister Johnson, Jonathan Stern and David Wain, Medical Police basically picks up directly from Childrens Hospital, with Michael Cera’s Sal Viscuso doing the PA announcement, “Attention, staff: What do you call a web-making contest between spiders? A spinoff.” From there, though, absolutely no knowledge of Childrens Hospital is required. I mean, there’s a doctor with clown makeup, and the introductory hospital is in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for some reason — “That’s right. We both live and work at a hospital serving the American expatriate community here in Sao Paulo, Brazil. As we both know” — but otherwise? You’ll catch on.
Basically, there’s an outbreak of a deadly virus at a local university, which attracts the attention of Erinn Hayes’ Dr. Lola Spratt, but because she needs a lift to the crime scene, she has to enlist her estranged ex Dr. Owen Maestro (Rob Huebel) for a ride and the two set off on a globe-trotting investigation to get to the bottom of this mystery.
“We’re American doctors,” Lola has to tell authorities in Berlin, one of their first international stops.
“And also apparently now cops,” Owen adds.
“Yeah, it’s a big concept. We’re still wrapping our heads around…” Lola continues, before being interrupted.
That gives at least some indication of the tone of Medical Police, which follows in the self-effacingly meta footsteps of Childrens Hospital and also Wet Hot American Summer, which shares many of the same forces behind and in front of the camera.
It’s one thing for Medical Police to engage in genre parody (or, more frequently, satire). Surely it does that. The writers know all the conventions of the medical procedural genre and now the international thriller genre and it tweaks them with rebellious glee, whether it’s a deranged shooting practice montage or pausing the pursuit of a Muslim suspect to have characters ponder if they’re profiling.
What I find much more exceptional about the franchise is how well it executes the beats within every trope so that they have at least a kernel of sincerity. So if the series opens with a high-flying sky-jumping stunt, even if you know that Medical Police probably didn’t toss its key castmembers out of an airplane Tom Cruise-style, the scene is still shot and edited with at least as much verisimilitude as when CBS’ Magnum, P.I. does something similar. Sometimes fight or action sequences can be straight-up silly — an attempted escape from a Chinese prison might not be going for documentary realism — but just as often they’re handled with solid and respectful stunt work and tight editing. Without going to Russia, Germany, China or Africa, the series at least has fun giving the superficial impression of that sort of budget.
The cast is, as always, wonderfully game, with Hayes offering the latest reminder that she should have more comic vehicles built around her, rather than still having her time wasted on CBS sitcoms. She and Huebel definitely make a better team than she ever got to be with Kevin James. With a lot of the familiar Childrens Hospital favorites, there’s a distinct sense that there were busy schedules to be worked around, so folks like Corddry, Malin Akerman, Ken Marino and Lake Bell only pop up on occasion, as do a couple of the bigger names from the vast list of Childrens Hospital guest stars.
Among new faces, Sarayu Blue is solid as a federal agent with questionable loyalties, while the real standout is veteran stuntwoman Megan Le, who uses her expertise to benefit several of the show’s more advanced set pieces.
I don’t think Medical Police caused me to feel like longer was better for this franchise and, looking forward, I’d be afraid that diminishing returns might set in just as Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer prequel series was still entertaining for eight episodes before the subsequent sequel series suffered from declining laughs. Still, Medical Police made me laugh, sometimes hard.
Cast: Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel, Sarayu Blue, Malin Akerman, Ken Marino, Lake Bell
Creators: Rob Corddry, Krister Johnson, Jonathan Stern, David Wain
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)
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