The Childrens Hospital spinoff takes on the spy-action genre with double the length and about as many laughs.
Sometimes more of a good thing can prove to be a bad thing. For example, some queso is delicious. Lots of queso is very upsetting for one’s stomach. The challenge facing Medical Police was whether it could maintain the same sort of smartly idiotic delight as its predecessor Childrens Hospital, while being twice as long (22 minutes to Childrens’ 11). The answer is, largely, yes. Medical Police is a worthy spinoff of Hospital, with all the upsides and downsides that implies.
One important element Police carries over is its stone-faced stylistic earnestness. For all the parodic elements and significantly more limited budgets, Police nonetheless wholeheartedly engages with the genres it’s sending up. With directors David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, They Came Together, also a show creator here) and Bill Benz (Portlandia, Kroll Show) trading episodes, the series has two people well versed in making a much cheaper product look like the real thing. Cinematographer Marco Fargnoli (veteran of both Hospital and NTSF:SD:SUV) furthers that agenda. By investing in not just the narrative conventions but the stylistic ones, Police takes great pains to mine comedy out of the verisimilitude of a goofy show about spy doctors having all the production value of 24.
That each of the other three creators — Rob Corddry (also making a couple of appearances as Childrens’ clown doctor Blake Downs), Krister Johnson, and Jonathan Stern — all pen at least one episode beside the pilot and have previous experience on Hospital. They know the approach well and their involvement gives the show a unified vision and structure.
This is, of course, pretty highfaluting talk for a show that has an extended sequence in a “silent disco” where the dancers all keep farting, complete with the most obvious fake sound effects imaginable. However, without the commitment, Police would likely fall apart.
Still, the commitment doesn’t work unless the jokes are funny, and this is where the doubled length sometimes hurts the show. While Police is never boring or slow, it can’t maintain the kind of joke density it likely would have in its more Adult Swim-friendly format. You can feel it lag at times, with pauses and lulls where the production seems to be catching its breath and searching for its next gag.
You can feel it lag at times, with pauses and lulls where the production seems to be catching its breath and searching for its next gag.
Whatever deficits the show may have in terms of jokes can’t be laid at the feet of the actors, though. Erinn Hayes as the “brilliant” Doctor Lola Spratt is so good at giving straight-faced silliness. Her ability to sell the obvious ridiculousness with as much earnestness as the occasional pseudo dramatic bits can’t be ignored. Rob Huebel as cop-turned-surgeon turned doctor-cop (or maybe cop-doctor) Owen Maestro is fully in his element authoring the character’s unearned arrogance and frustrated skepticism.
As is the way of these shows, they load up the rest of the cast with ringers like Jon Hamm, who make fleeting appearances. A particular highlight is Joel McHale playing a particularly forthright version of himself. Police also makes sure to squeeze nearly all of Hospital’s recurring players including Lake Bell, Malin Ackerman, Ken Marino, and a very standing-desk-enthusiastic Henry Winkler.
Those not already on the wavelength, either as a fan of Adult Swim generally or Hospital in specific, are unlikely to be persuaded to change their minds. “The same kind of humor but not as many laughs per minute,” does not an excellent slogan make. On the other hand, if you loved Hospital or other parody and sketch products from the writers and directors, you will at least like Police.
Medical Police skydives out of a plane without a parachute and lands on Netflix today.