Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always
With stunning performances from two completely genuine young leads, this is a movie people will talk about all year.
David Wain and his regular collaborators that appear in Netflix’s “Medical Police” have a distinct comedy style with a rhythm that’s easy to identify. Anyone who’s seen the film or TV versions of “Wet Hot American Summer,” “They Came Together,” or especially “Children’s Hospital” will recognize this brand of humor, one that verges on the surreal and lives in the long spaces in which jokes feel just about to get stale before moving on to something else. It’s not quite parody but it’s also nowhere near meant to be taken straight, and it’s essentially a platform for great comedic talents to show off their skills. “Medical Police” is sort of a spoof of mystery/medical shows like “Chicago Med” but it’s also sort of its own weird creation, one that satisfies as a pleasant diversion but lacks the jokes-per-minute to stand up with the best of the Wain Universe projects.
Technically, “Medical Police” is a spin-off of “Children’s Hospital,” a show that started life as webisodes in 2008 before moving to Adult Swim. That show was a spoof of medical dramas about the staff of a children’s hospital in Brazil led by Rob Corddry, who also co-created, and co-starring Lake Bell, Ken Marino, Malin Akerman, Henry Winkler, Erinn Hayes, and Rob Huebel, who all return for at least some of “Medical Police.” Hayes and Huebel reprise their roles as Dr. Lola Spratt and Dr. Owen Maestro, who stumble onto a virus that’s threatening to destroy the world. Like a spoof of films like “Outbreak” or “Contagion,” Spratt and Maestro travel the world to try to find a cure, eventually returning to Children’s Hospital, allowing for meatier scenes for some of this troupe’s best performers like Marino and Bell. Guest stars like Jason Schwartzman, Randall Park, Craig Robinson, and Joel McHale add some flavor.
“Children’s Hospital” worked in quick, comedic bursts. The first episodes ran five minutes and later ones only about 10-11. It’s a ridiculous sense of humor that just works better in smaller doses. Episodes of “Medical Police” all feel a bit too long, even just at 24 minutes or so. The rhythm is ever so slightly off as if some episodes have been stretched to meet a running time. Worse than that, there are long sections of the show that just aren’t as funny as typical Wain material. It’s a show that is often at its best when it’s truly surreal—one of my favorite bits being when they sing “Rock a Bye Baby” to put an armed enemy to sleep—but it’s also surprisingly plot-heavy. The show regularly feels like an actual, literal medical mystery show, as if we’re supposed to feel tension as to whether or not Maestro and Spratt will save the world. I get that the best parodies also have to play the genre straight to work, but the balance here is slightly off. To be blunt, I wanted “Medical Police” to be funnier. And while Huebel and Hayes are both likable comedians, they’re not quite the best of this group, and they absolutely dominate plot and screen time here. Every time someone like Bell or Marino is given a chance to shine, you realize how dry a lot of “Medical Police” is for the majority of its arc.
My suggestion for those of you who watch “Medical Police” is to space it out like “Children’s Hospital.” Cut the ten episodes in half. Watch it in bursts, ten minutes at a time. You’ll get at least a couple laughs in each burst and won’t notice the sag as much as you undeniably will if you watch ten full episodes in a row. I still love Wain and his friends and their commitment to the brand of comedy, and perhaps it’s because of how much I’ve enjoyed previous projects of theirs that makes me harder on this one, but I just didn’t laugh nearly as much as I expected. Maybe I need to see a doctor.
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