There’s nothing quite like working with friends to make something funny — at least, that must be the case, given how often Rob Corddry, David Wain, Rob Huebel and many, many pals find ways to team up together. Is it as fun to watch their latest effort, the Netflix series Medical Police, as it likely was to make it? Well, that’s impossible to know for sure. But the series, premiering this weekend, is consistently in line with the sort of comedy that these collaborators have been turning out for years.
Officially a spin-off of Childrens’ Hospital, Medical Police focuses on Lola Spratt (Erinn Hayes) and Owen Maestro (Huebel), enlisted as (duh) medical police for the CDC’s secret black ops unit. Lola and Owen are tasked with saving the world from a deadly virus, which doesn’t sound, y’know, terribly funny. But the show finds plenty of material to play with by riffing on the overly dramatic tropes of broadcast television — not just medical dramas now, but also crime procedurals and serialized thrillers.
In its earliest days, Childrens’ Hospital originated as a web series before being repackaged for airing on Adult Swim. This led to a number of other series, including NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Newsreaders, and while not all of them are officially tied together narratively, their signature style is distinctive enough to become a subgenre of comedy in and of itself.
Medical Police, much like the rest of the Childrens’ Hospital Cinematic Universe, plays around in a comedy tradition pioneered by greats like Airplane and The Naked Gun, though with less emphasis on props, and perhaps a slightly lower jokes-per-minute ratio than other shows of its ilk, like TBS’s late lamented Angie Tribeca. The ultra-serious deadpan is consistent throughout, as Lola and Owen’s investigation gets global (at times with an impressive degree of production quality — the series was shot in southern California and Croatia).
Over the course of 10 episodes, near-countless twists are lobbied about (at one point or another, nearly everyone finds a way to betray everyone else), but there is actually something resembling a commitment to telling a coherent story, thanks to the season-long arc to first investigate and then cure the world-threatening virus. But the show never forgets its true mission statement: to take the silliest possible approach to this theoretically serious story.
It’s something that would falter in the hands of less experienced creators than Corddry, Wain, Krister Johnson and Jonathan Stern, and elevated by the quality of the cast. Hayes has been one of TV’s least-appreciated funny actresses for a while now — as just one example, she stole every moment of screen time she got on Parks and Recreation as Gwyneth-esque “influencer” Annabel Porter — and given how poorly she was used by the CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait, the show’s decision to kill off her character in between seasons one and two was almost a mercy, because it freed her up to do far more interesting work like this.
She and Huebel — whose timing and nuanced character work have made him one of modern comedy’s most reliable performers — make a great pairing of equals, especially when playing around with the cliches of their Will They/Won’t They set-up.
Also showing up to play is a guest cast that features a lot of familiar faces, including Childrens’ Hospital alumni and Jon Hamm, Craig Robinson and Randall Park. Sarayu Blue, as the tough-as-nails CDC boss who initially recruits Lola and Owen, might be new to the CHCU but fits perfectly into the ensemble, and Jason Schwartzman might be the season’s MVP, embodying just the right level of weird as a mysterious agent known as the Goldfinch.
While there are plenty of jokes that fail to land, the pace is fast enough that uncompelling bits don’t have time to stink up the joint, and the moments that do work play well. And sometimes it’s nice, when the world feels rougher and sadder than usual, to watch nice-looking, nice-seeming people have fun being silly together on screen. (Please, no one tell me if Rob Huebel kicks puppies. January is colder than usual this year.)
Medical Police is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.