At this point in Childrens Hospital, it’s sort of incredible it can reunite its cast for each season considering how successful they’ve become. With its season premiere “Five Years Later” last week, the show necessarily brought back most of the usual cast to catch up where everyone had been since we last saw them. But on “Codename: Jennifer,” the show feels sort of like the much-criticized fourth season of Arrested Development, where episodes were based around who was available and filming around their schedules. That’s not a bad thing, especially for a show like Childrens Hospital, where literally everything can change from episode to episode, but it does feel like a slightly different type of show than we’ve usually seen.
Dr. Lola Spratt has been sorely absent since she left the military base last season, but “Codename: Jennifer” finally brings her back to the forefront. Lola now works at the White House and gets some of her former Childrens Hospital crew to come help her with a procedure for the president’s illegitimate daughter, perfectly entitled “codename: Jennifer, the President’s bastard kid.” The Chief and Val are able to help with the operation, but Blake and Owen fail the background check and are left to their own devices in the White House.
The main plot here works in that perfect groove of extreme absurdity where Childrens Hospital best resides in. Lola Spratt is able to surprise people with her incredible disguises, where apparently a false nose can basically turn her into anyone. The President’s bastard kid’s dire illness is a Matchbox car stuck in her nose, which turns out to run in the family. Chief can’t work unless she has an operating room that is identical to her usual Childrens Hospital, even if everything is just six inches off. Meanwhile Val can’t do anything unless she has the nurses to do basic tasks for her, like putting up slides and bringing her coffee.
In a perfectly weird Childrens Hospital twist, it turns out that the President’s bastard daughter is actually not a bastard at all, but the President’s wife—played brilliantly by Julie Bowen—had been so busy, she forgot she had a child. So far, the theme of this season of Childrens Hospital seems to be unexplainable children.
Owen and Blake’s plot is a bit weaker, with them stealing outfits from the foreign diplomat sauna room and accidentally being brought in to work on a peace treaty with the two countries they’re supposed to be from. The biggest jokes here come from Owen and Blake’s inability to even pretend to be anyone else. Owen almost immediately tries to admit he’s not who he claims to be, while Blake constantly just wants to make balloon animals.
Having an episode focus on one character, like this one does for Lola Spratt, isn’t a step down for the show’s usual style, but the show seems to really click in a much stronger way when it’s about the ensemble. I appreciate the show’s ambition in bringing back all of the regular crew, but it does sort of feel slightly like them shoehorning in actors when they’re available. But even as strange as this show consistently is, it’s still nice to see some of the show’s old friends once again, even if it is for just a one-off episode.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.