The greatest, most unnecessary choice that Childrens Hospital has ever made is to make it a show within a show. At this point, when you watch Dr. Blake Downs, you’re watching Rob Corddry playing first Cutter Spindell, then his twin brother Rory, playing Dr. Blake Downs on a TV show called Childrens Hospital on Childrens Hospital. It’s a ridiculous, wholly unimportant level of depth, but it also provides some of the best episodes of the show and even brought about a spinoff with Newsreaders.
After a rocky first half of its sixth season, Childrens Hospital comes back to the meta well with the best episode so far this season with “Up at 5,” to give us even more unnecessary depth than before.
If you think about the layers of “Up at 5” too hard, it can make your head spin. Basically as you watch Childrens Hospital this week, you’re actually watching actors on a morning show pretending to be other actors who are trying to earn money for a movie based on the Childrens Hospital show within Childrens Hospital. Like I said, it’s completely superfluous, convoluted to a ridiculous level and maybe the best aspect of the entire series.
Bill Dwyer and Constance Wu play Alan Stack and Pepsi Lamarr, the hosts of “Up at 5,” which nails the hyper-awakeness of early morning talk shows. It’s clear they’re both so hopped up on coffee that they can barely even register what the other one is saying. Paul Scheer—who directed the episode—does a fantastic job at making their introduction frantic and filled with cuts to disorient the viewer in much the same way these two have no idea what the hell is going on.
“Up at 5” has the actors of Childrens Hospital appear to promote the Childrens Hospital film, which they’re hoping to make by crowdfunding the needed 13 million dollars. While the idea of a Childrens Hospital film exciting to say the least, it’s the dynamic between the stars of the fake show that makes “Up at 5” so fantastic. Lynn Williams (who plays Dr. Lola Spratt) and Dixie Peters (who plays Dr. Cat Black, and isn’t pregnant, she just likes cake) fight over their director David Wain’s affections. Rob Huebel (the actor’s flamboyant alter ego, who plays Dr. Owen Maestro) gets mad at the weatherman for dressing like him and messing up his usual glitter throws. Meanwhile Rory Spindell (who plays Dr. Blake Downs) is just mad that he’s been cut out of the Childrens Hospital film, since he’s the member of the cast everyone hates.
To be honest, the content of “Up at 5” could fill an actual Childrens Hospital film, yet with only 11 minutes, we get so much greatness, so fast. Rory pays for most of the film just so he can win the prize given to the largest giver: a role in the film. But by far the episode’s greatest moment of craziness comes from Rory yelling at everyone to “eat it” over and over again, which results in a quick shot to “Weird” Al Yankovic off-camera, nodding in approval at Rory’s fury.
I’ve said several times this season that it felt like we’ve been missing a level of depth to these jokes, that most episodes are only going barely below the surface, instead of digging deep for the insanity that Childrens Hospital can really get to. “Up at 5” more than makes up for the lack of depth this season and gives maybe one of the best episodes of the series yet.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.