Thursday, March 7, 2024

Welcome to the Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy

We really hope your insurance covers transdimensional discorporation

It's the far, far future, and doctors are still beset by the familiar woes: difficult patients, dangerous new diseases, petty status games, questionable sponsorship deals, inflexible protocols, atrocious work/life balance, oppressively demanding parents, legal gray areas, career uncertainty, iatrogenic infections, unexpected opportunities for turbulent self-discovery, the growing weight of responsibility to society, scary but admittedly hilarious side effects, workaholism weaponized against oneself, and way more bodily fluids than anyone needs to see or smell or touch. Space whale got your tongue? Doctors Klak and Sleech are at your service. Anesthesia is not guaranteed.

Workplace comedy is tricky to get right. Over-the-top exaggeration is one of the staples of humor, but there's a very precise mix of vibe, mood and flavor in communicating what it's like to do a certain job. The point of this type of comedy is not to achieve an accurate account of daily tasks (how many delivery companies get dragged into universe-breaking crises the way Planet Express does?) but rather to get at the core of people's relationship to their career. No doctor has ever had to cure accidental time travel or black-hole-inflicted injuries, but the animated series The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy manages to feel true to the pressures and anxieties that all doctors face.

Emotional honesty is the anchor that allows the rest of the story's elements to go wild in all directions. Behind the exploding fungi and extinct germs and exoskeletal injections and extrasensory drama lies a solid understanding of who these characters are and what they desire and fear.

Our protagonist duo is composed of doctors Klak and Sleech, famous for their unconventional, sometimes legally dubious approach to treatment. Klak grew up as the unwilling test subject for her mother's psychiatric research, which left her with serious confidence issues and an unhealthy perfectionism. Sleech has an aversion to intimate attachments, to the point that she never speaks of her family, can't relate to people who get along with theirs, refuses to trust anyone else's competence, and sabotages any personal connection that threatens to get too close. These are not science fiction scenarios. These are realistic characters who have to deal with relatable problems; they're just thrown into a setting that has aliens and spaceships. The zany antics of galactic medicine are just scaffolding around the emotional pillars that support each episode.

If you prefer to come for the zany antics, they're thrown at you aplenty. There are immortal brain parasites and mind-reading birds and teleporter fusion and face-swapping STDs and death-reversing implants and hairy heart disease and mutagenic candy bars and gastric detonation therapy. The writers aimed incredibly high with the creativity that a show like this requires. Every permutation of alien body types and body parts you can imagine is represented here.

Also, splatter. Lots and lots of slimy entrails hurled at every surface. Who knew aliens had so many squishy parts inside?

But again, the best moments are those that involve interpersonal dynamics. Our two protagonists have gone through so much together that their bond resonates as a solid, thriving one, even when their mismatched personalities cause inadvertent hurt and they need to have vulnerable conversations. In spite of all the times they drive each other up the wall, they still rely on each other for strength when dealing with a toxic ex, a stressful coworker, a personal insecurity, or a forbidden experiment that might endanger every brain in every known planet.

The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy is a great example of what you get with an all-female writing room. You get smart humor, you get psychological insight, you get a mature treatment of the tough experiences that happen at a hospital, and you get carefully constructed characters who feel like people you want to hug.

And you get splatter. I can't stress this enough. Brains and guts and feathers and who knows what else go flying all the time. And it never fails to be irresistibly funny.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie/Miraculer, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.