A Defense of Sorts: Scrubs

Posted by Jesse February 4th, 2009 at 10:30am In General

See, the cute kind of garbage!

See, the cute kind of garbage!

Scrubs recently began its eighth, possibly final season, also its first on new home ABC. The default response to any non-smash sitcom in its eighth season could probably be described as indifferent, but I’ve noticed a pretty strong disdain for Scrubs among the kinds of TV watchers who cherish the likes of its onetime NBC stablemates The Office or 30 Rock — that is to say, people like me. Generally, people like me do not care for Scrubs at all, probably because it’s cutesy, sometimes venturing into mawkish or grotesque.

But I have to give the show some credit for doing a lot of stuff right without a shield of hipness. When it debuted back in 2001, it was a single-camera comedy in the waning years of Friends; it wove in earnest, sometimes sentimental drama and surreal cutaways like some kind of weird cross between The Wonder Years and The Simpsons; and as cartoonish as the broader material can be, the characters have always seemed more or less believable to me — I’m particularly fond of the show’s goofily affectionate portrait of male friendship between J.D. (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison). My vague respect solidified when a med student friend said that even with all of the wackiness, Scrubs, not ER or House or any other one-hour drama, comes closest to the actual experience of working in a hospital.

I use the word “vague” because I don’t say any of this as a diehard Scrubs fan, though it seems such people do exist. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a recent show I’ve logged more hours in front of that I know less about. With other second-tier sitcoms, I know the score: I know I watched the first two or three seasons of That 70s Show, and then stopped. I know I lost track of Frasier circa the Niles-Daphne consummation, maybe a little before.

Scrubs is less concrete. I caught a few episodes during its first few seasons, and liked them, and eventually decided a few years ago to watch the first season straight through on Netflix. I did it, and still liked it well enough, but it didn’t hold my interest enough to carry me through the second season (I think I watched a disc or two of that, though). Since then, it’s gone into syndication, and Comedy Central rotation, and in and out of timeslots adjacent to shows I like more, always somewhere in my peripheral TV vision. Right now it’s on my local Fox affiliate at midnight, right after The Simpsons kicks off bedtime, so there are episodes of Scrubs I’ve seen two or three or four times, and other episodes where I’ve seen the first ten minutes approximately eighteen times and still don’t exactly know how they end, and still other episodes where I think I’ve only seen the first half but realize I know the whole thing, possibly because the show continues to beam into the useless portion of my brain even after I’ve drifted off to sleep.

Yet there are also huge stretches of the run that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen, and I’m not even entirely show where they take place: maybe the middle of the third season, or around the end of the fourth? I know J.D.’s interim girlfriends have included Tara Reid, Heather Graham, Mandy Moore, and a less-famous black chick, and I couldn’t tell you much about any of them. When I DVR’d some of the new eighth-season episodes (a few weeks into the season because, of course, I had forgotten exactly when it was coming back), I realized I wasn’t sure how many kids Carla and Turk have, or Dr. Cox and Jordan for that matter, or how old any of those hypothetical kids are, or how many times J.D. and Elliot have dated or what happened to the people they were thinking of marrying at different points. Right now, they’re dating again, and it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. It’s kinda confusing.

But somehow, my fuzziness as to the chronological of details of the Scrubs world feels sort of pleasant when I do tune in. I’m sure some would argue this has to do with the show not bearing much scrutiny, which is probably at least partially true — or maybe my fair-weather viewing leaves me impervious to the repetition that becomes clearer over time, the kind of subtle boredom that derailed my DVD experiment. But the show’s mix of soap and repetition also makes the character seem more weirdly human: their lives grow and change in some areas, and remain absolutely recognizable in others. TV characters are often described as the audience’s friends (an identification tendency that probably reached its apex at the height of a certain aforementioned smash hit sitcom — what was it called? Ah yes, Inside Schwartz). The characters on Scrubs are like friends from high school you liked but didn’t know well enough to stay in touch with, or friends from college who moved across the country after graduation. The Janitor may fluctuate in his ridiculous omnipotence, and Sarah Chalke may oscillate from mildly neurotic to full-blown twitch-fits, and Zach Braff may grow an icky thin beard, but you still know who they are.

I can acknowledge the show’s faults: it does veer into cartoonishness, and though apparently there is a marked difference between the more realistic tone of earlier seasons (supposedly being recaptured now) and the wildness of later seasons, I can’t say I’ve noticed much of a shift apart from Zach Braff’s insipid narration getting a bit peppier as the series goes on (this seems to happen with most TV narrators; Daniel Stern and Ron Howard both sound more sedated and depressed in the earliest episodes of their narration gigs, too). Then there’s the narration itself, a frat-lite male version of that awful Sex and the City voiceover, trafficking in the most ridiculous generalities this side of a Jack Johnson song; at one point this week, J.D. realized that sometimes, confidence is a good thing. Uh huh.

But watching again over the past few weeks, I’m again impressed by the show’s watchability without full knowledge of the previous seven seasons — and its willingness to leave casual viewers on a note of disappointment (if anything, its moments of melancholy undermining small triumphs threaten to become as much of a formula as other shows’ upbeat pacifying). I’m not sure its mix of goofiness, pathos, and growing up is so far removed from the somewhat more sophisticated but still capable of sitcom corniness How I Met Your Mother (did anyone else think Monday’s episode sounded shtickier than normal? This seems to happen every couple months for me). So many shows demand intense fandom; Scrubs has unself-consciously moved from quietly ahead of the curve to comfortingly old-fashioned.

8 Comments

  • 1. Marisa  |  February 4th, 2009 at 11:16 am

    My biggest sitcom pet peeve is when all of the characters become inbred. For some reason, you can introduce and endlessly rotating series of significant others and I’m fine with it, but once you start playing around with coupling up the show’s main characters I lose interest hardcore.

    Like most sitcom bad habits, it happened in Friends. It’s starting to happen in HIMYM, too, but Marshall and Lily being married limits the possible friend-to-romance combinations. Scrubs is a big offender in this regard. How many times can JD and Elliott get together and break up? Why in the world would Cox think he was in love with Carla? I’m surprised that there wasn’t a subplot with Kelso and the janitor. I like watching them bumble through life and try and figure things out, but the soapy-ness makes it seem as deep as Saved By the Bell.

  • 2. TV Blog Coalition: Feb 6 &hellip  |  February 8th, 2009 at 8:24 am

    […] Scrubs has its faults, we all know this, but Jesse decided that people should give it a little more credit than it gets. (TiFaux) […]

  • 3. TV Talk From Fellow TV Ad&hellip  |  February 12th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    […] Scrubs has its faults, we all know this, but Jesse decided that people should give it a little more credit than it gets. (TiFaux) […]

  • 4. Jesse  |  February 19th, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    The first few episodes this season where weak but it has hit it’s stride again with the last few episodes. ABC should really increase the budget and enjoy one of the funniest shows around.

  • 5. Hooch  |  February 21st, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    The Office is wildly overrated. The Office is really only funny because Steve Carrell is hilarious. No one else on the show is funny, except Dwight occasionally–the rest of the cast are straight characters for Michael Scott. It’s not the first or even the best mockumentary-sitcom of the past 10 years–that’s Arrested Development by a long shot.

    Scrubs on the other hand is one of the truly original shows of our times. The flashbacks, the fantasy scenes, the voiceovers, the single-camera–these really set it apart from the pack. The dramatic and sentimental overlay make it a classic. And don’t forget the music. The Scrubs soundtrack is easily the best of any show we’ve ever seen (comedic or dramatic). And there’s no question it depicts the doctor experience more realistically than an other medical experience, by a long shot. Ask any doctor.

    The comment about JD and Elliot’s relationship being a little forced is true. I blame this on the network powers-that-be more than on the show creators, but it’s a fair criticism. The comment about Cox being in love with Carla is pretty dated–that was a theme that lasted for about 2 episodes in Season 1. Anyways, for campy relationship depictions, is anything worse than “Pam and Jim”?

    The greatest comedy shows of the past 20 years are Seinfeld, the Simpson, Arrested Development and Scrubs. The Office had a chance but is proving itself to be a one-trick pony (Michael Scott is awkward and does inadvertently hilarious things. Is there anything more to this show?). 30 Rock won’t stand the test of time. (Can you see anyone watching that show in 10 years?) But as long as there are doctors, and especially as long as there are interns and residents, there will always be people who love Scrubs and will want to watch it and re-watch it. I would have never survived intern year without it.

  • 6. Hooch  |  February 21st, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    also, in response to the original author’s description of how he’s not really familiar with the whole show, has seen a few episodes repeatedly, other episodes incompletely and entire seasons not at all–that really has nothing to do with scrubs, that’s what happens with syndication. there are 10 shows i could name that fit that description for me–the simpsons, that 70s show etc. when shows go into syndication, they repeat the most popular episodes more frequently. so that really is kind of irrelevant as a commentary on scrubs.

    have you noticed that only a fraction of the seinfeld episodes are in syndication repeatedly? some of the early seasons (which really aren’t funny at all but the show is just getting its footing) get skipped almost entirely.

  • 7. Matthew Dykstra  |  March 11th, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts,

    I am a huge fan of the show and can almost tell you anything about it. I have every episode on DVD and yes even DVD+VR without commercials. I love the show so much I was sad to see it end the way it did.. I do have to give scrubs credit from the moment it came out of the box NBC never really gave it much hope. I has had so many schedule moves and now again to next wednesday that it survived with its fan base.

    I am overwellmed at how well they can transition from a JD day dream to reality. Plus who cares how many times JD & Elliot dated or had sex they were ment for each other from the day they hooked up.

    With all those off an on again guys and gals they dated they finally hooked it up. I hope they get married and what is with Ted’s Gal.. ewwwwww but a perfect match. I am sorry to see the show go down. I am hoping like ER they can keep it going for a few seasons yet. But without Bill Lawrence they might just drop it.

    Scrubs has never been a #1 show from my knowledge but still did well. NBC should have treated them better, nothing including the office, Grey’s Anatomy, House, ER. Private Practice or Ugly Betty come close to Scrubs.. they are all my fav shows but Scrubs has always been #1

    I hope that everyone who is leaving does well and I hope that more people can become fans before the shows denmise.

    Be Blessed!

  • 8. A Defense of Sorts Scrubs&hellip  |  June 1st, 2009 at 8:44 am

    […] A Defense of Sorts Scrubs TiFaux Posted by root 8 minutes ago (http://www.tifaux.com) The comment about jd and elliot relationship being a little forced is true i blame this on the network icons by kevin potts powered by wordpress Discuss  |  Bury |  News | A Defense of Sorts Scrubs TiFaux […]


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