January 8, 2009

Scrubs: "My Jerks" and "My Last Words"

Well, I have to say, that's more like it. After a seventh season contorted by the effects of a problematicly timed writer's strike and the continuing ambivalence of its original home broadcast network, NBC, Scrubs made its Eighth Season ABC debut Tuesday night with a double header highlighting the combination of comedy and tragedy that has made the show so memorable over the years.

In the first episode, "My Jerks", a majority of the plot, like many of the series's previous premieres, revolves around establishing the characters that inhabit the zany medical world of Sacred Heart teaching hospital. Being added this year to the mainline crew of doctors John "J.D." Dorian (Zach Braff), Elliot Reed (Sarah Chalke), Christopher Turk (Donald Faison), and Perry Cox (John C. McGinley) are new interns Katie, Denise, and Ed. Katie, the bubbly suck-up, Denise, the callous intern with no bedside manner ("Sucks you'll never walk again" is one of the nights more memorable contributions from Denise), and Ed, the pop-culture maven quick with a catchphrase, are the "Jerks" referred to in the episode's title, though J.D. quickly learns his weekly life lesson about treating them that way. Also added to the mix (though likely for a limited time) is Friends veteran Courtney Cox as Sacred Heart's new Chief of Medicine, Dr. Maddox, acting as foil to Dr. Cox, but largely shadowing the greed-with-a-smile character paradigm first established by her predecessor Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins).

In truth, "My Jerks" isn't as much of an episode as it is an exposition piece. The writers spend the bulk of the show's running time establishing the dominant character traits of the primary cast: J.D. has waking day-dreams and is (still) trying to learn his place in the world, Turk is cool, Elliot neurotic, and so on. Even the titular interns seem seem shoehorned in, with the greater knowledge that if Scrubs is to continue after this season it will be on their backs and not Braff's. Even the ostensible plot development that "The Janitor" (Neil Flynn) has been fired by Dr. Maddox seems lightweight and without teeth. Still, the episode is not without its laughs, including a continuing running gag featuring JD's brain requiring him to view especially attractive women (with one funny exception) in slow motion and with their hair blowing in the wind. JD's impatience with this fantasy is just one of the funny "meta" moments which this episode excels in. (The second notable one being a lengthy discussion in the tag of the episode in which J.D. exhorts his fellow doctors that even though it would be easy to "mail it in" they owe it to everyone to be as inspired as they were in their first few years. The presence of an angry "Nielsen" family in one of the hospital rooms only hightens the "meta" of this meta commentary.)

In the second episode, "My Last Words", the show returns to the tone it had spent so much of its first three seasons working to acheive, a kind of bittersweet humor in the face of tragedy. The episode features JD and Turk almost exclusively (I don't believe Chalke's Dr. Reed even makes an appearance), as they console a patient (played expertly by Glynn Turman) on the brink of death. Despite this somber starting point, the episode is both heartwarming and funny (especially whenever new intern Denise is involved) and the ability of the show to tackle such serious subject matter is never in doubt.

It must be said, the fact that this show can make me laugh as much as it did in one minute (the image of Zach Braff doing his best Rowdie the stuffed dog impression is one which, I fear, will stay with me for a lifetime), while asking its audience to ponder the greater meanings of existence and the afterlife in the next is something I truly treasure, especially after all seemed lost in the show's last few seasons as it sank further and further into its own brand of inspired lunacy. Which isn't, by the way, to say that everyone will necessarily be pleased with the final product present in "My Last Words". With ABC marketing the second half of its Scrubs double header as "LOL", one has to wonder whether or not a staid reflection on the meaning of death was exactly what the doctor ordered (pardon the pun). Certainly my wife didn't enjoy being blindsided with bittersweet when she had signed up for "laugh out loud".

Finally, a few technical points: While I could not be happier to finally have one of my favorite shows broadcast in High Definition (seemingly the last popular prime time program to do so), I feel it is necessary to comment on the lighting used in the new season. While it's probably a bit too early to make sweeping generalizations due to the specific night-time setting of "My Last Words", it certainly looks like the once brightly lit confines of Sacred Heart have taken on a darker, more realistic lighting tone on ABC. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing will likely be dependent on the individual viewer, but I personally can't help but miss the bright blue and white featured on the NBC version of the show. To my eye, the new version looks too much like something straight out of Private Practice.

All in all, though, this was a return to form for one of my favorite series, and one which I am very much looking forward to seeing the show follow up on in the coming weeks.


  1. I would also the thing that bothered me most about the new episodes...Zach Braff needs to shave!

  2. Well said Rick. You pointed out a few things that I hadn't noticed...mostly because I was blinded by my own giddiness due to the return of the show. :)

    Although I know it probably won't happen, I am thrilled to see Courtney Cox as the new CoM. Her character is fantastic! and CC plays the roll quite perfectly.

    One last comment - "We're going to Steak Night, We're gonna eat it right..." Excuse me while I go perform the dance now.

  3. Thanks for the support guys, I really appreciate it. As for Zach Braff's facial, er, qualities, I felt that my thoughts were best left unsaid. Better to focus on the positive...