At Sacred Heart Hospital, the setting of Scrubs, the recoveries of the protagonists' patients are rare but precious treats. Scrubs itself escaped its once seemingly certain death: although last season's finale on NBC was marketed as a series finale, its eighth season began Tuesday night on ABC with back-to-back premiere episodes. The writer's strike prevented Scrubs from airing its final seven episodes last season and the show's creator, Bill Lawrence, could not come to a compromise with NBC on how many episodes he needed to wrap up the show. As a result, the season and series finale was "My Princess," an episode that was meant to air mid-season. Naturally, this so-called close to the show failed to address loose ends in the overarching plot and had major continuity problems. But longtime fans breathed easier once the news was heard that ABC was picking Scrubs up for eighteen episodes as a midseason replacement this year so that Lawrence could see his show off with a proper goodbye. Still, Scrubs has to clean up many of last season's strike-induced messes to make this network switch and additional season work. Even beyond this, Scrubs had been showing symptoms of decay in its later seasons at NBC. In its earlier years, Scrubs helped to define the modern dramedy: balancing the silly quirks of its characters with an artful take on the pain that dwelled not just around every corner at Sacred Heart, but in the hearts of the protagonists, who continually grapple with adulthood. It was never perfect in its approach or its form—often it tried too hard to blanket its more absurd comedic content with profound musings on the human condition in Braff's narrative voiceovers—but Scrubs developed a unique dramatic and comedic voice entirely separate from that of the sitcom, setting the stage for many of today's most noted comedies, like The Office, to thrive. But most notably in its past two seasons, Scrubs settled for its sillier, more comfortable material and overlooked the show's commitment to dissecting its characters. J.D. had a son, but was no more mature—he still desperately sought the approval of Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) and goofed around with Turk (Donald Faison) while he skirted around the issues he had to face. Just like its characters, the back-to-back premiere episodes, "My Jerks" and "My Last Words," show that Scrubs as a whole is having problems progressing. Scrubs uses "My Jerks" to introduce itself to ABC. It makes large points out of old jokes like J.D.'s outlandish fantasy sequences and the incompetence of the new batch of interns. "My Last Words" has a softer core, featuring J.D. and Turk spending most of the episode comforting an elderly patient facing death. It was a somewhat run-of-the-mill plot with few surprises, but when combined with the first episode of the back-to-back premiere, it showcased the spectrum of Scrubs' emotional and comedic content—which is perhaps the show's aim in beginning again with a new network and new audiences. The episodes play to the writers' and actors' strong suits and everything was done well, although it feels a bit like an overuse of Scrubs' standby formula for comedy. J.D. and Turk garner some laughs as they equate some of the interns to the protagonists of The Facts of Life, with Human Giant's Aziz Ansari brilliantly chiming in as standout intern Ed with: "You can call me Tootie—I don't think it's racist." Courteney Cox Arquette, as new Chief of Medicine Dr. Maddox, also integrates herself seamlessly into the cast, promising many fractures in the hospital's camaraderie as she thinly veils her unethical behavior with a sunny demeanor. There are new faces and plotlines, but it still somehow feels like Scrubs has been here before. As Carla (Judy Reyes) says in "My Jerks," it seems that the "more things change, the more things stay the same." But perhaps more of the same is okay, for in the case of this aging giant, it's still a treat to enjoy everything that Scrubs has to offer—even if that is only a few new takes on its standby material—before it takes its final breath.
Columbia Spectator Staff