“My First Step (season 2, episode 7; originally aired 11/07/2002) and “My Fruit Cups” (season 2, episode 8; originally aired 11/14/2002)
Given its penchant for fantasy, and considering where the show heads in later seasons, it’s difficult to call Scrubs a realistic show without some sort of caveat. However, there is no question that the show was always interested in leveraging the “real” in an effort to get audiences to relate to these characters—both as young doctors and as young professionals in general—throughout its run.
We generally discuss this in terms of the show’s approach to death and morbidity—this is a “real” world in the sense that people die, and there isn’t always a happy ending. As the show goes on, reality and the grim reaper are often on the same team, a strategy that provides the show with a consistent source of dramatic material.
However, reality does not need to be dramatic, nor does it necessarily need to involve death. While “My First Step” tells another story about learning how to be a doctor, here with Elliot’s patient dying in surgery and J.D. discovering the perils of his “wait and see” approach, “My Fruit Cups” introduces the idea of moonlighting and workplace theft as realities of being a young doctor with a mountain of debt to contend with.
We can quibble over whether we’ve ever seen evidence that these characters were struggling for money, and whether this was just an excuse to tell more stories (here the idea that Turk takes part of J.D.’s moonlighting gig as a finder’s fee). However, as the show’s commentaries so often identify, the writers are drawing from the experience of real doctors with many of these stories, and as the second season continues you can see the writers parceling out some of those details to expand the world of the show’s characters.
You could technically suggest that the introduction of Heather Locklear as pharmaceutical rep Julie is an example of this. “My First Step” doesn’t offer a deep treatise on the function of pharmaceutical reps and the business of gouging patients for the medicine they need, but the character’s existence is predicated on that particular space within the medical field. It was never going to become a major component of the series, but the situational justification for her arrival helps blunt the feeling that this is yet another short-term piece of stunt-casting designed to draw in audiences.
“My First Step” and “My Fruit Cups” form one of those quasi-two-parters in which the episodic structure is effectively maintained while one major storyline—in this instance, Julie’s arrival—plays out over the course of the two episodes. “My First Step” still has its battle between J.D. and Elliot, and Turk and Carla fighting over whether Carla should want to be more than just a nurse, but it also introduces Julie so that her battle with a pregnant Jordan in “My Fruit Cups” can play out with at least some semblance of suspense (although it would be tough to find suspense given the choice between a big-name guest star and a recurring actress married to the show’s creator).
It’s not a bad strategy, per se, but I do wonder if it makes the rest of the episodes’ storylines seem less meaningful. Once you identify these as “The Heather Locklear Arc,” and position that arc as important for Perry and Jordan’s relationship, it’s sort of difficult to consider anything else in the episodes as particularly meaningful. This isn’t to say that J.D. and Elliot’s bridge jump isn’t a cathartic release at the end of “My First Step,” or that Elliot dealing with her father’s attempts to steer her into OB/GYN as a specialty doesn’t resonate with her character. It just seems that, often with sitcoms in particular, out efforts to periodize a show’s run (a natural byproduct of a process like this one) can often mean losing nuanced moments in favor of what became more momentous with time.
In a perfect world, I’d have the time to really delve into the minutiae of each episode, but it just isn’t feasible working on a weekly schedule like this one. Of course, that’s the benefit of having a comments section that is actively delving into the episodes alongside these reviews: It’s possible, for instance, that some of you have distinct memories of these episodes which don’t involve Heather Locklear walking down a hallway in slow motion to the on-the-nose musical styling’s of Robert Palmer’s “A Bad Case Of Loving You,” and I hope to hear about those in the comments below.
At the end of the day, though, my takeaway from these episodes is centered on Perry Cox. While his relationship with Julie is so brief that calling it eventful or meaningful would be pushing it, the show continues to investigate the proximity of hate and love within Perry’s brain. His disgust with Julie’s position helps fuel his lust for her in the same way his hatred of Jordan is paired so comfortably with his desire for her, and so if we forget the extratextual details and focus exclusively on the story as it is being told, we can see how these two relationships would at least force him to think carefully.
That a baby is involved certainly helps tilt the scales in Jordan’s favor (pun unintended initially, but I left it there, so I suppose it’s intended now), but there’s also the idea of someone having an almost magnetic pull on another person. Thinking in a more contemporary context, it reminds me a bit of what Parks And Recreation has done with Ron Swanson and Tammy II. The difference, of course, is that Scrubs is far more interested in grounding that storyline in—and now we come back to it—“reality” in the traditional sense. And so we end with a scene that promises more comic drama (Perry pouring two glasses for himself) but also suggests some modicum of civility and stability for the couple moving forward.
It’s also an early example of the show successfully positioning Dr. Cox and his charges in a similar position in life despite the fact that they belong to two different generations. While the residents find themselves in that liminal space between childhood and adulthood, still “young” professionals struggling to makes ends meet and stealing fruit cups from the cafeteria, Perry now enters that liminal space between life before kids and life after. During its early seasons, Scrubs is not a sitcom where things never change but rather a sitcom where things are always changing, and that’s a theme that can work for all of the show’s characters regardless of age or profession.
Jordan’s pregnancy will become one of the narratives that help solidify this theme as the season moves forward, along with Turk’s realization that he has every intention of marrying Carla (perhaps even right in time for May sweeps), but there’s also something meaningful about taking time out to reflect amidst those changes. While this can mean storylines that aren’t tied to that theme—simple observational takes on the day-to-day workings at a hospital—there are also moments that are people living lives in spite of it all. Whether it’s bungee-jumping off a bridge or enjoying an expensive dinner that you can’t actually afford, there’s something incredibly realistic in regular people escaping their normal lives and engaging in, if not fantasy, than something that’s simply different; it’s a realism that would prove vital to Scrubs’ early success, and which nicely bookends these particular episodes.
- I occasionally put on Netflix when I’m too lazy to get my DVDs, and so it’s been interesting to see where the music changes are most evident. It’s rare that I actually remember what music has been replaced, but Julie’s entrance was a dead giveaway: The music that replaces the Palmer track is so deadly generic that it immediately calls attention to the fact that the show’s music supervisors would have neer picked something so boring for Locklear’s introduction.
- No idea why, but Turk’s announcer voice entertains me a great deal, in particular how he keeps it during “Did I say ‘just a nurse’?” A fun bit for Faison to play.
- There will come a time when the Janitor becomes a topic of conversation in the review itself rather than in the stray observations, but this is not the time: Neither of these Janitor runners were terrible, but they didn’t stick out as particularly memorable either, and we’ve not yet hit that point where Neil Flynn is fully let loose (and yet, also, better integrated into the story). I promise we’ll get more Janitor focus when that arrives.
- While Christa Miller was given some fun lines in the show’s first season, she wasn’t really given much in the way of physical comedy, so Jordan’s increasingly embarrassing seduction of Perry is fun.
- Mmmm… trunk puddin’.
Next week: We return to a time when David Copperfield did sitcom cameos instead of insurance commercials, and J.D. tries to seduce Ellie Bartowski.