Look, I know a lot of you really don’t like Scrubs–including our number one Scrubs-hater, The Hater–and I can certainly sympathize. The show is terminally cutesy with an incongruous streak of emo, just like its floppy, irritatingly boyish star Zach Braff. Its humor is often fanciful and madcap; its characters cartoonish. And Scrubs has been on the air so long. While other quality shows have come and gone too quickly, Scrubs has survived low ratings and the neglect of its original network to become a staple of late-night syndication. It’s even been picked up by a new network, ABC, after NBC failed to give creator Bill Lawrence what he felt was his proper respect. If Scrubs rubs you the wrong way, its ubiquity is bound to annoy you all the more.
But Scrubs meant a lot to me when it debuted in 2001, and though it’s been hit-and-miss over the years, I’ve retained a lot of affection for that quirky, smirky little bastard of a show. There was nothing quite like Scrubs when it first popped up on NBC. I’m not just talking in terms of the quick-cut "daydream" gags, which were like a live-action version of Family Guy, as well as a forerunner to the dense comedic style that Arreseted Development and 30 Rock have practically perfected. No, what really set Scrubs apart in 2001 was that it was the first workplace show in a long time–drama or comedy–that embraced companionship and collegiality. This wasn’t ER, where practicing medicine was depicted as a hellish grind, and it wasn’t one of those edgy sitcoms where everyone was self-centered and mean. The people on Scrubs cared about each other, even when they didn’t especially like each other. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Lawrence seemed to understand that one of the functions of TV–not the only function, mind you, but a valuable one–is to create fictional worlds that viewers enjoy visiting. As exciting and edifying as it can be to spend time in the pessimistic realms of The Wire or The Shield, people also need a Mayberry they can retreat to.
The Mayberry-ish aspects of Sacred Heart are evident in abundance on the first two episodes of Scrubs’ ABC run. It’s there in the way the show can feature some of its major characters–Kelso, Jordan, The Janitor–for just a scene or two, comfortable in the knowledge that fans will know who these people are and why the other characters react to them the way they do. And it’s there in the introduction of new characters: a surly intern that Braff’s J.D. nicknames "Jo" (after Nancy McKeon’s rough-hewn tomboy on The Facts Of Life), a slacker intern that J.D. resents because all of his catch-phrases catch on immediately, and the new chief, Dr. Maddox, a chipper-looking, cold-hearted bureaucrat played by Courtney Cox. Scrubs has always been adept at bringing in new characters and integrating them into the Sacred Heart cosmos without a hiccup. Before Dr. Maddox’s first episode is over, she’s already gotten J.D. so panicked that his small talk runs along the lines of, "Did you deliver vaginally?" And she’s already played so skillfully to the insecurities of Sarah Chalke’s Elliot that when Maddox pays her a compliment, Elliot blurts out, "Thanks, mom… uh… ma’am!"
"My Jerks" (which is mainly a getting-to-know-you episode) and "My Last Words" (which is more a "very special episode" episode) run the Scrubs gamut from wacky to poignant. "My Last Words" is the better of the two, spending the bulk of its 22 minutes on J.D. and Donald Faison’s Dr. Turk sitting with a terminally ill patient and talking about their fear of dying. It’s not deep stuff by any means, but it mixes humor and pathos in the way that fans of the show have come to appreciate.
Of course, if you’re not a fan of the show, elements like J.D.’s multiple bring-it-all-together voiceovers (a throwback to The Wonder Years and Doogie Howser), or smugly self-referential jokes about how all the awards go to "Dr. Shaloub" will likely drive you batty. If Scrubs gets on your nerves, it’s never going to be any kind of TV oasis for you, but more like a personal Hell. But for people who enjoy Scrubs for its unabashed sentimentality and fearless whimsy, it’s great to see it get one last season in the sun, so we can give it a proper good-bye.
-Hey, Scrubs is in HD now!
-J.D., on his beard: "There are those who say I look like a young Ken Loggins."
-Jo, demonstrating bedside manner: "It’s ironic that cancer starts with "can," because at this stage there’s nothing you "can" do about it."
-I liked all the people in the background who apparently read Ed The Intern's fake-hot-girl internet post and show up at the hospital with red balloons. Especially Colonel Doctor.
-Dr. Cox, after telling a story about an intern who used to drive him nuts, answers J.D.’s pleading, "Did he go on to become a great doctor?" with, "Actually it was a she." J.D.: "So it wan’t me?" Cox: "No, no… it was you."
-Is there any hospital on TV that’s not "a teaching hospital?"
-Just so you know, this is a one-off review, though I’ll probably return to cover the finale. The next time I write about Scrubs, I want to write a little more about ER’s final season too. I stopped watching ER after about the sixth season, but I’ve been watching this last one, and it’s been an interesting exercise in homecoming, and in revisiting all the frustrations that drove me away from the show in the first place. More to come, later this year.