Scrubs: A Retrospective

by thethreepennyguignol

As I foolishly do once every few months or so, this week, I dug out some old episodes of Scrubs. Now, to be clear, this review will be dealing with “golden age” Scrubs, ie, seasons one through seven, because I either haven’t seen the other two seasons or have actually forgotten everything about them, I legitimately don’t recall.

But I thought it might be fun to talk about this show, because I have so many mixed feelings on it. First and foremost- and right up here and up front- I want to say that overall, I think Scrubs is a pretty bad show. The giant goofy jokes tend to fall flat on a second viewing, and it boasts a home for two of the most crashingly boring and annoying leads in sitcom history, JD (Zach Braff) and Elliot (Sarah Chalke). I loved this show about seven years ago, and that is where my love for it will always remain- locked away in my early teenage years when I thought that romance was always conducted to the soulful strains of a soon-to-be-overplayed indie track. The emotional beats were often trite (with the notable exception of Dr Cox’s alcoholism arc), and the romance between Elliot and JD was so frustratingly and obviously dysfunctional it made Ross and Rachel look like, you know, they were actually an aspirational couple.

The older I’ve gotten, and the more I go back to the show, the more I find that it’s a case of diminishing returns – the once-anarchic humour fizzles out into dumb, obvious jokes, the characters are flawed and not in a particularly interesting way, and the show itself just struggles to sustain itself as it moves past the first couple of seasons. Honestly, it’s just another in the pile of early-noughties sitcoms that I hope will be thrown on the “forget” pile in years to come (*glances at Two and a Half Men and crosses fingers*), at least for the most part.  So there it is: I think Scrubs is a bad show. Fight me.

Obviously, and unarguably, Scrubs had perhaps one of the best supporting casts ever gathered in the world of sitcoms. Say what you like about JD and Elliot (and I will and should), but the performances of, in particular, Neil Flynn as the Janitor, Ken Jenkins as Dr Kelso, and John C McGinley as Dr Cox (not to mention the excellent performance from Christa Miller as his on-off wife,  Jordan), and it’s easy to see why the show had, and still has, such a rabid following. When it let there performers in particular off the leash, it becomes something almost brilliant- patchy, bizarre, but occasionally hilarious. It’s a testament both to how great the supporting cast and how terrible the leading duo are that they almost cancel each other out.

But I think it’s worth looking at the influence Scrubs has had over the sitcom landscape in the years since it became big. To start with, this was one of the first shows to go truly big while basing much of it’s humour around meta-comedy, playing with timelines and realities and dabbling in surrealism. I’m in no way claiming that Scrubs was the first, or even close to the best to take on that kind of humour, but it turned it into something that was marketable. Without Scrubs, you’ve got nothing of the likes Happy Endings or Suburgatory or How I Met Your Mother, shows that poke about in the meta or the reality-bending. I guess one of the reasons the show looks so bland now on a rewatch is because meta-humour as become a huge part of the sitcom landscape nowadays, and Scrubs looks almost Palaeolithic in comparison. But I remember watching the commentary for the first episode of season two, which opens with this sequence, where the director was discussing how against the concept the studio was because it just hadn’t been done before. And, in a lot of ways, we’ve got Scrubs to thank for the world of sitcommery they opened up for everyone else, even if they couldn’t maintain their own show in the process.