Monday, September 28, 2009
The opening theme warbles “I can't do this all on my own. I'm no Superman” and in eleven and a half words, the audience understands what this show is about. Set in a fictional California city (the Internet swears it's San Diego and the Internet is rarely wrong), “Scrubs” is an ensemble comedy set in a hospital. The key word in that last sentence is ensemble, because like the theme songs says, “(No one) can do this all on their own”.
I've always been a big fan of ensemble comedies, I think that they are less boring than the typical sitcom where the audience is introduced to the one protagonist (or sometimes if writers are feeling especially crazy, two protagonists) and the rest of their universe is inhabited by “characters” (and make no mistake, that's what they are: two-dimensional characters) that revolve around them. Done well, a larger cast means deeper characters (no quotes around the word this time) and more intricate plots.
Zach Braff who is the star of the show, has said that he and the executive producers wanted to make “Scrubs” a sort of live-action “Simpsons” where the audience should be prepared for anything . And they are able to do this with the show being told through Braff's character's eyes using intersecting plots, quick cut-aways and dream sequences. To a person who has never seen the show before, it can sound like a muddled mess, but it's not. The one really good thing about “Scrubs” is that the writing is very tight—even though the actors are encouraged to adlib—not a word is wasted.
This show has a lot of elements that I look for in a TV show: it's funny but it stays true to it's roots; the characters are cool, but don't take themselves too seriously and one of its ambitions is to be a live-action “Simpsons”. The question is, why is this only at number 29 on my list?
A number of reasons.
1. It's a show set in a hospital. As much as I hate to admit this, I am a prejudiced person when it comes to TV shows: I hate shows that are set in a hospital. I don't like them, mainly because I don't like going at the doctor's office or being at a hospital. I don't think that there are many folks who DO like being in one of these places, but shows like “ER” and “St. Elsewhere” were big-time hits for NBC, so what the hell do I know? Not to mention a show like “General Hospital”.
“Scrubs” is literally the only television show that I will watch where the characters are doctors or nurses. When the fall season comes around, I'll check out the previews and if something is billed as a “medical drama” or set anywhere near a scalple, I don't even bother to check it out. A vast majority of the public seem to enjoy the melodrama that occurs at these places (see “Grey's Anatomy” or “House”*), but I'm not like that. It took me a long time to get into this show, despite pleas from my friends who loved it.
* I am convinced that the character of House was just a blatant rip-off of John C. McGinley's Dr. Perry Cox on this show. In fact, in one episode Cox angrily brings it up to JD while the two were walking through the hospital.
2. I got into this show around the same time that a lot of bad stuff was happening to me. My grandmother passed away, I was fired from my job and during this time I was battling a severe cold for what seemed to be like every other week. In other words, I was sad, sick and broke. With nothing to do at night, I would watch TV until I fell asleep. “Scrubs” seemed to be on every channel at any time. Like I said in my Beatles blog, I'm not made of stone.
I started to watch the program and really enjoyed it for the reasons described above. As my lot in life changed and got better, I began to watch more and more episodes until I had practically seen them all in a four-month window. Now, it's no longer on my DVR because a. I'm pretty sure that I've seen every single episode and b. it reminds me a bit about watching the show during a low period in my life.
3. The people who make and act in this show are gigantic TV fans. Braff has said that one of the pinacles of his career was guesting on “Arrested Development”--he played the douche-y Joe Francis character who filmed the “Girls With Low Self Esteem” videos. Anyway, he said that he wanted Tobias Funke to make a guest appreance on “Scrubs”. Not David Cross, the actor, but the AD character Tobias Funke.
That's pretty damn awesome.
With all of that being said, “Scrubs” is a really funny story that plays around with a lot different conventions. It's self-referential in that Braff's character (JD) and his best friend Turk (played by Donald Faison) go from being insanely close best friends to something even closer as the years go by. The referential part comes when JD asks Turk what he thinks would happen if people watching and commenting on them, what would they say?
They've fooled around with musical episodes (as seen through the eyes of a patient who has a disease where everyone sings) an episode where a patient is a sitcom writer from the 70s and 80s which saw “Scrubs” shoot from the traditional three-camera set-up with a laugh track instead of the show's normal one-camera shots with no laugh track.
This kind of experimentation is great and lets the audience know that the writers aren't set to sit on their laurels and churn out the same types of episodes over and over and over again. The freshness that the cast and crew bring to the show is palatable and is also driven home by the fact that many of the lines during JD's dream sequences are ad-libbed.
Another quality of the show that I enjoy is that not every episode ends with a happy ending, despite his best efforts some of JD's patients die. Also, the changes that are made in one episode create ripples that effect future episodes.
And a character like the hospital's Head Chief of Medicine, Bob Kelso (played by Ken Jenkins), is often set up as the antagonist. But there's a reason to why he gets in the way of Dr. Cox's methods or JD's altruism. Modern hospitals are around to make money, when a hospital ceases to make money, it will be closed down. So when Kelso kicks out someone who doesn't have any symptoms (or insurance) but claims to be sick, it's not because he doesn't care, it's because he needs a bed for a truly sick person that can pay the freight. The morality of running a hospital is more than just the plaque on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
When “Scrubs” was cancelled by NBC at the end of the 2008 season, most people thought that was it for the show. However, it was picked up by ABC and did pretty well for them in a limited season last year and was given another half season this year. Most of the cast (like Braff and Sarah Chalke) didn't think that the show was going to be back so they sought out other projects, however with the show coming back they will be each making guest appearances in six episodes. From the cast of characters only Faison and McGinley will be back on a full-time basis.
Also changing will be the location of the series, as for eight years “Scrubs” took place almost entirely within the confines of Sacred Heart Hospital, but now will be taking place at a college. I look forward to seeing how “Scrubs” reinvents itself because Faison's character's wife (Judy Reyes) nor JD's nemesis “The Janitor” (Neil Flynn) will also not be part of the new direction—though they will make guest appearances
During it's run, “Scrubs” had the same quirky existence that it's characters had: it was hailed as a genius show, yet never found true ratings success. It bounced around different days and times, almost as if it was daring its fans to find it, yet didn't flourish until in reruns. It had been rumored to be on the chopping block for years, but it has almost lasted an entire decade. It inspired to be a live-action cartoon, but delivered characters and situations more real than most situation comedies or dramas.
“Scrubs” was, and still is, an enigma of a television show for a lot of people. You owe it to yourself to watch and figure it out.