This week, Touchstone Entertainment (Producers of ‘Scrubs’) gave Zach Braff a contract extension which, should Scrubs enter into its 7th season, would make him one of the highest paid actors in television along with Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men. This is, of course, contingent on NBC renewing the series for next year, which is still somewhat up in the air. While My Name is Earl and The Office are both renewed already, the other half of ‘Comedy Night Done Right'(‘Scrubs’ and Tina Fey’s ’30 Rock’) is still on the bubble. And, I’m here to prove to NBC why it needs to cancel ‘Scrubs’ and keep the lower-rated ’30 Rock’.
Scrubs has been at a creative low point since its third season or so after they ran the J.D./Elliot relationship possibility into the ground in a very short period of time. It was a show operating as if each season could be its last, and it exhausted a great deal of its potential storylines during that period of time. These characters and their relationships with one another were what really made Scrubs interesting, whether it was Dr. Cox’s guidance to J.D. in times of crisis or everyone rallying for a cause. There seemed to be purpose to these characters, and they seemed to gain a sense of independence in their actions which had consequences and the like.
And yet, now, things mean nothing. At the beginning of last season, I believe, Elliot left Sacred Heart for another hospital…and came running back just a few episodes later with little to no effect on the character. Earlier this season, even, she decided to go into private practice, and it’s changed absolutely nothing after the show had a perfunctory episode where it became a huge deal and characters became vindictive for almost no reason. Carla had her baby, got postpartum depression, and then had been magically fine ever since?
If there is a lack of drama in the life department, their employment drama has been reduced even further. Remember when Turk feuded with fellow surgeons, or had trouble with his boss, or felt unsure about a procedure? Well, no more, apparently he has an easy time dealing with being a doctor. I honestly think that these people are almost too good at their jobs, considering that we sure see them chatting around and having a coffee in the new Starbucks clone in the hospital. Sure, we had the episode where Dr. Cox lost three of his patients due to a virus, but that was the last time anything even close to real “medical drama” that the show attempted.
Now, you might say that “this is a comedy, it doesn’t need drama”, but that wasn’t the way it was just a few years ago. They said that being able to film episodes without weekly airings in the Fall (Due to a January premiere, pushed up this year due to the failure of 20 Good Years) allowed them more freedom, but I really wish they could have been constrained, because the wackiness is becoming a problem. Once an occasional diversion which made Scrubs a combination of modern sitcoms and animated shows like ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Family Guy’, they’ve now become the backbone of the show’s comedy.
In last night’s episode, Dr. Cox turned into Alice from the Brady Brunch in one of J.D.’s fantasies, and it boggled my mind. What was the point of that diversion, exactly? It wasn’t particularly funny to see him in a giant wig, it didn’t really fit into their characters, and the fact that Dr. Cox actually choreographed the fantasy FOR J.D. made it seem clunky and unfortunate. I don’t mind these bursts of wackiness every now and then, but this was just one of many in an episode that was supposed to be a serious look at Private Dancer’s struggles with his acceptance into the army.
And, maybe it’s just me, but that should have been a fairly emotional moment for these characters. And yet, when Elliot discovered the letter from the army, the reaction of everyone wasn’t the least bit emotional. J.D. was being a complete jerk about the dead girl Turk slept with (His phone call to her mother was disgusting, not funny), Carla was trying too hard to be funny, and no one seemed overly concerned in the least. And then, Elliot revealed that she had once tried to commit suicide.
This is an important character point, something that speaks to the character’s traumatic past…and it becomes a joke. J.D. actually multiple times interjects as if it was over him, and eventually it turns out she had wanted to do it but never really got a chance to go through with it before she got hit in the head with a paddle. The show wants to play with these more serious subjects, but it absolutely refuses to actually deal with them. This was a show which used to really deal with these characters, and now everything has to turn into comedy.
While one could argue that Kim’s early season pregnancy was an example of something which was handled in a dramatic fashion, it was conceived without sexual intercourse and only became serious when they needed it to be. And, in the end, the rest of the season has revealed a very different set of morals and characters which have come to the forefront. Scrubs doesn’t know it’s own identity right now, as it tries to become a wacky live-action ‘Family Guy’ while ignoring much of what made it endearing in the first place.
I want to see doctors being doctors, surgeons being surgeons, neurotic characters being neurotic but not too neurotic, and i want to see these characters being themselves and interacting with one another in such a fashion. As every episode comes and goes with little but sideplots and no overarching story to tie them together, I can’t help but yearn for times when I could take these characters seriously. Sure, the Private Dancer arc has given some consistency, but has it really helped the show deal with any new issues? Or any issues at all in a serious fashion? The answer is now. It has lost the ability to do that in its new form.
Scrubs has done all it can do as a sitcom at this point; it lacks the dramatic drive to make another season entertaining at this point in time. Sure, you could give them 13 episodes to end things, but from a creative perspective I don’t know what they’d do with it. There just isn’t enough left of the show that once was to be able to conclude things in a meaningful way. It may seem like the easy decision, but the show just isn’t worth it anymore. It may have flashes of genius here and there, but it’s not enough to justify its continued airing.
So, sorry Scrubs, but I think it’s time you went out to pasture, as the third spot in next year’s ‘Comedy Night Done Right’ has been earned by Tina Fey’s ’30 Rock.’
No one knew what to expect from this Tina Fey vehicle coming out of pilot season, as the original pilot had been largely chucked aside in favour of a new one with a newly cast Jane Krakowski. Tracy Morgan is an acquired taste, Tina Fey not exactly an actress, and the show was almost identical in concept to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. And, Alec Baldwin hadn’t exactly done much television to this point, so there was a bit of a concern over this as well.
And yet, 30 Rock has perhaps been the most consistent show in NBC’s Thursday Night Lineup. Tina Fey has come into her own as an actress, and Liz Lemon is an incredibly convincing lead character. Jane Krakowski is annoying, but her Jenna has its place in the show that isn’t too much, too often. Tracy Morgan’s insanity may be an acquired taste, but I think that the show knows just how to use it. And, as we should have all known, Alec Baldwin is a comedic genius deserving of his SAG and Golden Globe Awards.
However, we could have assumed some of this; what we couldn’t assume were the surprises waiting for us. Kenneth the page is an amazing character, innocent and naive while being surprisingly worldly at the same time. The other writers and performers are caricatures, sure, but then they have lines they’re there for comedic effect and work well. Whereas relationships tend to drag down that other backstage sketch show…show, Liz’s relationship problems seem natural, and aren’t overbearing in the show’s narrative.
And these are bigger things, but what about the little touches, the little moments? The washed out “Katie Couric Sucks” on Brian Williams’ wall? Jack’s outtakes reel from his product integration video? Conan O’Brien’s cameo appearance, or the “To Catch a Predator” cameo? The show may not have the mythology of The Office, but it makes up for it by packing episodes full of moments like these. It isn’t just about a sketch show, but it expands itself to remain fresh on a weekly basis.
It isn’t a perfect show, but I want to see a lot more of these characters. I think that Fey should get a chance to expand the show’s dynamics, introduce some new characters, play with some more plotlines. Week by week the show is coming to the table with comedy that deals with issues while remaining laugh out loud funny, and without reverting to unrealistic visions every ten seconds. While not comparable at the level of sheer quality, 30 Rock is the closest thing to Arrested Development on TV today. It’s a sitcom with strong characters that, almost every week, provides fantastic situations and pairings which work to the show’s advantage. Kenneth and Tracy, such a pairing, provided an entirely new dynamic that displayed both comedic potential and comedic versatility that I didn’t even know the show had.
NBC, you need to give ’30 Rock’ a chance to continue. While it’s heading on a 6-week hiatus to allow for Andy Barker P.I. to air its short run, it’s scheduled to return in April to finish out its batch of episodes. I implore everyone to watch the show at that point, but at the same time I must warn NBC that you can’t just look at viewership here. Scrubs might be getting more people watching, but creatively it just isn’t there anymore. 30 Rock is your Arrested Development, a show that deserves a chance to continue into next season. Put it after The Office, let its ratings tick up, and let people discover this show over the summer whether it’s on DVD or over the internet.
Chances are you’ll be canceling one of the four comedies which are during ‘Comedy Night Done Right’. I hope, NBC, that you make the right choice. Sorry, Scrubs, but it’s ’30 Rock’ that has to stay.