December 22nd, 2009
As Scrubs continues into its ninth season, one can’t help but feel as if the greatest mystery is why said season needs to exist.
It’s not that “Our Mysteries” or any other episode of the season thus far is terrible, but rather that what we’re seeing lacks any sort of emotional punch beyond a desperate play at some sort of nostalgia. And unfortunately, that was already the focus of the show’s creative resurgence in its eighth season, which I found myself absent-mindedly revisiting over the weekend. There, the show used a new crop of interns in order to raise questions of maturity and “moving on” in the characters we knew and loved, which was a good strategy for transitioning a character like J.D. from buffoon to father/husband.
However, the problem with the ninth season thus far is that it seems to want to go beyond that, to actually build these med students into characters, and yet the only parts of their stories which are really connected on an emotional level (Scrubs’ strong suit) have more to do with the returning characters than Lucy, Cole, or Drew.
And what that is, precisely, is still a mystery to me.
I don’t dislike Lucy, but I also know nothing about her character beyond the fact that she’s neurotic. So when the show gave her a storyline they gave to numerous med students/interns in the show’s original run, the inability to perform basic procedures due to nervousness, it seemed like this was an ideal chance to just let the character have a straightforward bit of character development: she leans heavily on J.D. for support, which does little to strengthen her resolve considering how blindly supportive she is, but then is forced to do it without him and is able to demonstrate her ability to learn from his help rather than rely on it. There’s an important lesson about how you deal with mentors there, something that J.D. and Dr. Cox went through early in the series.
In fact, it was so important then that the storyline can’t help but transform into another stage in Dr. Cox and J.D.’s relationship, which makes it somewhat more interesting (in terms of tapping into eight seasons of history) but also makes it largely irrelevant to the show’s quest to make its new characters more compelling. The moment when Lucy learns that she can draw blood from someone other than J.D., following his method rather than relying on his presence, means more in terms of Dr. Cox putting aside his efforts to get the students to hate him in order to help facilitate Lucy’s journey. And we see it in those terms because the episode spent a whole lot of time with J.D. and Turk wasting time as bi-racial Hardy Boys searching for the source of a bad evaluation (Perry), playing into J.D.’s insecurities in a way that just isn’t entertaining. So when we finally get to the heart of the matter, demonstrating that J.D. is capable of sitting back and letting his students learn and that Dr. Cox is willing to accept that sometimes he needs to step forward even if with a disgruntled look on his face, it has absolutely nothing to do with Lucy in the grand scheme of things since said scheme is eight seasons old.
At the very least the show is allowing Denise and Drew to go off largely on their own, with Dr. Cox serving as a peanut gallery to push the story in particular directions, which is one of the characters’ strong suits. But even here, as much as Muhney is doing some solid work as Drew, this was all about Denise, the character we knew going into this season. They’ve spent a lot of time softening the characters’ edges (although acknowledging her fatty period here), and while the new balance is working (her moment of realization as to when they were in a real relationship felt like a good fit with the character) it isn’t doing anything all that interesting. It’s just decent, like it’s happening because the show needs to create stories more than because the actions make any logical sense. Sunny’s return didn’t feel logical from a character perspective, it felt logical because we knew the actress would probably be brought back at some point – the organic qualities of this world just don’t exist anymore.
I wrote a piece comparing the show to Avatar on Sunday, and while I’ll admit that was probably a bit of a stretch I think Scrubs is having problems deciding what perspective to take on its universe. If this really is J.D.’s last episode, I like that they didn’t make it all about him, but at the same time the way the story was structure pretty much did make it all about him in the end. It just seems like sitting in the space in between nostalgia and progress is resulting in a show that is neither old nor new, neither stale nor fresh. It’s just “there,” and while I prefer it to Scrubs as its most wacky and bizarre it’s not doing much to draw me into this new (yet old) universe.
- I like Ken Jenkins, but Dr. Kelso needs to go – the character serves no purpose, and as a viagara-popping sex addict it’s just plain sad.
- Cole continues to be wasted – I thought he was better last week, but having he and Lucy in a relationship seems like a justification for the character to be around rather than, you know, an actual relationship. We just haven’t seen enough of these characters for them to feel like they “fit” where they are.
- The wordplay was quite solid in some places here (I in particular liked Denise and Drew on their shared passion for sex, other people’s pain and the hatred of art), but Scrubs was always about more than that, so a few good lines of dialogue isn’t enough.