March 17th, 2010
This is the third time that I have written a review wherein I believe myself to be writing about the final episode of Scrubs, which is sort of bizarre when you really sit down and think about it. However, this whole season of Scrubs has been bizarre: just months after the show went out with an emotional final episode (the great “My Finale”), it came back in a form that was sort of like Zombie scrubs: it looked familiar in some ways, as certain characters stuck around to provide continuity and the stories were ripped out of the first few seasons when things were still fairly fresh, but other characters were different, and the shift of first-person focus was enough to throw the show off its axis. Zombie Scrubs, or “Scrubs Med School” if we’re being a little less facetious, was met with fairly tepid responses from fans and viewers in general, being written off as a failure even before it went on a lengthy hiatus leading up to last week’s sudden return.
But while I will agree that there were some execution problems early on that rendered Scrubs Med School a bit of a failure, I think that we need to separate expectation from reality. If you expected this show to continue the Scrubs legacy from Season Eight (which I personally found a substantial improvement on the last few NBC seasons), then you would be disappointed; however, if you expected what Bill Lawrence was interested in creating, a new show featuring familiar characters that dealt with med students and the struggles they face, I would actually suggest that “My Thanks” caps off a pretty successful “first season.”
I don’t think that it’s possible to forget what the show was before, and I don’t think that Lawrence made the right decisions along the way, but I want to see more of the show that “My Thanks” represents, regardless of the Scrubs name and the endless finales that the show has endured over the years. That’s not enough to save the show, perhaps, but I need to at least tip my hat to Lawrence for managing to make this Zombified show work at the end of the day.
“Our Dear Leaders”
January 26th, 2010
J.D. and Turk are not entirely dissimilar characters: they’re best friends, after all, and both have their quirks which make them quite enjoyable to watch in a “look at how immature he can be” sort of way. However, what I always found interesting was how Turk was always capable of better balancing the two: while the show struggled at the start of this season to position J.D. as both a mentor and a source of comedy, Turk has always been taken somewhat more seriously, which meant that he could be a bit more over the top without losing our respect or the respect of his new Med Students.
Ultimately, though, I think “Our Dear Leaders” didn’t entirely work because there is a point the Chief of Surgery needs to have moved beyond these types of stories. While it may be thematically helpful to have all of the stories play into a sense of leadership, to lump Turk in with the med students is problematic in terms of the necessity to exaggerate his character’s response to particular actions. It’s not that Donald Faison is no longer funny, or that there isn’t a story to be told about the fact that he’s too old to be acting like a Med Student, but the story never really gave him much material to work with, and it never quite connected the dots in terms of making this a story about Dr. Turk needing to come to terms with his maturity (instead suggesting he suck it up so the source of his jealousy would keep donating money to the hospital).
It wasn’t a terrible episode, but it seems as if the show still struggles when it tries to straddle these two worlds as opposed to capturing the points at which they interact.
“Our True Lies”
“Lust in Translation”
January 19th, 2010
There really isn’t a whole lot substantial to say about Scrubs and Better Off Ted right now. The two shows are effectively dead in the water, and while this is an unfortunate circumstance it isn’t going to change any time soon. However, the best possible compliment I can pay the shows right now is that when I watch them, I’m not sitting there stewing with rage over their impending doom, and instead I just sit back and enjoy shows that make me laugh.
And so, after the break, don’t expect much in terms of critical commentary: it may not quite be a list of lines I found funny, but that probably wouldn’t be a terrible way to approach the shows (especially Better Off Ted) at this point.
“Our Stuff Gets Real”
January 12th, 2010
I think we might owe Zach Braff an apology, or a qualified one at least.
A lot of us placed the blame of Scrubs’ struggles on the return of obnoxious J.D. in the earlygoing, leading some of us to suggest the show would have been far better off without him, but what we learn in “Our Stuff Gets Real” is that the problem was not so much the presence of J.D. and more the absence of Elliot. The writers’ mistake was not so much having J.D. return but rather taking away the element which grounded him to reality (his pregnant wife): in the context of that relationship, both J.D. and Elliot are able to remain helplessly neurotic without becoming insufferable, and there’s something there which is both poignant and meaningful (if, of course, not nearly as poignant or meaningful as what they left on in Season 8).
The rest of the episode is similarly on point, delivering another strong installment not only based on the return of the most original cast members yet but also by demonstrating some keen awareness of its new characters and their place within both the original cast and the show’s new dynamics. It wasn’t perfect, but the problems seemed dialed down and the positive seemed dialed in, and that’s the right place for the show to be.
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.
A Whole New World: World-Building in Avatar and Scrubs
December 20th, 2009
It’s very rare around these parts that I actively engage in any sort of cinematic analysis, but apparently it’s a yearly tradition as twelve months ago I was waxing poetic on the virtues of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and its connection to reality television narrative. And after seeing James Cameron’s Avatar last night, I feel I need to spend at least some amount of time discussing what was a truly fantastic cinematic experience (even if I also end up discussing its connection with television).
I could spend a long time talking about the film’s visual prowess, but as noted on both Twitter and Facebook (which means that, if you’re a Myles McNutt aficionado, you think me mighty repetitive) this was the first movie I saw wearing my new corrective lenses, which meant that it was so stunningly sharp that I think I would have found any movie mind-blowing from a visual perspective.
However, I want to focus on what those visuals are meant to achieve, in particular the film’s efforts to create a “world.” Cameron’s Pandora is full of life in a way that sustains this film, filling in the gaps of the somewhat reductive and straightforward plot by making us anxious less for what will happen next and more for what unseen part of this planet we’re going to see for the first time in the near future.
And it has me thinking about those television series which rely on the same sense of world-building, specifically ABC’s Scrubs, and in particular how Cameron’s film draws attention to the advantages and disadvantages of the audience (or, in the case of the film, its characters) dropping in and out of that world on a regular basis.
[Spoilers for Avatar will be minimal, more particular moments than any sort of plot or character things, but if you want to go in blind turn back now.]
Filed under Avatar, Scrubs
“Our First Day of School”/”Our Drunk Friend”
December 1st, 2009
“Everything’s new, except for the title.”
When Scrubs returned for an eighth season on ABC last year, I was a naysayer.
In my eyes, the show had worn out its welcome with a number of problematic seasons that became problematically silly in a way that ruined the heart that made the show so compelling in earlier seasons. I got to the point where I felt the show did not even deserve the chance for closure: no matter what I once felt for these characters, I had no desire to see them continue on thier problematic path.
And then season eight happened, and my point of view changed. The show literally went back to basics, rewinding back into the earlier seasons and starting to tell stories about our beloved characters maturing and a new crop of interns learning the ropes and in need of mentors. The show was breaking no new ground, relying on the same combination of cutaway humour/blind sentimentalism that defined seasons one and two, but it grounded the show to a sense of identity that reminded me what I missed during the dark years. So when it had its beautifully executed finale, season eight proved itself to be the perfect endnote on these characters’ journey.
And then ABC renewed the show. And all over again, it felt like everything was wrong: this was a show that had a chance to leave on a high note after most of us had written it off, and now it’s risking everything to return. And so we had another summer/fall of Bill Lawrence assuring us that the show would be different, this time a distinct enough entity from the Scrubs we knew (he wanted to call it Scrubs Med) to justify returning even after J.D.’s emotional departure.
Watching the ninth season premiere, I’ve realized that the problem is less that this is inherently bad (in fact, it’s quite good) and more that this is absolutely exactly what happened last season. The show presents a new set of med students looking for mentors, and keeps the older doctors around to serve as those mentors, resulting in a show that isn’t actually that different from what they did a year ago.
Which makes it solidly engaging, if not nearly the sort of reboot that it might have been a year ago.
May 6th, 2009
ABC made a decision last year to save Scrubs, which at the time seemed like a mistake: the show was struggling mightily with its creative focus, and if you go back and read my review of the out-of-order finale NBC aired you’ll find that I was more than ready for the show to die. At the same time, there was a sense that a show seven years running deserved a better sendoff. So while I was frustrated that ABC chose to pick up the series on some level, I also hoped that it would be worth it.
It was. The show’s eighth season has not been amongst its most novel, but it’s probably the most consistent the show has been since at least Season 4, and as the series faces yet another finale with an uncertain future this time I find myself entire ready to say goodbye. The show has been on a victory lap all season, giving each character their time to reflect on the past seven years through a vacation, a new set of interns to remind them of themselves, and a new set of memorable if familiar patients that brought the show back to its emotional roots.
There are some rumblings that “My Finale” will actually be “J.D.’s Finale” more than that of the series: the first-person narrator of a majority of the series has been the series’ star, and his relationships with the various characters (his bromance with Turk, his relationship with Elliot, his mentorship with Dr. Cox) are the series’ most memorable. And it’s this reason that this doesn’t just feel like J.D.’s finale: his future is the future of all of these characters, and the idea of them continuing on while he’s off at another hospital doesn’t feel right.
For me, I want the show to be over: I want to go out on a good season, and on a great episode, one which takes some shortcuts but gives John Dorian the kind of exit that feels right for this character, and thus one that felt right for the series. It’s not that the series can’t continue beyond this point, but rather that in many ways it shouldn’t.
But, after a season of good will after seasons of struggle, I’m willing to keep an open mind should they make that decision.
“My Saving Grace” and “My Happy Place”
January 13th, 2009
If there is a single element of Scrubs which provides the most frustration for me, it is the series’ insistence on pushing together J.D. and Elliot.
I place emphasis on the “pushing together” as opposed to the pairing itself; it is not that I do not think that Braff and Chalke have chemistry, or that these characters shouldn’t find something approaching romantic happiness by the end of this season, but rather that the show has suffered in the past when the show pushed them together as if fate was responsible for it. These two were once, perhaps, an on-again/off-again pairing that kept our attention with its back and forth: but like so many couples before them (See: Luke and Lorelai, Ross and Rachel), the back and forth evolved into a portentous roadmap riddled with potholes, detours and roadblocks that, for some reason, never inspired these characters to turn the car around and go back to Winnipeg.
So I should take “My Happy Place,” the second half of this week’s double header as we frontload the eighteen episodes that make up the show’s eighth season, as almost a slap in the face, an affront to my past complaints in that it has every intention of raising this issue yet again. The seventh season “finale” was the last time the show delved into this territory, and as soon as it was clear their intentions a red flag certainly went off.
However, to my surprise I found myself accepting the show’s own version of fate: no longer tempestuous and driven by lust, jealousy or some long, drawnout principle of love, what we find in both of these episodes is a continued mandate of simplicity: by not trying to tell stories bigger than the show can handle, even the pairing I feared most of all feels, dare I say, organic.