It’s been 10 years since the original series of scrubs aired its final episode (the show went through a soft reboot in 2009, but the original show ended in 2008). With the complete run of the hospital sitcom available to stream on Prime Video and Now TV, it begs the question; does Scrubs hold up in 2018?
Scrubs premiered on 2nd October 2001, George Bush was still President of the United States of America, and 9/11 was still a fresh wound, having only happened less than a month before the premiere aired. At this time, single camera comedies were a rarity, with multi cam studio productions ruling the roost. The show was devoid of a laugh track, something that was mostly unheard of in a US sitcom. Scrubs was a different show to anything on TV at the time, closer to ER, than Seinfeld.
The show followed Dr John Dorian (Zach Braff), or JD to his friends, as he starts his internship at Sacred Heart Hospital. Turk (Donald Faison), his best friend since college, has joined the same hospital as a surgeon. The friendship of Turk and JD underlines much of the show. In fact, a lot of the comedy arrives from the friendships that are formed while JD works at Sacred Heart. We’re introduced to Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), JD’s mentor, Carla (Judy Reyes), a nurse who takes JD under her wing, and Elliot (Sarah Chalke), JD’s contemporary and on and off again lover. Throughout the first season JD is tortured by the Janitor (Neil Flynn), whom in the first season was actually meant to be a figment of JD’s imagination. Scrubs main asset was the amazing cast. Every actor bought something to the table, except some were given more than others.
The show has an outdated view on women, especially in the first season. Women are often the butt of the joke, with many jokes equating to ‘women, hey’ *shrugs shoulders*. In one episode we see Dr Kelso (Ken Jenkins), the hospitals Chief of Medicine, slapping women’s butts and being leery towards them. There’s not a more perfect example than ‘The Todd’, a misogynistic surgeon who is constantly making inappropriate gestures and comments towards his colleagues. It was something they tried to address in later series, but he never got past the creepy. This aspect of the show has not aged well. Bill Lawerence, the shows creator and executive producer, did try to change some characters traits and gave the women characters more depth, but it was never truly fixed. Scrubs is 10 years old and is a product of it’s time. That’s not to say it should get a pass, it shouldn’t, and it’s important that the shortcomings are highlighted.
Scrubs shines when it leans on its characters and the hospitals patients. Storylines often humanised diseases and showed the trials and tribulations of being a doctor. Throughout it’s run, scrubs never undercut what it meant to be a doctor, the jokes we’re never at the expense of the medical profession. This helped create some of scrubs most memorable moments. A great example of this is the season 5 episode, ‘My Lunch.’ Dr Cox, who’s so focused on getting donor organs for his patients, finds and transplants organs from a patient who died within the hospital. The problem is, the donor had rabies. Over the course of an emotional sequence set to the Fray’s, How To Save a life, we see all three patients die, one of which could have waited for an organ. Dr Cox blames himself for the deaths and spirals out of control. The subversion of the comedic tone of the show, gives this sequence even a massive emotional impact. Scrubs is a real masterclass in how to use pathos well.
At the start of it’s eight episode run, Scrubs is hard to watch. The over use of sound effects and cutaway gags in JD’s head – JD is a chronic day-dreamer – muddied the plots and became a distraction. Season 2 stripped back the sound effects and brought more of the supporting characters forward, with Tedd Buckland, the hospital lawyer getting more screen time and the Janitor was promoted from a figment of JD’s imagination to part of the physical world, allowing him to interact with the rest of the cast. Neil Flynn, who played the Janitor, mostly improvised the Janitors scenes. Bill Lawrence even admitted that the script would often call upon Neil to improvise and no dialogue would be written for him. From season 2 onwards, the show was going from strength to strength. Storylines like Dr Cox’s friend dying from Leukaemia to JD trying to reconnect with a father and brother who were absent and abusive, helped dramatise the show. It was scrubs ability to ‘say something’ that really set it apart.
Of course, all good things have to come to an end. The latter seasons flailed in comparison as JD became annoying and mean. It’s not the fault of the show runners and writers, all TV can become stale, and the show had already said so much at that point. The show was also disrupted by the 2008 writers strike, which affected the whole industry and cut season 7 in half. Some episodes were even aired out of order. NBC cancelled the show after season 7 with ABC, who was already producing the show, picking it up for multiple new seasons. Zach Braff left the series in season 8 and his finale episode was touching. It felt like a true send off for the medical show. That probably should have been the end of the show, however, a spin off series; Scrubs: Med School, was announced to be premiering the next year. The core cast of the original season was replaced by a group of new students, complete with another serial day dreamer and a very early appearance from Dave Franco. It felt like a completely different show, but with characters like Dr. Cox and Turk surgically inserted. Zach Braff was back for multiple episodes, which mitigated his emotional exit the season before. It didn’t work and lasted 13 episodes.
It’s a shame that Scrubs fizzled out like it did. The show was legitimately touching in places, and side splittingly funny in others. It laid the ground work for the single camera sitcoms that followed it, and was a true pioneer in its production. Scrubs deserves to be anointed in the comedy hall of fame. Sure it has its faults, all works of fiction will in a modern context, but what scrubs got right it got really right. Sacred Heart is a hospital I actually want to visit again and again, and you can’t say that about many hospitals.