Monday, August 24, 2009

On DVD: "Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season"

The news that Scrubs would migrate from NBC to ABC at the end of its seventh season certainly sounded some alarm bells among fans of the quirky comedy, which already seemed to have passed its prime. A network switch is seldom a sign of a new lease on sitcom life; most comedies, whether good (Taxi) or bad (Diff’rent Strokes, Family Matters, Step by Step), have been booted from their networks for good reasons (falling ratings, expensive production, diminishing creative returns) and a new home seldom fixes the problem (all of the sitcoms above limped through a single season on their new networks).

Scrubs seemed a good fit in the NBC Thursday night schedule for 2007-2008, where it was surrounded by other single-camera, laugh-track-free comedies (The Office, 30 Rock, and My Name is Earl). But rumors ran rampant that NBC hadn’t promoted Scrubs as heavily as the other shows, due to the series’ ownership by ABC Studios (why ABC didn’t pick up the show to begin with is a mystery). When creator/show runner Bill Lawrence was reportedly dissatisfied with NBC’s handling of the seventh season (originally intended to be its last), a deal was struck to move the show to ABC for season eight—which would then be the show’s last. (More on that later.)

As before, the setting is Sacred Heart hospital, and the primary character/narrator is J.D. (Zach Braff), a doe-eyed innocent who begins the series as an intern, working his way up through the seasons to attending physician. He works with (and, for several seasons, lives with) his best friend Turk (Donald Faison), who, over the course of the series, dates, weds, and starts a family with head nurse Carla Espinoza (Judy Reyes). He also maintains an occasionally romantic, occasionally plutonic, and often strained relationship with neurotic, high-maintenance fellow intern (later private practice physician) Dr. Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke). J.D. also idolizes his senior attending physician, Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), and works his hardest to get close to him. Other characters include Dr. Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), the hospital's now-retired chief of medicine (who continues to hang around the hospital and insult his previous underlings); the antagonistic Janitor (Neil Flynn); and Jordan Sullivan (Christa Miller), hospital administrator and Perry's sometimes-wife.

Perhaps because the show was changing networks but not production facilities or behind-the-scenes staff, the eighth season of Scrubs doesn’t have the misplaced feel that sometimes infects shows that switch nets; the changeover is seamless and successful. The trouble is, the program is still operating at the second tier, at least compared to its early seasons. The show still works, and some of the eighth season episodes are outstanding—the second show, “My Last Words,” is both heartbreaking and funny, while J.D. and Elliot’s return to couplehood in “My Happy Place” is thoughtful and entertaining. The romance of lawyer Ted (Sam Lloyd) has an awkward sweetness, and Courtney Cox does a sharp three-episode arc at the beginning of the season as Kelso’s replacement. And frankly, even the show’s weakest episodes (like the Sesame Street-inspired “My ABCs”) still have some chuckles. (For what it’s worth, there are no all-out turkeys like the season seven closer “My Fairy Tale.”)

Where the show stumbles, and badly, is in its attempt to bring in characters of new interns. Intellectually, it’s not a bad idea (create a cyclical quality for the final season—the new kids that we started this show with are now the teachers of these new kids), but the new characters are thin and one-note, and the actors aren’t terribly memorable (the only one who makes an impression—comic Aziz Ansari—split halfway through the season, presumably for a better role on Parks and Recreation). And their storylines are repetitive—how many episodes do we need to see about Denise (Eliza Coupe), nicknamed “Jo” (after The Facts of Life), and her lack of bedside manner?

From the beginning of the season, there were reports that these new characters were being introduced in case the show went into yet another season—yes, this would be the last season for Braff, the show’s main character, but maybe we could just go on with the supporting characters? That’d work, right? Of course it would, as those several successful seasons of The Sanford Arms prove.

The season’s final episode, “My Finale,” is outstanding. J.D. decides to leave Sacred Heart in order to be closer to his son, and a warm and funny double-length episode ensues; the final scenes are just wonderful, and bring the program to a near-perfect conclusion. Which makes the ultimate decision to beat the dead horse and bring back the show for yet another season all the more infuriating; they found a wonderful way to bring it to a close, and now they’re going to shit all over it with an ill-advised continuation/spin-off, retaining only Turk and Cox—and only one of those painstakingly-introduced new characters. So what was the point of that wonderful finale? And why did we spend so much time in that last season with Sunny and Katie and the rest of ‘em? And why are the powers-that-be behind the scenes insisting on doing another season, apparently in the style of AfterMASH?

These are questions I can’t answer. But I can tell you that the eighth season of Scrubs has much of what made the show so enjoyable: engaging performances from charismatic cast, energetic production and a snappy pace, inventive comic sequences and a singular, grinning charm. And it brings the series to a fabulous, pitch-perfect conclusion. My advice? Pretend like the show ends there—where it should.

The latest season of Scrubs offers more of the same—funny, often surreal character comedy, solid writing, sharp acting, and some warm moments. Touchstone’s decision to release these episodes in a modified 1.33:1 full-frame format is befuddling (unless, as has been suggested on the DVD Talk forum, they’re trying to get people to spring for the Blu-ray release later this fall), an unfortunate blight on a set that is otherwise blessed with a fine season and some first-rate bonus features.

"Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season" hits DVD on Tuesday, August 25th, with a Blu-ray release following on November 17th.

1 comment:

  1. Scrubs is the best! 'My Soul on Fire' was great too. The finale was PERFECT and the new season is great aswell. U can have a great chapter 1 finale then go to a sorta spinoff.