Seasoned Veterans: Scrubs, Season One

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In this new segment, we run through a season of television and discuss our general impressions, and some things that we like and don’t like about it. This week, we decided to kick things off for the inaugural Seasoned Veterans with the first season of Scrubs. Hope you enjoy. And if not, it was James’s fault.

Allen: Let me preface my bit on Season One of Scrubs by saying that I haven’t actually watched the entire season. The show was always on my periphery, and it was just recently that I discovered how good it is. With that in mind, I hand-picked the seven episodes that most represented this season: “My First Day”, “My Mentor”, “My Old Lady”, “My Bed Banter & Beyond”, and the 1-2-3 gut punch of “My Occurrence”, “My Hero”, and “My Last Day”. With that out of the way, I think Scrubs might already be one of my favorite sitcoms. It’s not just the writing and acting, which are both top-notch and hold up marvelously. It’s not just the humor and running gags of J.D.’s fantasies and Dr. Cox’s female nicknames for him. No, it’s the way the show makes me feel at the end of each episode.   Let’s all agree that the pilot knocks it out of the park. Not only are J.D. and the gang introduced, but everyone is immediately likable and believable. It makes Sacred Heart Hospital feel like a real place, and the most brilliant thing about Season One is just how quickly it hits its stride. “My Mentor” starts with one of the most clever cold opens ever from a filming perspective, and that cleverness pervades every aspect of the show. Ending episodes with plot twists, especially in a medical show, can feel cheap. It’s like the writers are profiting on the randomness of how an emergency room can be, with people dying and coming back to life every single day. But where Scrubs differs is how it handles these dark moments; the whole arc of Brendan Fraser’s character Ben (a shockingly subtle role considering Fraser’s stint in The Mummy and its sequels) feels very real and powerful, and the second half of “My Occurrence”, where the show takes J.D.’s classic “fantasy cutaway” gag and makes it the entire second half of the episode, only to reveal at the end that none of it happened. But the best thing about Scrubs Season One is how little the melodrama takes over the humor and storytelling. It wasn’t until “My Last Day” that I thought to look up or even cared about the various affairs and transgressions going on in the episodes I missed, but I really didn’t care. And it ends on such a beautiful moment that only Scrubs could pull off, with Cox looking like he’s juuuuust about to smack J.D. in the face before getting up, cleaning himself up, and getting back to work.

Favorite Episode: “My Old Lady” by a long shot, if only because I myself am going into a medical field, and even if most dental students don’t need to worry about their patients dying, the ending still hit hard, and made me cry much more than I anticipated.  

Magellan:

Impression: I love Scrubs. For all of it’s mid-run faults (the melodrama, the excruciating steps of the J.D.-Elliot will-they-won’t-they dance, the general characterization of some of the cast), Scrubs has endured as one of the few television shows that I’m always in the mood to watch. It’s the kind of show that I’ll stop on if I tick past it on cable, or that I’ll watch a random episode or two of on Netflix before I go to bed. The only other shows that share this dubious honor are probably FriendsSeinfeldFuturama, and the good years of The Simpsons. Having said all that, Season One of Scrubs is really the cream of the crop. Although it isn’t home to all the best episodes of the show, it is definitely the most even-keeled season in terms of quality. The pilot, “My First Day,” is one of the strongest sitcom pilots there is, coming out of the gate swinging with all of the punches that make Scrubs formidable (lovable characters, wacky fantasy sequences, great music, and a dash of wistful realism). The next few episodes are all classic as well, with “My Mentor” rocking that fantastic “Are You Having a Good Time” opener, and “My Best Friend’s Mistake” featuring quite possibly my favorite one-note dream sequence (the one where they’re on Family Feud and J.D. says “We’re gonna go with boobs.” Kills me every time). The season progresses with there almost without a single weak note, such that I would be wasting your time if I tried to rattle off all of the highlights. Suffice to say, the first season of Scrubs is by far the most solid first season of a sitcom that I’ve ever seen. Whereas even the strongest shows out there (like Seinfeld, or Community, or 30 Rock) take some time to find their sea legs, Scrubs knows what it wants to be from minute one and doesn’t stray from that vision.The only other show that I think can boast a similarly consistent first season is How I Met Your Mother, though even that season had some episodes that I don’t care as much for anymore.

High Point: It’s nigh impossible to pick a favorite episode from this season. Though my instincts as a lover of unorthodox episode formulas makes me want to say “My Bed Banter & Beyond,” I’m going to keep it simple and say “My Tuscaloosa Heart.” It’s not a particularly flashy episode, and it’s not necessarily the funniest of the bunch either, but it offers a new take on the typical “J.D. feels guilty for making a mistake” storyline that the show loves to rehash, and it provides some fascinating character development for both Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso.

Low Point: Again, tough to pick a worst episode. I think the most forgettable for me was probably “My Super Ego,” but even that one had its good bits. I will say the moment I liked the least out of the whole season came at the end of the finale, “My Last Day,” when Jordan comes around to tell every character the reason why they should be mad at everyone else. It felt not only like a cheap way to force a tonal shift, but also a cheap way to recap everything that happened in the season and simultaneously offer up a clip that could be easily replayed at the start of the next season. It left a bad taste in my mouth and tainted what could have otherwise been an unassailable first season of television.  

 

James: Impression: Scrubs is easily one of the most marathon-able shows I have ever watched. Despite the fact that the show started more than a decade ago, the gags are timeless. Every time I watch an episode, it balloons into another six or seven episodes. Scrubs has one of the most compelling narratives that I have ever seen in a comedy, with a clear progression of characters and plot. It is very easy to get hooked on this show, what with the genuinely funny sitcom jokes, and the almost addictive sense of progression. The most apparent strength of the show lies with the characters. J.D. may be the dorkiest character in the history of sitcoms, but his childish attitude and general positivity make him lovable. Turk is simultaneously one of the most and least stereotyped characters on tv. Despite his various attempts at sounding black, he is treated as a real character, and his role as one of the main characters shows a character who happens to be African American, without being stereotypically black. Though Elliot can be a well-intentioned klutz, there are more than enough capable women to balance her out in the form of Carla and Jordan. The show contains writing at its best, with seemingly very few biases in any direction. Scrubs is fantastically casted, and fantastically written, even from its first season.

High Point: I have to say that I really like the episode “My Bad”.  “My Bad” concerns JD’s mistake in pointing out a clerical error that Dr. Cox made to let an uninsured patient get a much needed surgery. Though he doesn’t know any better, JD’s screw up leads to the deeper side of Scrubs, a side populated with some ethical questions. Should a doctor be responsible to his patients or to his hospital? Is it better to pull a risky maneuver to save a life, or stick to the rules that will save most people’s lives 99 percent of the time? While the show heavily tips towards one side, it presents the issue with clarity and grace, in the struggle to explain that bureaucracy was actually intended for the best, and the greatest of individuals can still screw up. Heavy lessons from a comedy.

Low Point: “My Bed Banter and Beyond”. While the episode advances some plots, the focus is more on the romance and the possible implications for the show than it does on the comedy. Whenever the show gets serious about something other than medicine, the situation becomes very difficult. In the later seasons, the show benefits from an external complication (the episode with the camera), but the benefits are an exception rather than a rule. In general the episodes tend to be heavy handed, which removes most of the levity that makes these fun.     Well that was it. If you want to talk about your favorite Scrubs moments, comments are located underneath this article. Down there.

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Television Tribune: Educational Television

BIg BangBy James

I am, first and foremost, a learner. While some people look to films and television for art and entertainment, I look to learn. Sometimes I learn about a plot or a character. Sometimes I take away a song, and very rarely, I take away a lesson. House of Cards managed to provide all three. House of Cards centers on South Carolina Congressman Frank Underwood, the majority whip in the House of Congress. For those of you who have no idea what any of that means, it’s okay, because the show explains it. The show is almost Shakespearean, from the asides the Congressman makes to the political intrigue and betrayal. The story pulls quotes from Oscar Wilde to add to the depth of the story, and uses a high level of symbolism to reinforce the idea that every political machination is all just part of a larger game. The idea that everything is a game is utterly pervasive throughout the show. Every step of Frank Underwood’s ascent is weighed, measured, and executed. The logic is very remarkably simple, as long as the fundamentals are remembered. Throughout the course of the political action, everything starts to make sense, and the viewer is put into the seat of power. The greed, betrayal, and complex set of alliances seems like a second nature that can be controlled and harnessed.  Everything becomes a simple piece of the puzzle.

Similarly, the BBC show Sherlock gives the viewer the sense of progressive understanding. At first, the workings of Sherlock’s brain seem mysterious. He has an almost inhuman ability to pick out the important facts, make a logical conclusion, and come up with an answer. The deductions he makes are simple, and require only certain information. The phone is scratched around the charging area, so the owner of the phone habitually is drunk when plugging the phone in to charge. In that way, Sherlock’s powers are almost magical. While they seem mystifying and arcane, in the end, the revelation of the truth feels almost disappointingly simple. However, just like a magician practicing his trade, what takes a few seconds to learn takes years to master. However, the viewer is given the tools required to think like Sherlock Holmes, if not the experience.  But given enough time, it is possible to master Holmes’s deductions.

Television shows have great potential to be informative. For years, Sesame Street has taught young viewers the basics of letters and numbers, while also preparing them for real life social situations. Television shows can enforce vital concepts while making the viewer interested in the material that they are learning.  For example, after the television show The Big Bang Theory gained a popular following, the number of physics majors sharply increased. A similar phenomenon appeared when the television show Scrubs aired, significantly increasing the number of students who applied to become medical students. The fact is that a popular show will at least divert attention onto the surroundings in the show. Be it a hospital, a physics lounge, or a bar, people notice the places where their characters work, drawing attention to different professions and different walks of life. Even without any educational content, by sheer dint of the fact that people become invested in their favorite characters, people become invested in professions. The implications of this are huge. Shows could showcase different walks of life that were previously unknown. It is relatively well known that William Shatner deliberately flubbed his lines in a take so that the show Star Trek would be forced to showcase the first interracial kiss on television. The use of a television show to forward a social viewpoint is certainly well established, and it would be a relatively easy step to transition to an educational viewpoint. This wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest that the shows would become overburdened with the educational emphasis, but even just the change in setting from a bar to a psychiatrist convention could be enough to give a proper foothold in the world that most people did not even realize. As long as the writing remains at the forefront of the show, a show that expands horizons could be just as brilliant as the show that stays at home, and what’s more, educational television will no longer be just for kids.