Now in its 9th season, my all-time favorite TV show has degenerated into a flawed generic medical show with weak characters, just like all the disappointing others.
Scrubs used to be the best medical show on television by far. Past tense. Season 9 premiered with two episodes that aired December 1 on ABC, and I want to sue the producers for malpractice. The show has made too many changes to maintain its integrity, but too few changes to give it an entirely new identity. Instead, this bastardized mish-mash demotes Scrubs to a mediocre medical drama on par with all the others.
I knew many original cast members had left. I knew that the premise of this new season was to create a show about medical students based at Sacred Heart Hospital. I still thought it had potential. After all, Frasier was a pretty successful spin-off from Cheers. And, in real life, medical school is a recipe for funny: take a bunch of smart people, mix in a lot of stress and a little competition, and throw them into some awfully awkward situations. Unfortunately, this new iteration of Scrubs completely misses the mark.
Not surprisingly, the best part about the new Scrubs is the old cast. Dr. Cox is still hilarious. As he has for the past eight years, John C. McGinley thrives in his role as a ranting, lovable jerk. Kelso, played by Ken Jenkins, is still an amusingly cantankerous old man. The bromance between J.D. (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) continues to flourish. However, even these familiar elements feel a bit empty without the supporting cast. Brief cameos by Sarah Chalke (Elliot) and Neil Flynn (the Janitor) weren’t enough to infuse their personalities into the show, and without Judy Reyes (Carla), Turk’s character seems a little flat.
Still, my disappointment goes much deeper than a sentimental yearning for an original cast reunion. I was willing to give this version of the show a chance to make it on its own merit. It’s just that the new characters simply don’t cut it. Whereas the old crew featured complex characters, each with annoying traits balanced by endearing ones, this group is a bunch of irritating caricatures. The writers have gotten several of the med student stereotypes right: the overeager but insecure Lucy, the entitled Cole, and the slacker Drew. (Even if they are going for one-dimensional generalizations, though, they’ve missed a few. What about the bookworm who spends every second of her spare time in the library or the guy who is so socially awkward you wonder how he’ll ever interact with his classmates, let alone his patients, or the gunner who asks everyone else about their MCAT scores on the first day?) The point is, every medical school class has its “types,” but as a Scrubs viewer, it’s no fun being able to categorize them already. Undoubtedly, the characters will evolve on the show, but there’s nothing surprising about any of them at the start, and that’s just plain boring.
Ironically, even though the show now has a female narrator in Kerry Bishe’s Lucy Bennett, the Scrubs women have taken a fall. For the first eight seasons of Scrubs, Chalke’s Elliot (while admittedly insecure at times) showed that women do not have to give up their femininity to succeed in a professional career. Reyes’ Carla was a strong positive role model—an intelligent advocate for her patients, a loyal girlfriend to Elliot, and a supportive wife, all while maintaining her own independence. Lucy, at least so far, is a simpering sycophant. Even in her attempts to stand up to Dr. Cox in the climax of the first episode, she appeared weak and annoying. I was secretly rooting for Dr. Cox to crush her. The other two developing female leads fall short as well. The Australian medical student may eventually show some spunk, but for now she is simply a vapid butt of Dr. Cox’s jokes. And, Denise, a holdover from Season 8, is occasionally funny, but generally an unlikable crude mannish hussy.
Speaking of which, the show’s degeneration into Gray’s Anatomy-like debauchery is also irksome. Of course, the characters’ love lives were important sub-plots in the first eight seasons (and real-life hospital romances are common gossip fodder), but now undeveloped flings seem to be taking center stage on Scrubs. Lucy sleeps with Cole before we really know either character. Denise and Drew’s affair comes out of nowhere (and therefore Denise’s emotional attachment is unconvincing). And, whereas “The Todd’s” sexual innuendo has been consistently funny for eight years, Cole’s sleaziness takes it a step too far. Sex sells, and Scrubs has sold out.
The saddest thing about the new Scrubs is its divorce from the truth. Once widely recognized among medical professionals as the most accurate medical show on television, the writers seem to have stopped doing the research for Season 9. Especially for the first four seasons as the main characters progressed through residency, the show was spot-on in terms of the tasks they did, the types of patients they saw, and the fears they had. Only two episodes in, Season 9’s script has lost that completely. Granted the feeding frenzy over the “crappy pizza” during orientation and the juvenile “do-we-have-to-take-notes” scene are universal medical school experiences, but it’s pretty sad when those were the most truthful parts.
For one thing, residents never serve as teaching assistants or RAs, like Denise is doing in the show. Residents take care of patients, and while they are expected to teach medical students during their clinical rotations, they absolutely do not help out in the classroom. And, most medical schools don’t even have conventional dorms, so the idea of a resident acting as a dorm counselor is absurd. If the writers felt compelled to create a college scene, maybe this should be a show about pre-meds.
Infinitely more disappointing is the lack of accuracy within the hospital itself. Medical students do not see patients right away. At most medical schools, students spend the first two years in the classroom and the anatomy lab. When they do go on rounds or see people in clinics, the patient encounters are generally awkward contrivances rather than actual contributions to care. They practice on “fake patients” (i.e. actors who are paid by medical schools to pose as patients at scheduled sessions) and shadow “real” doctors, but they do not actually participate in patient care until the third year of medical school. Consequently, it is exceedingly unlikely that Dr. Cox would even see these students in a hospital-setting, and it is downright impossible that Lucy could have recognized her group’s cadaver as one of “her” former patients. Not only is this frustrating for viewers who once admired the show for its authenticity, the writers have stupidly stolen their own built-in narrative. These do-it-all med students have no room to grow. If they’re already fully functioning members of the team in their first days of medical school, what on earth will they do for the next four years?
We can only hope this lame version of Scrubs won’t last that long. In the Season 9 premiere, Denise rounds on a comatose patient and says, “Man, I wish his family would just let him die.” I wish producer Bill Lawrence had been graceful enough to do the same for his show.« « Previous Post ~ Microscopic Cool: Four everyday viruses that are secretly amazing| Next Post ~ The Changing Climate of Western Flyfishing » »