Two admissions before we get underway:
1. I love Scrubs. Since episode 1 of season 1. Love love love it. So understand that you're about to read a rambling and enthusiastic review written from the perspective who of someone who already adores A) the brilliantly melodious comedy writing, B) the crackerjack comic timing from a flawless ensemble, and C) the lead actress known as Sarah Chalke.
2. I pretty much hate sitcoms. I hate, loathe, detest, abhor and nearly always ignore sitcoms. Since the day I realized that The Brady Bunch recycled the same seven "laugh track" audio clips in an effort to tell the audience when to laugh, I was pretty much disgusted by the whole sitcom vibe. Of course there are always a few shining exceptions to my "sitcoms suck" rule: Seinfeld, Cheers, Scrubs and Arrested Development spring immediately to mind. OK, Taxi and All in the Family, too, but then we're going back 20-some years - which only helps to prove my point that truly excellent sitcoms are decidedly few and very far between.
Throw a rock through your local prime-time line-up and you're bound to hit at least two medical series. ER has been chugging along for over a decade now, and there's always a fresh new upstart that earns a lot of praise before being canceled. (This year it's Grey's Anatomy.) But, M*A*S*H aside, you generally won't find too many medical sitcoms, mainly because it takes a lot of talent and effort to make illnesses, operations and blinding bureaucracy something worth laughing at. I remember approaching Scrubs with a bemused sense of curiosity when it debuted in 2001. I was sure it would be a limp and stagy chuckler like that old ER sitcom that Elliott Gould starred in for about twenty episodes, twenty years ago.
It took only about three episodes of Scrubs for me to fall madly in love with the show. A one-camera experiment filmed in an abandoned Hollywood hospital full of familiar TV faces and a collection of relative "nobodies," Scrubs didn't strike me as a comedy series that would make it out of its first season - precisely because it was so smart, silly, sweet, and periodically insane. I was sure that it would never "catch on" with the regular sitcomivore because it was just a little bit smarter (and weirder) than what normally passes for a network comedy program. Well, Scrubs is now in its fourth successful season on NBC, and I still consider it a truly refreshing oasis of sharp and endearing comedy hidden within the generally barren landscape of prime-time comedy. It's never gotten stale or "jumped the shark," which is an accomplishment in an of itself, but Scrubs also achieves the near-impossible by making me laugh (usually out loud) on a weekly basis ... and not even Seinfeld can make that claim.
Not only is Scrubs a drop-dead funny series full of witty and wonderfully strange characters that delights and surprises me with every passing season; it's one of the very few bright and shining examples of how one "sitcom" can put its competition to shame. It doesn't even seem fair to lump Scrubs into the same pile that includes stuff like Full House, Home Improvement, or any one of a million moronic sitcoms. Most sitcoms can't accomplish in eight seasons what Scrubs did in only its first. And if American TV had more shows like Scrubs, well, then American TV might stop being referred to as an arid wasteland of mindless garbage.
Generally when you revisit the first season of a now-established series, you'll notice a lot of sketchy beginnings and newbie missteps. Such is so clearly not the case with the inaugural season of Scrubs; this is a show stuffed to overflowing with warm characters, wondrous writing and bizarrely off-kilter wit. You watch it and silently shake your fist at all the other sitcom producers out there. If series creator Bill Lawrence and his team of cast & crew can produce something this untraditionally fantastic ... it makes you realize that most of the other sitcoms just aren't trying all that hard. Which is why a wonderfully enjoyable show like Scrubs allows me to hate "The Sitcom" that much more; even when a series comes along to show the others how to breathe fresh life into a tired old concept, everyone dismisses it as a unique little aberration and goes about their business of slinging pratfalls and laugh tracks.
The story from the beginning: Sacred Heart hospital is about to welcome a handful of new interns. Fresh out of medical school, full of equal parts enthusiasm and paranoia, are John Dorian, Elliott Reed, Chris Turk, and "The Todd." John and Elliott are medical interns; Turk and Todd are surgical. The newcomers do what they can to fit into the hospital's pecking order, but there's always something new and unexpected cropping up each week. Our young doctors must contend with an evil and officious head of medicine (Dr. Kelso), a stunningly aggressive head resident (Dr. Cox), a sweet-natured, no-nonsense nurse named Carla, and a mysterious janitor who's always just hanging around the periphery.
Setting, mood, tone, comedy material ... none of it means much of anything without a bunch of characters that you like, and the Scrubs creators were smart enough to drop a few lingering subplots into the first season's spine. Each episode works perfectly fine in a "stand-alone" capacity, but you'll get a lot more out of the ride if you've been watching the show in order. In season one we see the birth of Turk & Carla's love affair, the first sex-filled romp between Doctors Dorian & Reed, and the origins of the animosity between Cox and Kelso. And while the featured cast does stellar work in each and every episode, that doesn't stop a few guest stars from stopping in to steal a few small spotlights. The late, great, and dearly missed John Ritter pops up in one episode as J.D.'s aimless father; Brendan Fraser appears in a pair of bittersweet episodes; heck, even Jimmie Walker, Carrot Top and Death himself drop by to have some fun!
Let's cut right to the meat of it: Scrubs has one of the finest ensembles ever compiled for a situation comedy. I'd have to go back as far as Cheers to find a collection of misfits this adorably loopy and consistently amusing. While Scrubs is probably best known for launching the career of the multi-talented Zach Braff, the series features a sterling collection of actors, each of whom are allowed to steal scenes (indeed, entire episodes) of their very own. Mr. Braff might be the fresh-faced centerpiece of Scrubs, but I shudder to think of what the show would be like without the rapid-fire insanity of Sarah Chalke as the dizzy-yet-darling Dr. Reed; the non-stop blustery bravado of John C. McGinley's Dr. Cox; the wide-eyed and wondrously funny wit of Donald Faison's Dr. Turk...
I could go on and on: Ken Jenkins' Dr. Kelso is a bastard you'll love to hate; Judy Reyes, as Carla, brings a real sense of sweet sass to her material; Neil Flynn's oddball janitor is always good for a few bizarre chuckles; Robert Maschio somehow turns the "horny fratboy" character back into something fresh with his performance as "The Todd"; Sam Lloyd, as the hospital's craven lawyer, is just brilliant; and Christa Miller, as a ball-busting babe from the hospital board, well, Christa could earn her own spinoff and I'd never miss an episode.
If it seems like I have an affection for these characters (and the actors who play them), then that would be an accurate assessment ... but even that would be an understatement. I love everything about Scrubs: the fact that it's a one-camera, no-laugh-track production full of hilariously "in" pop-culture references, dizzyingly strange dream sequences, and huge, wonderful doses of actual warmth and humanity. Frankly I've no idea how the writers and directors are able to balance such silly humor with so much sincere heart - but I'm sure not complaining.
The strong and loyal Scrubs fanbase has been waiting patiently for the first season to be released on DVD, and I'm happy to announce that they'll be quite thrilled with the Season One set. Spread out over three discs are all 24 of the first season's episodes and a generous collection of Scrubs-related goodies. The two days I spent poring over the collection was time exceedingly well-spent, and I plan to spin all three platters again some time real soon. Let's cut to the episodes:
My First Day (original airdate: 10/02/01)*
My Mentor (10/04/01)
My Best Friend's Mistake (10/09/01)
My Old Lady (10/16/01)*
My Two Dads (10/23/01)*
My Bad (10/30/01)*
My Super Ego (11/06/01)
My Fifteen Minutes (11/15/01)
My Day Off (11/20/01)
My Nickname (11/27/01)*
My Own Personal Jesus (12/11/01)
My Blind Date (01/08/02)
My Balancing Act (01/15/02)*
My Drug Buddy (01/22/02)*
My Bed Banter & Beyond (02/05/02)*
My Heavy Meddle (02/26/02)
My Student (03/05/02)
My Tuscaloosa Heart (03/12/02)
My Old Man (04/09/02)*
My Way or The Highway (04/16/02)
My Sacrificial Clam (03/30/02)*
My Occurrence (05/07/02)
My Hero (05/14/02)*
My Last Day (05/21/02)*
(I was going to do an episode-by-episode collection of synopses, but that seemed a bit like overkill (I started feeling like an issue of TV Guide!), plus it's best to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with the early Scrubs stories at your own pace. But I dropped an * next to the episodes I dig the most, for those who might have been wondering.)
But there's some small-yet-bad news: a handful of music cues have been replaced for the DVD release. Bill Lawrence briefly explains why during one of his commentary tracks, but fear not, Scrubs-fans. You'll still find all the "momentous" tunes present and accounted for. Apparently a band called "Five for Fighting" consider themselves the next Beatles or something...
Video: Fullscreen (1.33:1), obviously, and you might even notice a lot of grain in the earlier episodes. But the transfers are solid overall, and they most likely look considerably better than they do via network broadcast.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which is more than serviceable enough for this type of presentation. The rapid-fire dialogue is generally crystal-clear, as are the cartoony sound effects and the frequent "mood music" rock tunes.
On disc 1 you'll find a 29-minute featurette entitled "Newbies," which introduces us to Scrubs' first season, how it got started, the non-traditional writing process, and how each of the featured actors got involved. The skeptics out there will be pleasantly surprised to learn that the Scrubs producers try real heard to bring some accuracy to the medical material; everyone else will just feel grateful that the casting directors did such a great job. And speaking as someone who watches a lot of "I love my job" behind-the-scenes featurettes, I found everyone's sincere enthusiasm and affection for Scrubs kind of infectious.
Also on the first disc are three audio commentaries: show creator Bill Lawrence does a track for the pilot episode, and is then joined by Zach Braff on "My Old Lady," and Neil (The Janitor) Flynn on "My Fifteen Minutes."
Disc 2 delivers a music video for Lazlo Bane's "Superman," otherwise known the world over as "the Scrubs song," an interview featurette with Zach Braff entitled "The Doctor is In," (which runs about five minutes), a 9-minute collection of alternate scenes / improv moments entitled "Alternate Lines: A Second Opinion," and an audio commentary with Bill Lawrence and Zach Braff on "My Blind Date."
The disc 3 supplements include a 13-minute featurette entitled "Not Just Another Medical Show," in which cast & crew explain their desire to attain a "realistic look" before giving us a brief tour of the Scrubs set (the now-abandoned Medical Center of North Hollywood); a 9-minute featurette entitled Favorite Moments, which is where cast & crew members pick their very favorite episodes from Season 1; a seriously hilarious Outtakes Reel that delivers flubs and bloopers for about four minutes; a collection of random deleted scenes that run for about 11 minutes; and another pair of audio commentaries on "My Sacrificial Clam" (Bill Lawrence, Sam Lloyd & Robert Maschio) and "My Hero" (Bill Lawrence & John C. McGinley).
Speaking as a longtime and ardent Scrubs supporter, I can safely assume that my fellow fans will be quite happy with the supplemental material. Sure, the audio commentaries are a bit on the dry and soft-spoken side, but you do get a few cool insights from Mr. Lawrence and several of his cast members. (Lawrence and Braff even make reference to their poor commentary skills; they jokingly predict that the DVD reviewers will knock a few "stars" off the extra features rating, but that admission alone makes the commentary quite funny.) The featurettes, while not particularly mind-blowing, are well-constructed and informative - plus it's really nice to see the entire cast represented within the interview segments. The outtakes and deleted scenes are cool inclusions, as is the "Superman" music video ... if only so you can hear the song in its entirety!
Hey Scrubs fans! You feel like having yourself a 24-episode all-night marathon of fun, capped off with a hearty collection of extra goodies? Then make sure you slap your 29 bucks down when Scrubs: The Complete First Season hits your local shelves. Sacred Heart Hospital is a brilliantly weird and hilariously warm place to visit; I sure as hell wouldn't want to be a patient there, but I'm thrilled to stop by and visit whenever I can. Bring on Season Two!