The sitcom has had its share of doomsayers in the last several years, but the cries that the medium is dead probably need a clarification. If anything, it's the traditional four-camera, taped-in-front-a-live-studio-audience, laugh-track sitcom that is going the way of the dodo. With shows like The Office (both British and American) and My Name is Earl, the situation comedy is alive and kicking, it's just broken out of its regular confines.
So it is with Scrubs, a hospital comedy that started in 2001. Beginning with the first year of three fresh-faced medical students--the doe-eyed John Dorian, a.k.a. J.D., a.k.a. Bambi (Zach Braff), who narrates the show and provides its whimsical point of view; his best friend, the confident surgical student Turk (Donald Faison); and the scatterbrained Elliot Reed (Sarah Chalke). They have all signed on at Sacred Heart, a teaching hospital, where they will learn by doing. Though primarily a comedy, the series also has its share of drama, and so not all of the eager students' screw-ups end in hilarity. Sometimes, harder lessons have to be learned. In fact, every episode centers on a theme, with the various members of the team laboring on parallel problems that get tied together by Braff's ever-present voiceover. It's a concept that may sound a bit tired, and in earlier seasons, the need for a moral to end every episode did ferment its fair share of stinky cheese, but by Season 4, Scrubs has hit its stride, and the wrap-ups don't feel forced anymore. The J.D. character has become a comfortable friend, and his narration has a diary-like quality, ruminations on the events of the day rather than fortune-cookie homilies.
Part of what keeps Scrubs fresh is its non sequitur flights of fancy. J.D. has a healthy fantasy life, and the show regularly takes quick trips into his head. For instance, when someone brings up how Turk has always been the one responsible for getting the perpetually uncool J.D. into nightclubs, we see exaggerated flashbacks to different times when the two were out on the town and the ridiculous fads they were chasing, like Turk sporting rap star Kid's eraserhead haircut and J.D. dressed as Flava Flav. Another time, we see some of the women J.D. and Turk have been desperate enough to hook up with. The humor in these scenes is goofy, but charmingly so.
The other great aspect of Scrubs is its supporting cast. In fact, I'd actually go out on a limb and say that Zach Braff is the least funny person on the show. He looks like he has to try at it, while Faison, Chalke, and the others have a natural gift for comedy. Faison moves like an athlete, in perfect control of his body, and his stock-in-trade is wild displays of ego that are then deflated by reality. Chalke is all energy and silly expressions, her affable demeanor making Dr. Reid more than a dopey klutz. The horror of her pratfall into an open grave in one episode is quickly defused by her ever-present exclamation, "Frick!"
Other cast members are just as fun to watch. John C. McGinley regularly steals the show as the self-centered and verbally acrobatic Dr. Cox. Neil Flynn plays the Janitor, J.D.'s nemesis, a darker figure with a constantly shifting back story and increasingly odd habits. Also fantastic are Robert Maschio as the dirty-minded Todd, Sam Lloyd as downtrodden lawyer Ted, Christa Miller as Dr. Cox's evil significant other, Ken Jenkins as the mean-spirited chief of medicine, and Judy Reyes as Carla, Turk's wife and the top nurse at Sacred Heart. All of them play their roles with self-assurance and may be the best ensemble cast in television comedy, rivaled only by the crew of The Office.
Scrubs borrows a page from ER's playbook and let's each passing year be an actual year in the show's time. So, while the characters remain relatively the same in personality, their lives actually progress. In season 4, Turk and Carla are newlyweds and they see their fair share of rough patches, not the least of which is that J.D. still lives with them. Similar marital travails are suffered by Dr. Cox and Jordan (Miller), who are still coping with their reconciliation following the birth of their son, Jack. Zach Braff is, of course, the star, so he gets multiple story lines. J.D.'s father dies early in the season, prompting the return of Thomas Cavanagh as older brother Dan. J.D. also goes through several relationships, like his pursuit of sexy Dr. Molly Clock (Heather Graham) and the adorable bartender Kylie (Chrystee Pharris). At the beginning of the season, he and Elliot are still sorting out their season 3 break-up, and to my mind, Chalke gets the best character arc of season 4. While everyone else's personal life is in chaos, Elliot becomes a really good doctor. So much so that the season ends on a cliffhanger where she may be leaving the hospital.
In addition to Graham and Cavanagh, Scrubs season 4 has its fair share of guest stars. Any hospital show has the perfect excuse for wheeling new people in and out. Hospitals will always have new patients, and thus the chance for stars to pop in for a quickie. Colin Farrell is probably the biggest, parodying his own bad-boy image by playing an Irishman who has come into Sacred Heart to watch over the man he knocked cold in a bar fight. His accent and greasy good looks, of course, make the boys jealous and the girls swoon. For several episodes, Julianna Margulies hops over from that other hospital show to play a cold-hearted malpractice lawyer and date J.D. for a little while. Her send-off is a hilarious Kill Bill parody between her and Christa Miller. Others to show up in the season are Matthew Perry, Molly Shannon, Clay Aitken, and Tara Reid, reprising her role as Jordan's sister.
While there are plenty of great episodes in season 4 (I'll list them all shortly), the stand-out has to be "My Life in Four Cameras." When J.D. is having a particularly bad day at the hospital and has to deliver some devastating news to a patient who used to write for Cheers, the doctor wonders why life can't be more like a sitcom. The episode then shifts to an extended fantasy sequence where Sacred Heart really is part of a sitcom. For the first time ever, Scrubs is shot in front of a studio audience on one stage. Many sitcom tropes are lampooned, from putting all the female staff members in sexier costumes to running a talent show where the prize is just enough money to stop the budget cuts and having a special guest star in a minor role (Aitken, who is given a chance to sing and win the talent show). The results are amazing, and despite the nostalgic fun had by all, the format change drives home how much better the situation comedy is when it's let loose. By paying tribute to the past, Scrubs proves itself to be the future.
The episodes included in Scrubs: The Complete Fourth Season are:
My Old Friend's New Friend
My New Game
My First Kill
My Common Enemy
My Last Chance
My Malpractice Decision
My Female Trouble
My Best Moment
My Ocardial Infarction
My Lucky Charm
My Hypocritical Oath
My Life in Four Cameras
My Best Laid Plans
My Boss's Free Haircut
My Lips Are Sealed
My Big Move
My Faith in Humanity
My Drive By
My Changing Ways
I am kind of a new Scrubs convert, having come to the show via DVD, so I don't have the personal knowledge to know if there are any changes from broadcast versions. They don't appear to be cut, but it is noted in the commentary to "My Life in Four Cameras" that the rights to Colin Hay covering the theme from Cheers was a one-time deal, and so stock music has been placed over the closing instead.
Scrubs was shot in full frame, so it is put on disc at the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Scrubs series of DVDs has set a high standard for presentation, and the producers continue to maintain that.
A 5.1 mix that is just as good as the picture transfer.
There are two commentaries on the Scrubs: The Complete Fourth Season set, both taken from the NBC promotion last year where the network aired favorite episodes chosen by the cast and posted commentary tracks online. On DVD 1, Zach Braff talks about "My Last Chance," the first episode he directed. Looking back at his rookie experience, he has a lot to say about the challenges he faced, especially since series creator Bill Lawrence gave him a script with more exterior shots than the show had done previously. (It's the show where J.D. is trying to connect with Heather Graham before she leaves town, and Molly Shannon is the ambulance driver taking Dr. Cox on ride-alongs.) Sarah Chalke takes over on DVD 2 for "My Life in Four Cameras," pointing out lots of trivia for fans of the show. The technical aspects of this particular commentary are a little lacking, however; there is a noticeable shift in sound every time she starts or stops talking that could have been smoothed out.
DVD 3 has a lot of small featurettes. Some focus on particular aspects of the show and feature cast and crew interviews:
* "Will You Ever Be My Mentor?" - the relationship between J.D. and Dr. Cox
* "The Sweethearts of Sacred Heart" - a road map of the romantic couplings on Scrubs
* "The Weapons Chest" - a tribute to the go-to supporting cast, who can always be relied on to get a laugh
* "Who is that Man?" - a humorous "investigative" piece into the mysterious background of the Janitor
* "Donald Keeps Talking" - extended ramblings from Donald Faison's interview for the above features
In addition to the documentaries, there are two sections with stuff that was cut. The titles are pretty self-explanatory: "Scrubbed Out: Deleted Scenes" and "Alternate Lines: A Second Opinion." When putting these together, the producers provided context for the various snippets, showing the scenes that lead into them and sometimes even a bit of the next scene so we can get an idea of where they might have been.
The final extra is the most bizarre. I can't decide if it's the most hilarious or the saddest thing I've seen in a long while. Musical act G Tom Mac (yes, that's the name of this tragic trio) performs the song "Half," as heard on one of the episodes. I don't remember which, and I have no desire to hunt for it. The video is presumably recent, but it looks like something off of cable access circa 1987. Ugh.
The set comes in a foldable cardboard sleeve with three sides. The middle houses DVDs 1 and 2, while the left has a slot for a single advertisement sheet and the right holds disc 3. The sleeve folds up and slides into a printed slipcase.
Highly Recommended. Scrubs is one of the funniest shows on television, and The Complete Fourth Season captures the Sacred Heart team at their stride. The performers are at their best here, whether they are called on for comedy or drama, and the crew shows an exceptional understanding of the television medium. Scrubs consistently gets laughs while also making its audience care about its characters. Settle back, hit "play all," and take this good medicine as prescribed.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.