When Scrubs premiered in the fall of 2001, it was like a breath of fresh air: a single-camera, laugh-track-free comedy spiked by moments of drama and a surrealist streak. 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 chief of medicine; the antagonistic Janitor (Neil Flynn); and Jordan Sullivan (Christa Miller), hospital administrator and Perry's sometimes-wife.
The first five-or-so seasons of Scrubs were near-perfect TV comedy; the show is funny and quirky, unique and charming, thanks primarily to its clever writing and the near-flawless work of its tight ensemble cast. Though his performances have gotten a tad self-indulgent in recent years, Braff is an appealing lead, reliably goofy and thoroughly likable, and his chemistry with Faison is terrific. Chalke's stellar work is one of the show's highlights (she keeps the character grounded and real, no matter where the writing takes her), while McGinley and Miller can steal just about any scene they're in.
Over the last couple of seasons, though, the series has started to show its age. Its typical structural formula--where the A and B storylines are wound together into a serious lesson pontificated by JD's closing voiceover--has become a little too formulaic (and often a little too easy), and the series occasionally slips into a cartoonishness that was nimbly avoided in its earlier seasons. Many (including my colleagues here at DVD Talk) feel, with good reason, that the series may have jumped the rails with the season-six storyline that found J.D. forced into fatherhood; it is an arc that the series has had trouble doing much with, and has also given the very talented Elizabeth Banks (Zach and Miri Make A Porno, The 40 Year Old Virgin), the gifted comic actor brought in to play J.D.'s baby mama, precious little to do.
This storyline continues into the seventh season, which was cut from an already-abbreviated 18 episode season down to a mere 11 shows due to the writers' strike. Season 7 is hit-and-miss, though it hits more often than not; there are still big laughs on these shows, though they're not as reliably, consistently funny as in earlier years. Stand-out episodes include "My Identity Crisis" (which finds J.D. challenged to eschew his usual nicknames for hospital staff), "My Growing Pains" (particularly for its semi-touching closing), "My Bad Too" (with its funny subplot about Turk becoming bilingual, and its references to "brinner", the consumption of breakfast food at dinner), and "My Manhood" (particularly in its subplot about the Janitor's hospital newspaper).
There are some clunkers here as well; "My Inconvenient Truth," for example, was part of NBC's "Green Week" and never quite makes its eco-friendly set-up into a smooth fit. The season's weakest episode, however, is its last one--"My Princess," a Princess Bride-inspired episode where Dr. Cox tells his young son a medieval bedtime story inhabited by his co-workers and inspired by hospital events. Like the shark-tempting sixth season episode "My Musical," it is an attempt to work in a different way and on a grander scale, but it's a too-cute (and unfunny) misfire.
The 1.33:1 full-frame transfer is, frankly, a little weak. I've wondered for the last two years why Scrubs was the only NBC Thursday comedy that didn't broadcast in widescreen high-def (I have a theory about Braff having bad skin, but later for that); consequently, the picture here is noticeably duller and less vibrant than, say, the 30 Rock or My Name Is Earl DVDs. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad picture, but not quite up to the standards of its contemporaries.
The Dolby 5.1 mix is pretty much what we're used to for modern sitcom DVDs; dialogue front, center, and clear, with some directional panning for sound effects and rear surround for music. Again, not exceptional, but not terrible either.
Fans will be pleased by Buena Vista's impressive array of extras, which might help take the sting out of paying more than half the standard price for a half of a season. First, all eleven episodes come with Audio Commentaries by cast and (mostly) crew; these are chatty, informative, and frequently funny (particularly one featuring some funny interplay between actors Neil Flynn and Sam Lloyd). Braff does a fairly straight-forward (but interesting) solo commentary of one of his directorial episodes, "My Growing Pains." One voice is sorely missed, however; it would have been nice to hear from series creator and occasional director Bill Lawrence.
The bulk of the bonus features are collected on the second of the set's two discs. First up we have My Making Of II: "My Princess" (17:39), which is a well-produced top-to-bottom , table-read-to-post-production look at the making of an episode. Unfortunately, it's the season's weakest episode, so there's that. Next up is an interview with Dr. Bob Kelso himself, One On One With Ken Jenkins (07:25). Each season set features a different cast member's interview, but this is pretty standard (and pretty dull) EPK-style stuff.
The Deleted Scenes (13:54 total) and Alternate Lines (15:40 total), each playable by episode or using the "play all" function, offer some funny (and frequently unexpected) alternatives for what made it to TV sets. Both are pretty good (and pretty brief), and worth a look, particularly for fans.
The extras are rounded out by Bloopers (2:52), which have some solid laughs if you're a sucker for outtakes (which, to my shame, I tend to be).
While definitely a show on the decline, Scrubs is still fairly reliable for a few good laughs; even now, there's more solid punch-lines on a weak episode of this show than in an month's worth of Two and A Half Men (or the entire run of According to Jim). Much like the last couple of seasons of Friends or Frasier, it's not what it once was, but it's still better than a lot of what passes for TV comedy these days. Though this half-season may not be as good a value as you'd like, it's still worth picking up. Recommended.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.