The news that Scrubs would migrate from NBC to ABC at the end of its seventh season certainly sounded some alarm bells among fans of the quirky comedy, which already seemed to have passed its prime. A network switch is seldom a sign of a new lease on sitcom life; most comedies, whether good (Taxi) or bad (Diff'rent Strokes, Family Matters, Step by Step), have been booted from their networks for good reasons (falling ratings, expensive production, diminishing creative returns) and a new home seldom fixes the problem (all of the sitcoms above limped through a single season on their new networks).
Scrubs seemed a good fit in the NBC Thursday night schedule for 2007-2008, where it was surrounded by other single-camera, laugh-track-free comedies (The Office, 30 Rock, and My Name is Earl). But rumors ran rampant that NBC hadn't promoted Scrubs as heavily as the other shows, due to the series' ownership by ABC Studios (why ABC didn't pick up the show to begin with is a mystery). When creator/show runner Bill Lawrence was reportedly dissatisfied with NBC's handling of the seventh season (originally intended to be its last), a deal was struck to move the show to ABC for season eight--which would then be the show's last. (More on that later.)
As before, 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 now-retired chief of medicine (who continues to hang around the hospital and insult his previous underlings); the antagonistic Janitor (Neil Flynn); and Jordan Sullivan (Christa Miller), hospital administrator and Perry's sometimes-wife.
Perhaps because the show was changing networks but not production facilities or behind-the-scenes staff, the eighth season of Scrubs doesn't have the misplaced feel that sometimes infects shows that switch nets; the changeover is seamless and successful. The trouble is, the program is still operating at the second tier, at least compared to its early seasons. The show still works, and some of the eighth season episodes are outstanding--the second show, "My Last Words," is both heartbreaking and funny, while J.D. and Elliot's return to couplehood in "My Happy Place" is thoughtful and entertaining. The romance of lawyer Ted (Sam Lloyd) has an awkward sweetness, and Courtney Cox does a sharp three-episode arc at the beginning of the season as Kelso's replacement. And frankly, even the show's weakest episodes (like the Sesame Street-inspired "My ABCs") still have some chuckles. (For what it's worth, there are no all-out turkeys like the season seven closer "My Fairy Tale.")
Where the show stumbles, and badly, is in its attempt to bring in characters of new interns. Intellectually, it's not a bad idea (create a cyclical quality for the final season--the new kids that we started this show with are now the teachers of these new kids), but the new characters are thin and one-note, and the actors aren't terribly memorable (the only one who makes an impression--comic Aziz Ansari--split halfway through the season, presumably for a better role on Parks and Recreation). And their storylines are repetitive--how many episodes do we need to see about Denise (Eliza Coupe), nicknamed "Jo" (after The Facts of Life), and her lack of bedside manner?
From the beginning of the season, there were reports that these new characters were being introduced in case the show went into yet another season--yes, this would be the last season for Braff, the show's main character, but maybe we could just go on with the supporting characters? That'd work, right? Of course it would, as those several successful seasons of The Sanford Arms prove.
The season's final episode, "My Finale," is outstanding. J.D. decides to leave Sacred Heart in order to be closer to his son, and a warm and funny double-length episode ensues; the final scenes are just wonderful, and bring the program to a near-perfect conclusion. Which makes the ultimate decision to beat the dead horse and bring back the show for yet another season all the more infuriating; they found a wonderful way to bring it to a close, and now they're going to shit all over it with an ill-advised continuation/spin-off, retaining only Turk and Cox--and only one of those painstakingly-introduced new characters. So what was the point of that wonderful finale? And why did we spend so much time in that last season with Sunny and Katie and the rest of 'em? And why are the powers-that-be behind the scenes insisting on doing another season, apparently in the style of AfterMASH?
These are questions I can't answer. But I can tell you that the eighth season of Scrubs has much of what made the show so enjoyable: engaging performances from charismatic cast, energetic production and a snappy pace, inventive comic sequences and a singular, grinning charm. And it brings the series to a fabulous, pitch-perfect conclusion. My advice? Pretend like the show ends there--where it should.
Scrubs: The Complete Eighth Season is a three-disc set, with episodes one through seven on disc one, episodes eight through fifteen on disc two, and episodes sixteen through nineteen, plus the lion's share of the bonus features, on disc three.
Season eight was the first season of the show to be broadcast in high definition; during its seventh season on NBC, I surmised that Braff must have bad skin or something, since every other show on Thursday night was in widescreen HD. I was pleased when the show debuted on ABC in its full 16x9 glory, so imagine my shock when popping in disc one and discovering that Touchstone has released the season in shitty old full-frame. An explanation, please? I'm at a loss to understand the move, but it's a slap in the face to DVD viewers. Saturation isn't bad, but the overall picture is soft, and the image is grainier and considerably noisier than you'd expect, particularly from a recent show that looked so good on your HD set. A big thumbs down for the video presentation.
The show's Dolby 5.1 mix is decent, the standard sitcom mix of center channel dialogue, panning music and effects in the front surrounds, and next to nothing in the rears. Dialogue is crisp and audible, and effects are well-modulated, though a bit more activity in the back would have been appreciated.
English SDH, French, and English subtitles are also available.
In my review of Scrubs: The Complete Seventh Season, I wrote, of that disc's audio commentaries, "One voice is sorely missed, however; it would have been nice to hear from series creator and occasional director Bill Lawrence." My wish is granted--season eight includes Audio Commentaries for nearly every single episode, and Lawrence is present on all of them, frequently dubbing himself the "guide" or "host" of the audio commentaries. As in previous sets, the Scrubs crew shines on these chatty, informative, funny tracks (they've been working together a long time and have developed a nice chemistry and shorthand), and Lawrence's presence is a welcome one--he tends to drive the track with insights and information and letting the guest joke around, though he has plenty of funny contributions himself. His guests include actors Braff, Chalke, Faison, McGinley, Flynn, Jenkins, Robert Maschio ("The Todd"), new cast members Coupe and Sonal Shah, writer/producer Kevin Biegel, and producer Randal Winston. My favorite of those sampled was the two-parter "My Soul on Fire," in which Lawrence shares the mic with his wife, co-star Christa Miller; their good-natured sniping is clearly the model for the relationship between Miller's Jordan and McGinley's Dr. Cox.
"My Bahamas Vacation" (20:12) is a fairly clever featurette in which Lawrence explains how they ended up doing the two-part Bahamas episode, which is then followed by an assemblage of behind-the-scenes clips and interviews from the shoot. Next is a selection of short but plentiful Deleted Scenes, in which the aired version and the deleted version are both shown for comparative purposes. This ingenious device is also used for the Alternate Lines section, which features six brief snippets of line improvisations. A montage of Bloopers (3:11) follows, with some pretty good flubs and crack-ups ("Really, Sarah?" asks Braff, when Chalke blows a take laughing at another actor. "Sorry, he's funny!" she replies). Finally, we have the twelve "webisodes" (including two "exclusives"!) of the "Scrubs Interns", used to promote the show and introduce the new folks on ABC's website. They're surprisingly funny (considering how weakly the interns were handled on the series proper), each running four or five minutes.
By the way, it's worth noting that the featurette, deleted scenes, alternate lines, bloopers, and even the damned webisodes are all presented in widescreen format.
The latest season of Scrubs offers more of the same--funny, often surreal character comedy, solid writing, sharp acting, and some warm moments. Touchstone's decision to release these episodes in a modified 1.33:1 format is befuddling (unless, as has been suggested on the DVD Talk forum, they're trying to get people to spring for the Blu-ray release later this fall), an unfortunate blight on a set that is otherwise blessed with a fine season and some first-rate bonus features.
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.