As a trenchant-minded member of the elite media punditocracy cabal, I am supposed to hate anyone/anything with "heart." I am supposed to rain derision on any content entity that mines its laughs from voice-overs, absurdist fantasy sequences and "Turner & Hooch." I am supposed to save particular scorn for any half-hour, big-network comedy that mingles the aforementioned sentiment with the aforementioned goofiness. In short, I am supposed to loathe a show like "Scrubs" with every fiber of my sarcastic being.
But I don't. In fact, I've unabashedly loved "Scrubs" from its fourth episode onward. That episode, "My Old Lady," was the first that nailed down the show's silly/serious rhythms. It was a revelation, especially at a time when network comedy hadn't yet shaken its married-oaf-with-smokin'-wife fixation. Then as now, "Scrubs" wasn't like anything else on TV.
What made it unique, I think, was how it flashed its heart from day one. Most comedies start asking us to invest in the emotional lives of its characters when the jokes run dry (this is why "The Office" hasn't been watchable in 18 months). "Scrubs," however, took pains to remind viewers of the dramatic stakes even as it programmed its characters to strut, sing, squeal, soliloquize and screw. It never forgot that this balance was the key to its appeal and, as a result, remained interesting long after the characters had become as familiar as kin. If "Scrubs" isn't one of the top 10 TV comedies of all time, it belongs in the discussion.
Of course, over the last few years, "Scrubs" has evolved from The Little Sitcom That Could to The Show That Won't Die, surviving two networks, one abridged season, 247 time slots and five straight years on the cancellation bubble. So it makes perfect sense, in a completely nonsensical way, that "Scrubs" would return to the air seven months after its finale.
That finale might be the reason so many fans seem to resent the show's casual exhumation. Few series have ended with an episode so note-perfect, both from a providing-narrative-closure perspective and a sate-the-disciples one (the episode revealed the Janitor's name ... then un-revealed it 12 seconds later). The affecting final sequence in particular managed to stay true to the series' tone and chart out a possible future for its protagonists, without resorting to gimmicks. That's no easy feat.
Alas, with "Scrubs" reanimating this week, that lovely farewell now has the feel of a false alarm. To hear creator Bill Lawrence tell it, bringing back "Scrubs" was as much a charitable decision -- to keep tens of crew members employed -- as an artistic one. It's not a surprise, then, that the new "Scrubs" feels incredibly labored, more like an obligation than a creative pursuit.
Here's how "Scrubs" v.2.0 differs from the series put to bed last May. Only two of the core cast members reprise their roles on a regular basis, though most of the others (including Zach Braff) drop in sporadically. The setting has meandered from a teaching hospital to a medical college. The words "Med School" have been tacked on after "Scrubs" during the opening title sequence, which features a sped-up take on the original theme song.
Beyond that, and despite Lawrence's claims that he views this incarnation of "Scrubs" as an entity of its own, the new "Scrubs" is simply a less-endearing rehash of the old "Scrubs." Once again, there is a voiceover, three fetching young characters who struggle with their insecurities and a handful of simultaneously abrasive and supportive authority figures. There are fantasy sequences and jazz hands and dramatic reversals involving patients. It plays like a rejected pilot for the original show.
I feel particularly bad for the three cast newbies. After two episodes, I remember the name of exactly one of their characters (Lucy -- and that's only because she's comedically over-matched in every scene). They're game, as is everyone associated with the show, but they've only had so much to work with so far: a Lifetime movie fantasy sequence featuring "safely ethnic dreamboat" Antonio Sabato Jr. and funny bits about "wing-moms" and "nach-bros" (well, they were funny in context, anyway). That ain't much for 22 minutes' worth of comedy.
The bottom line is this: I'm as biased as can be, and even I can't talk myself into finding something to like about the new "Scrubs." I'll keep watching out of curiosity and gratitude -- "Scrubs" has given me eight uniformly entertaining seasons, so I owe it at least a few more episodes -- but I don't see how the show can readjust on the fly in a way that would satisfy either hard-core fans or newcomers. This won't end well.