[5 July 2007]
According to its creators, Scrubs quickly morphed from a drama with elements of comedy to a comedy with elements of drama. Without a doubt, the show’s writers saw the rich vein of laughs they could mine from what quickly became staples of the show: Doctor Cox’s bitter monologues, the closeness of J.D. and Turk’s relationship, Elliot’s insecurities, Doug’s incompetence, Ted’s hangdog sad-sackedness, the janitor’s pathological hatred of J.D., and so on. Those aren’t bottomless veins, though, and if Scrubs has flirted with any particular danger, it’s that some of the show’s humor can take on a “been there, done that” flavor.
To its credit, Season 5 confronts its crutches head-on via an episode called “My Dij` Vu, My Dij` Vu”, in which J.D. suspects that he’s been through much of this before, as the rest of the cast re-enacts classic moments from previous shows (such as Cox giving J.D. a prescription for two testicles, or J.D. stumping the janitor with a riddle). Definitely a step up from a clip show, the episode is the most obvious example of many scenes throughout later seasons where the characters are well aware of, and riff on, each others’ quirks.
Of course, any vital comedy must continue to expand, and Season 5 holds its share of new silliness. J.D. and Turk unveil their multi-ethnic Siamese doctor, while Elliot grows increasingly fond of elaborate sexual roleplaying (such as The Orchard Owner and the Mexican Apple Thief), and J.D. reveals that he’s working on a film about a vampiric bloodsucker named “Dr. Acula”. For their part, some of the lesser characters form an air band (think air guitar expanded to a four-piece).
However it’s the larger storylines, such as Turk and Carla’s quest to get pregnant, that leave the biggest impression. The arc covers the expected topics—Turk dressing like the Unabomber to avoid being seen test-driving a minivan, insecurities about fertility testing, and equal insecurities about their worth as parents— but it also takes unexpected and hilarious detours into the drudgery of scheduled baby-making time, which ultimately drives Turk to repeatedly insult Carla because he’s become addicted to “angry sex”.
Overall, growth might be Season 5’s overriding theme. Even as babies come into the picture, so do interns under the wings of J.D. and Elliot, who are finally attending physicians. Elliot’s booty-call relationship with one of her charges results in some unprofessional hilarity, while J.D. must overcome his own favoritism to get rid of an incompetent newbie. More seriously, several patients die as the season progresses. One of Cox’s decisions leads to the deaths of multiple patients, with lingering repercussions, while another favorite patient dies of an unknown infection that the staff (unlike the viewers, in a poignant touch) are never able to track.
Unfortunately, for all the life lessons available in Sacred Heart Hospital, some characters seem resistant to growth. J.D.‘s man-child demeanor is the key to his character, but it grows tiresome after a while. In fact, he comes across as increasingly unlikeable and selfish. He does come to some important realizations via his relationship with equally klutzy and daydream-prone Julie (Mandy Moore), but only after an intervention by friends who see him wrecking a good thing. He torments his intern Keith, first out of professional insecurity, and then out of jealousy over Keith’s relationship with Elliot.
In fact, Keith turns out to be one of the season’s neater tricks. The season starts from his point of view, that of a scared intern on his first day at the hospital. Soon, though, he becomes a solid supporting character as his involvement with Elliot deepens. It’s disappointing that Season 6 will find the show engaging in more unwanted will-they-or-won’t-they nonsense between J.D. and Elliot, with Keith and others caught in the middle. Maybe it’s due to that foreknowledge that J.D. will fall back into his old ways, but his epiphanies here ring a little hollow. In short, he needs a daily dose of jiggly ball (one of the janitor’s better pranks).
Arguably, Season 5 isn’t as sharp as some of the earlier seasons, when the characters’ peculiarities were fresh and new. But Scrubs remains one of the funnier shows on TV, mercifully free of a laugh track, and brimming with creative energy. Some of Season 5 might feel familiar, but that’s not always a bad thing—especially when the show’s writers can frequently find a new wrinkle or turn of phrase.
As for the bonus features, they follow in the tradition of previous Scrubs DVDs: deleted scenes, blooper reels, and short behind-the-scenes glimpses. Amusing but hardly revelatory. More significant is an extended version of the Wizard of Oz-themed 100th episode, which fleshes out that story nicely. Heck, there’s even a couple of Easter eggs leading to some hidden content, something that’s been conspicuously absent from Scrubs DVDs in the past.