There’s no reason that we can’t have a little fun on TV. Whether it’s a musical (Buffy), a live broadcast (The West Wing) or iambic pentameter (Moonlighting), concept-driven programming does require some sacrifice of content for gimmick. But with any novelty, unless it’s done absolutely right, such charm can be fleeting, and you’re often left pleading for a swift, merciful end to the misery.
This is the feeling I had about four minutes into Scrubs‘ much-hyped musical episode “My Musical,” because by only halfway through the first number “Welcome to Sacred Heart,” the episode seemed already to be out of ideas, paying vague homage to other musical classics and making the whole affair appear some shoddy hoax. Yet, unless you had been under a rock last week, you had heard that Scrubs was staging an earnest Broadway-style extravaganza, even hiring the writers and star of the cult Broadway hit Avenue Q to ensure the musical foray would be legit. Sadly, the result was insipid and insincere, without enough collective musical ingenuity to fill its never-ending 22 minutes.
So what went wrong? Well, the first major snag was the plot: a patient (Stephanie D’Abruzzo) has symptoms of a strange medical condition that causes her to hear everything before her in real life as a song. Clever enough, but this requires that she skulk around in every shot, so that all of the normal hospital goings-on are rendered musically, which seems as sloppy as not having a plotted reason for the musical episode in the first place. If the writers were looking for a plausible way to incorporate music into the show, they should have rethought the plausibility of the entire hospital staff delivering a single patient’s test results.
Plot problems aside, the songs written for the episode also showed questionable taste. The first evidence of this was the second number, “Everything Comes Down to Poo,” in which J.D. (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) must convince their patient to produce a stool sample so they can determine her mysterious ailment. By plugging in as many throwaway rhymes to the words “rectal,” “feces,” and “toosh,” as possible, the number sounded like something from a South Park outtake, only more cringe-worthy with actual, grown men singing about “poo.” In fact, I felt downright embarrassed for Braff, as I watched him croon the lines, “It doesn’t really matter if it’s hard or of it’s it’s loose / We’ll figure out the answer as long as it’s a deuce,” punctuated with a jazz hands flourish.
I suspect this campiness is what the show’s team thought would work, but with each cast member having only marginal singing and dancing talent at best, that campiness looked more like incompetence. Braff’s singing and expressions (watch his eyebrows; they’re hypnotically buoyant) reminded me of Kermit the Frog, and Judy Reyes’ stab at sounding sultry during her slinky number, “One Long Year” sounded more like late-night karaoke than primetime entertainment. Worse, these dalliances were never acknowledged as just for fun, as the episode ended with a tidy, trite voiceover intended to sentimentalize the patient’s condition and cure. While I can appreciate Scrubs‘ adventurous spirit, this catastrophe can only be described as an indulgent, sloppy waste of time. For me, selective amnesia will have to be the best remedy.