In the beginning, there was a fresh faced, deeply confused medical graduate called John Dorian. JD to his friends.
JD arrives at Sacred Heart hospital as an intern, only to find that spending half his life in college and medical school has not prepared him in any meaningful way for being a doctor. Let alone a human being. His attending physician hates him, the only thing he knows how to find in the hospital is the cupboard he hides in to cry and within ten seconds of arriving, he’s been identified as a hate figure by a janitor who once played a cop in The Fugitive (Ed – I never knew that!).
It all seemed fairly simple until I was asked to summarise my overwhelming love for Scrubs in five hundred words or less. How does one rationalise a love affair that’s lasted so long, been so intense and (having watched several episodes to refresh myself) is essentially the comedy equivalent of the nice but unerringly nerdy kid who falls over in the canteen and spills their lunch tray on the floor?
Every. Single. Day.
You see, we like entertainment with edge. With a heart of darkness that reflects the true human condition. Take the binge boxes. Sopranos. OITNB. Breaking Bad. American Horror Story. Mad Men. All shows that riff on a version of humanity that panders to the rebel in us all.
I love them. But above them all I love Scrubs, which is essentially a TV show about relationships and how they change and develop with passing years. About how we think we know people and compartmentalise them in our lives accordingly, only to have to re-evaluate them later. because they’re not what we thought they were. How sometimes people’s apparent ambivalence or even hostility towards us isn’t necessarily all that it seems.
And if I’ve ever written a paragraph more likely to put people off watching something I’m trying to convince them is brilliant, I’m not aware of it.
Perhaps you’ve tuned in for five minutes here and there, then realised that the whole thing is narrated by the aforementioned JD, a neurotic, self-absorbed man boy with a voice that has been variously described as “whining, whimpering, quirky and nasal,” and switched it off because who the hell needs quirky?
Add this to the quick fire complexity of the dialogue, Scrubs’ heavy reliance on in-house tropes to generate laughs and musical fantasy sequences and it almost feels like they’re trying to put you off. Every character is irritatingly flawed, wildly narcissistic and prone to breaking into song at inopportune moments. If you don’t want to punch at least one of the cast members solidly in the face after a while in their company, you’re a better human being than I am (Ed – For me it was Elliott).
But unless you’re privy to some elixir of life that guarantees great mates, take a look around you. Every one of your friends is screwed up, annoying, dull and downright idiotic on a daily basis and yet you love them and they love you to death. Being a cold as ice killer, a charisma oozing advertising executive or a prison king pin is fun but entirely impractical when you work in admin.
Over nine series, we follow the stories of these people and see ourselves. The emotional rollercoaster that is finishing college and setting foot on the career ladder, only to see your expectations crushed beneath the weight of reality. Falling in love and finding out instead of hearts and flowers it’s compromise and effort. Learning about pain, grief, financial problems and that getting up in the morning is not an option, it’s a necessity.
Life isn’t about happy endings, settling scores, looking cool and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after. It’s about dealing with the daily grind, overcoming those obstacles that invariably fall in your way when you feel you’re about to make progress and sharing your experiences with friends who put up with your shit because most of the time, the good outweighs the bad. Few TV shows have the nuts to even try to articulate that, let alone a half hour comedy show that soundtracks one of its greatest scenes with a song by The Fray.
The fact that Scrubs handles all of it and more with such dexterity while remaining both hilariously funny, affecting and on occasion, deeply poignant is a bloody liberty.
It’s unlikely you can enjoy this excerpt from Series 3’s My Lunch without intimate knowledge of the characters, tropes insecurities and paths they walked to reach this point, but I decided to put it here anyway.
If you do love it, you’ll go back and watch the rest to get context. If you hate it, I hope you’ll trust me enough to try that anyway.
If not? I can’t help you. Time of your comedy death: your watch face. Look at it.