100 Pilots in 100 Days: Scrubs

When it was originally on: 2001-2010

Original network: NBC (final season aired on ABC)

Where you can stream it now: Hulu

Had I seen it before: I think I’d actually seen this pilot before, largely because Hulu was already on Episode 2. I don’t remember much of it though, and I’ve only come across a few stray episodes here and there.

What IMDb says: In the unreal world of Sacred Heart Hospital, intern John “J.D.” Dorian learns the ways of medicine, friendship, and life.

Why I picked it: I love when people try to make comedic takes on settings usually reserved for drama. It’s Night Court making fun of legal procedurals. It’s Barney Miller or Brooklyn 99 making fun of cop procedurals, or its Scrubs making fun of medical procedurals.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that this week has been mostly dedicated to medical content, so it only seems natural to finish out the week with Scrubs. I’m interested to see if and how the manages to be funny despite the traditionally heavier backdrop of a hospital. 

What I liked: I really like the contrast between Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso. In my review of The Knick I lamented the trope of “smart people can’t be nice and nice people can’t be smart.” And indeed, virtually every medical tv show has had at least one great doctor who’s bad with people. Here, there’s a nice twist. At first we’re lead to believe that Dr. Cox is the asshole while Dr. Kelso is the nice grandfatherly type. By the end, we see how Dr. Cox is the best mentor J.D. is going to have. Sure, he doesn’t say sentimental bullshit like “we’re family here” but he knows how to be the person J.D. needs when J.D. needs him. He’s brutally honest, but under that rough exterior he genuinely cares. He’s a nice take on the “good doctor, asshole human” trope because still has basic empathy for other human beings.

He knows how to be there for J.D. in the clutch even though he’s not exactly “nice” any other time. Sure, he doesn’t say sentimental bullshit like “we’re family here.”

I also think the writers made a wise choice in that most of this pilot revolves around relatively mundane medical tasks. For one, it really drives home how intimidated J.D. is when he’s scared of pretty basic things like starting IV drips and catheters. It also just helps the mood stay relatively light when we don’t really feel like lives are on the line.

I also love how the only death we get in this is from an undetectable pulmonary embolism. It was a good call to remind us that death is a part of life, and this establishes that the show isn’t going to gloss over the inevitable reality of what happens in hospitals. But we also don’t lose any respect for any of the doctors the way we might if J.D.’s timidness and inexperience actually killed someone. And it also helps establish just how hard J.D.’s job is when he has to move onto the next patient after pronouncing someone dead.

This is also one of the very rare cases where I really didn’t mind the voiceover. J.D.’s internal monologue actually offers some interesting insights to the episode, and helps flesh out J.D. as a character. One of the most powerful comes in this scene where he pronounces someone dead for the first time and tells us “and I felt guilty about how I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it is for me.” I honestly don’t think we’d get the same sense for how overwhelmed J.D. is without that voiceover, and at times it’s even funny.

What I didn’t like: There was actually a lot less Turk in this episode than what I was expecting. The J.D./Turk bromance is one of the greatest legacies of this show, and it’s barely here. We learn primarily about the bromance through voiceover, which might’ve been fine if I felt like we actually got to see them being friends. I think the decision to make Turk a surgical intern and J.D. a medical intern will ultimately pay off in the long run because it opens up the door for a wider array of stories. But here in the pilot, they felt very disconnected.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: The fact that I apparently watched the first episode at some point, didn’t move on, and forgot I’d seen it is certainly telling. But I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to catching more in syndication after the show figures itself out.

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