Monday, May 22, 2006

The Turk Show starring Turk as Turk: Scrubs, season 5

Look! You can watch Scrubs on your computer! The grimly smiling men have assured this fact!

Anyway. . .a weekend outing and a writing project have assured that I haven't been as blog-heavy this weekend, but next weekend is a THREE-DAY WEEKEND! So you can expect lots of stuff to happen then.

Anyway, sue me, but I liked Scrubs' fifth season better than almost any other season of the show (except for maybe the debut year). This was the year when the show seemed to finally just give up on being a mega-hit and began delivering sweetly weird stories of hospital life. In the past, the often jarring tonal shifts of the show (going from weird hallucinations to the lives of beloved patients ending often within one or two cuts) put me off of the show, but these shifts seemed tighter, more assured in season five.

I can only assume the network decided to stop interfering.

If you get the DVD for Scrubs, season three, you hear about how NBC tried to push the show in directions that didn't really mesh with the loosey-goosey tone of the piece. NBC wanted Scrubs to have more soap-opera-style storylines like Friends. And Scrubs has never been a will-they/won't-they kind of show (the J.D./Elliot flirtation, though the actors have good chemistry, always felt kind of forced). Will-they/won't-they is an inherently adolescent mentality, and Scrubs, at its best, is about growing out of that adolescent mentality, becoming an adult, getting married, having a baby, all of those things.

Season five drove that point home more than any other season. For some reason, it almost seemed as if Turk (played marvelously by Donald Faison) became the main character as we focused on him and his wife Carla's attempts to have a baby (which were long and frustrating). At the same time, J.D. and Elliot were taking on massive new responsibilities at work and becoming peers to the men who once supervised them (Dr. Cox in particular). The shake-up of these dynamics closely paralleled the gradual move-up in any workplace.

As long as Scrubs grounds itself in these realities, the jarring tonal shifts don't feel as jarring, precisely because we become aware that the show exists in a universe that's roughly similar to our own. When the show plays to sitcom pretensions (as NBC tried to force it to do), it just doesn't work, because it harms the reality of death that plagues every hospital. But when it works at its own, more realistic rhythms, it can go on any flights of fancy it wants.

That said, the show really needs to work on finding J.D. a steady relationship. Giving Elliot one this season was a masterstroke, especially as it played out mainly in the background (it also gave Sarah Chalke, one of the most gamely comic actresses on television, lots of fun stuff to do). But the attempts to give J.D. serious relationships have disintegrated after a handful of episodes (usually because the actress playing the girlfriend -- see, Mandy Moore -- is a special guest star known better for film acting).

Hopefully, the show has worked out some sort of deal with the effervescent Elizabeth Banks (who played J.D.'s latest girlfriend Kim, whose now pregnant with his child -- oops). She meshed well with the cast, and she would be a strong addition to the show's bench.

That's another thing that makes this show work. Every season, they add more and more characters who work well as recurring players. This show's bench is DEEP, comparable to the huge, sprawling cast on The Office. And, every season, everyone in the cast gets something to do, be it dramatic or comic.

Scrubs is a show that I've always sort of half-enjoyed, not liking it as much as I felt I should. But now, in season five, it has found its legs again, and I want to see what happens next.

See what a little lack of network pressure will do?

1 comment:

Edward Copeland said...

I am annoyed that NBC, even though they gave it a full season order, is playing this stupid game of not scheduling it again until one of their other shows fail. I too enjoyed this season's "to hell with it" attitude.