|My Hate/Love/Hate relationship with Scrubs
||[Dec. 19th, 2013|04:58 am]
Scrubs was one of those shows that I was aware of and even liked in places. I saw the last Brendan Fraser episode when it was first on, but I didn't pay much attention until "oh shit, he's dead" and I thought that was rather brilliant. As the years were less kind to Zach Braff I started to hate Scrubs by proxy. Even when a roommate watched a new season (7 or 8 - it was jumping around a lot by then) the only part that I really could relate to was the part where Dr. Cox calls J.D. the most self-involved doctor in the place. Only that's supposed to be a joke instead of a damning statement that the writers take to heart. There's actually a fifth season episode where the point is that everyone seems to be doing the same things and old famous jokes get repeated verbatim. |
At a certain point, I warmed to the show. I saw a few episodes that I didn't hate. I focused on the ensemble cast and allowed myself to like the show and hate J.D. simultaneously (Garden State hurt me) and I did find some genuine classics. So I started doing the Complete Set viewing (the joys of working from your couch - you get fatter and your skin looks bad, but you do get to watch entire television shows) and I was happy to see that season one was great. Season 2 was better and season 3 delivered some of the best episodes of the show including the dead Brendan Fraser one and the following episodes where the death continues to affect everyone. And then season 4 happened. And season 5 - and there was nothing wrong with them per se save for the fact that no one is changing or growing. All of the important life lessons doled out in the first 3 seasons have gone to waste. The sitcom inertia has taken over and now no one has any reason to even try for the illusion of change. The characters have hardened into broad stereotypes and that lack of change renders them boring. The show has had three seasons to reveal everything about them. By season 4, they need to develop or stay the same and in the latter case, the characters die slow deaths. J.D. goes from a young naive doctor with maturity issues into a sociopath douchebag. Eliot stops being the talented doctor with anxiety issues and becomes the brainless ditz who gets defined by her insecurity. Once a phase is an iron clad character trait it stops being charming and you have to stop making excuses for them.
Even worse, Carla and Turk go from the center of the show - the young couple that balances work and personal life - and turn into the SITCOM COUPLE. Step right up and see the "whacky" married couple. He's a dipshit. She's a humorless scold! Aren't they HILARIOUS! The guy acts like an overgrown child and the wife is MOM. Boys will be boys and women are so much better at that domestic stuff anyhow. Why would the wife ever want to be funny or interesting by her own merits. She's WAY too busy cleaning up the messes left by her HILARIOUS husband. Everybody loves Raymond. King of Queens. That Jim Belushi sitcom that couldn't get canceled. Home Improvement. Yes, there are many exceptions. Roseanne, Married with Children and The Cosby Show managed to present married couples that were interesting couples and shared in the blame, humor, etc. But that was the late 80s and 90s. What kind of marriage would it be if the guy wasn't an idiot who was saved/harrassed by his Bitch Wife Mommy?
If Breaking Bad had a laugh track, it would have fit into this pattern.
Carla and Turk were interesting in the first three seasons. But once they get married, they turned into Everybody Love Raymond standard with Turk constantly lying to Carla (because it's FUNNY to slip birth control pills into your wife's food when she wants to have kids) and then getting caught.
Of course, I am stopping at season 5. I know that later in the show Laverne dies and there are whacky hijinks at the funeral (ok mostly annoying J.D. fantasies about whacky hijinks). The fact that the character was on the show from the beginning didn't stop the writers from throwing out hackneyed jokes about Black Churches being Fun and centering everythign on J.D.'s shitty little fantasies. Brendan Fraser shows up for three episodes and everyone is broken up. Laverne has been around these people forever and they don't give a shit. However, if she had gotten killed off 3-5 seasons earlier it might not have been so bad.
I could go on - I may very well go on - the shitty gender politics of the show just got worse as it went along - mostly because you couldn't make it all about "the Todd" anymore. He was an interesting distraction from a show that repeatedly made sexual harassment normative - but I am going to note the first J.D/Eliot episode.
It was brilliant. It got over the will they/won't they question that plagues these shows (even though they had zero chemistry in this case) and in one slightly extended episode, gave the audience the sex while showing the relationship disintegrate as both characters' issues sabotaged whatever affection they had. By the end of the episode, it is clear that J.D. is a selfish child and Eliot has too many emotional issues and they won't work. And that was a very clear statement. Here are the two main characters getting together. Here is why they fall apart and that's it. It was quite brilliant and audacious.
Then the fucking writers did another reunion in season 3 and then kept the tension going throughout the show until they mash them together because what the hell - they are both pretty and white. At that point the head writer was patting himself on the back for mashing them together without fanfare but there's no reason why he should be proud of anything after season 3.
1. I do recommend season eight and nine, during which the show was reinvigorated by a change of networks and an attempted to slowly transition to "Scrubs: the Next Generation". The increasing presence of new characters, permanent and temporary, mitigated the deadwood. Especially Eliza Coupe who is very funny.
2. Although overall, I think this is why it's a good thing "Better Off Ted" and "Happy Endings" got cancelled when they did. Few sitcoms can manage the inevitable issues of repetition, particularly if they dabble in strongly absurd and/or long form narrative elements. "Ted" probably had one more good season in it, but the cast of "Endings" had already started to flatten.
Barney Miller is one of the few sitcoms I've seen which made it past three seasons without suffering significantly embarrassing entropy (that was reserved for the Fish spinoff). And it was ended by the producers - not the network - when they decided they were out of stories. I also think Seinfeld was decent until the end, or at least holds up in random rerun viewing.
Seinfeld is a strange exemption since no one really grew or changed but it was just as fresh and funny (if not more so) by the end of the series as the beginning.
Roseanne, HIMYM and Cheers were shows that followed the pattern but found ways of changing. HIMYM and Cheers are almost the quintessential three season shows since they actually had the same arcs of Flirting, Dating, Broken up with the fourth season as the "Now what?" season. Cheers was fortunate that Shelly Long left to do movies and it could become a completely different show with Rebecca Howe. HIMYM got into Lily & Marshall having kids, Barney growing up, etc - didn't always succeed in distracting us from the fact that this show was the same five people in the same bar, but i am loving the 9th season.
Roseanne had this golden era when she was married to Tom Arnold and it shed its shlocky sitcom trappings. Darlene taking to her room for an entire season and brooding was pretty damn cool, especially when it wasn't explained away in a very special episode.
Veronica Mars is the best show for getting canceled at the right time. I wanted a season 4 but I was also certain that I would have hated it. I didn't hate season 3, but it just wasn't the same.
I too love this final season, because it's just so Ted.
In a meta-context, this a story told by someone who views his pre-marriage self as incomplete, merely a prelude to his fulfillment. So while Ted is kind of a dick (though less so than Zach Braff) his apparently sincere preference for post mother happiness may color how much he presents himself as a moody shit pre-mother. Which is creepy, but not inaccurate in the stories we tell ourselves.
At least this is my reading. I don't know if the writers have fully picked up on this, but there are episodes - like the one where it turns out Ted is sitting in the bar alone, being told off by his memories of Barney, where they do realize Ted is kind of fucked up and less grown than his friends.
Anyway, in terms of storytelling, of course Ted is going to have the most vivid memory of the events which immediately preceded the meeting. Especially since it it involved so many other changes. Of course a guy like Ted is going to draw out that final however many days than the rest of the years long buildup. It makes sense in terms of narrative and character, plus they seem to be granting Ted just enough charm and awareness that I don't pity the mother.
I loved the third season episode where he goes out with Barney and gets drunk and finds out that his evening was not nearly as charming as he remembers it via answering machine messages.
And Marshall's line of "We already have a Barney." is brilliant. And now that she's in the show, she is actually pretty cool and just as eccentric as Ted.