Old Show, New Season: “Scrubs”

When “Scrubs” wrapped its eighth season earlier this year, it did so with the presumption that it was offering viewers a final farewell to its characters. J.D. (Zach Braff) and Elliott (Sarah Chalke) spent the season finally settling into a groove as a couple, and in the 2-part finale, we watched J.D. make the most mature decision of his life: to leave Sacred Heart in order to take a job which would allow him to live closer to his son. If you followed the show throughout its run, it’s hard to imagine that you didn’t get misty as he took his final stroll down the hospital’s corridors, revisiting the memories of former friends, lovers, colleagues, and patients, and even if you did somehow make it through without dry eyes, the combination of having Peter Gabriel’s cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love” play over a montage of J.D.’s possible future was enough to kickstart anyone’s tear ducts.

It was, most fans agreed, the perfect way to close out the “Scrubs” story.

As such, when it was announced that 1) ABC had offered Bill Lawrence the chance to continue “Scrubs” for a 9th season, and 2) he had accepted their offer, fans immediately split into two camps: those who felt that Lawrence was betraying the legacy of the series by not leaving well enough alone and leaving them with their perfect ending, and those who were excited at the prospect of seeing the series continue. The phrase “legacy shmegacy” quickly became a staple of Lawrence’s interviews (such as, for instance, this one), and he soon revealed that Season 9 of the show would feel almost like a spin-off, taking Drs. Cox (John C. McGinley) and Turk (Donald Faison), turning them into med school professors, and exploring the world of first-year medical students…or, as he said to Michael Ausiello when the announcement was first made, “It’ll be a lot like ‘The Paper Chase’ as a comedy.” But while that’s a great reference to endear TV critics to its premise, is the concept enough to bring back those who were quite happy with the show reaching its logical conclusion at the end of Season 8?

If it isn’t, then maybe Zach Braff will be.

At first, it was implied that Braff would only be returning for a few episodes, with rumors abounding that ABC was pushing for the show to add a “big name” to its cast to keep the ratings momentum moving along; instead, he will actually appear in half of the episodes this season, with Lawrence rationalizing that, all things considered, Braff is a pretty big name in his own right. At the very least, his presence will surely inspire some of the on-the-fence fans to give the new version of the show a shot, and the same goes for Sarah Chalke, who will be turning up on a semi-regular basis as well. Although we saw Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) drive off into the sunset at the end of Season 8, he must have turned around at some point, since he’ll also be teaching a class at the medical school, and as the ever-abrasive Denise (Eliza Coupe) was deemed way too good a character to leave behind, she’ll be working with Professors Cox, Dorian, Kelso, and Turk as a teaching assistant.

But, wait, now you’re wondering about everyone else, too, so I’d better get them out of the way, too.

What of Carla? Well, since Judy Reyes was reportedly only interested in reprising her role in a full-time capacity, we apparently won’t be seeing her for the foreseeable future, but we were given the impression that Carla was probably going to be transitioning from nurse to homemaker, anyway, so it’s easy enough to buy that. Christa Miller’s pretty busy over on “Cougar Town,” so there’s no sign of Jordan at the moment, but given that she works for the same network and that she’s married to the man behind both shows, let’s just say that it wouldn’t be impossible that she could turn up. (In fact, the word probable might even be appropriate, but you didn’t hear that from me.) Neil Flynn’s gig on “The Middle” is keeping him hopping, too, but The Janitor will rear his head briefly tonight, and Ted the Lawyer (Sam Lloyd) will turn up in the near future, with his significant other, The Gooch (Kate Micucci), in tow.

Okay, now you know that there’ll be plenty of old faces around to make you feel at home. So how about the new faces? ABC kicks off the return of the series with two new episodes, but if you can’t wait ’til then to find out if “Scrubs: Med School” – yes, Lawrence won his fight with ABC to add an era-differentiating subtitle to the series – will permanently taint your memories of the preceding eight seasons, then you’ll probably want to read on. Be forewarned, however, that there are SPOILERS in your immediate future, so those who wish to remain blissfully ignorant until 9 PM should bail out now. Just be sure to come back later to offer your thoughts about the show’s return.

Things kick off with a couple of quick revelations to clarify just how much time has passed since we last saw Dr. John Dorian: not only has Sacred Heart been torn down and subsequently rebuilt on the nearby med school campus, where he’s going to be serving as a professor, but Elliott is seven months pregnant with his child. Okay, fair enough, there was always going to be a certain amount of stage-setting to kickstart the new premise…even if it does feel a bit rushed…and after giving us a few moments to enjoy the J.D. / Elliott interaction, things quickly transition into meet-and-greet mode with the introduction of the new students.

Lucy (Kerry Bishé): All you really need to know is that she’s constantly cheery, naively optimistic, and – what luck! – she enjoys maintaining an internal monologue and drifting into fantasy sequences.

Cole (Dave Franco): a typical trust-fund jackass who believes that he can get away with saying and doing anything he wants, no matter how ignorant and offensive it may be, simply because his dad’s a major benefactor.

Drew (Michael Mosley): the oldest member of the class. In fact, he’s a second-timer at med school, but after bombing out his first time and then basically bombing out at life in general since then, he’s giving it another go.

These aren’t the only three new faces you’ll see, of course, but they’re the only ones that matter for the time being. Although I’m sure they’ll be further developed as things move forward, you’ll instantly be struck by how Lucy feels like an unabashed amalgam of J.D. and Elliott, and even though Cole will make you laugh quite a lot during the course of the first two episodes, he’s such an ass that you’ll be rooting for his comeuppance to come sooner than later. There’s a lot of potential in Drew, however: he’s the elder of the group, so his classmates rally around him (after being maliciously steered in that direction by Denise), but all he wants to do is fly under the radar and see if his second go-round at med school can go better than his first, which makes Dr. Cox’s decision to latch onto him as his #1 student all the funnier.

The good news: John C. McGinley has accepted the challenge to become the John Houseman of his generation, and based on his performance here, he’s taking it very, very seriously. We all know that Dr. Cox doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and his limited tolerance for “newbies” is well documented, so you can imagine just how much fun there is to be had by letting him loose before a classroom of first-year medical students, especially when his first words to them are an assurance that medicine is a dead career. In short, McGinley shines like a freaking star in these episodes. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for Donald Faison, who spends most of his onscreen appearances indulging in “guy love” with Zach Braff, with not nearly enough time spent establishing his new identity as a professor…and while it’s all fine and well to see J.D. and Turk interacting again, weren’t we supposed to be focusing more on the new students?

Don’t get me wrong, a considerable amount of time is dedicated to Lucy, Cole, and Drew, and there’s clearly a concerted effort to use Denise as the middle ground between the students and the professors, but at the moment, the whole thing still seems structured to keep the focus on the old faces. Obviously, they’re going to serve as the link between the two incarnations of the show, and you know ABC wants to make the most of Zach Braff while they have him, but it feels like there’s too much J.D. in these episodes, especially since the show isn’t about him anymore. The internal monologue hand-off from J.D. to Lucy is perfect, but instead of leaving the device solely to her, we’re now going to be getting them from both characters, which feels wrong somehow. Also, despite the fact that J.D. gets some extremely funny moments during the course of the episodes, those who believed that J.D. had finally grown up at the end of Season 8 may be left feeling as though the character has taken two steps back.

I’ll be very curious to see how fans react to “Scrubs: Med School,” specifically if they’ll accept what they see of the new characters enough to want to keep watching them. Drew’s already on the right path, and despite the fact that Lucy and Cole currently seem less like fleshed-out characters than pencil sketches waiting to be filled in, there’s every reason to believe that they’ll expand once they get the chance. Right now, though, it’s a matter of figuring out the right formula of old cast and new cast, and since some viewers are tuning in solely to see the former, those are going to be some incredibly difficult calculations to work out.

  

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