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Reviewed by Will Harris
iven how many times “Scrubs” had teetered on the precipice of cancelation over the years, it’s no wonder that creator Bill Lawrence took the opportunity to close Season Eight with what at the time appeared to be a definitive conclusion to the series, sending an as-grown-up-as-he-was-ever-going-to-get J.D. through the doors of Sacred Heart Hospital one last time and into some approximation of adulthood. It was an ending that brought tears to the eyes of more than a few fans. Except that it, uh, actually wasn’t an ending.
When ABC offered Lawrence the opportunity to continue “Scrubs” for a ninth season, he was hard pressed to turn them down, given that it would provide his hard-working staff with a job for another year. At the same time, however, he’d been quite happy with the way he’d ended things. The compromise: giving the series an infusion of new blood and a slight conceptual makeover. Indeed, in Lawrence’s mind, he didn’t so much continue “Scrubs” for a ninth season as spin off a new series, “Scrubs: Med School,” taking Drs. Cox (John C. McGinley) and Turk (Donald Faison) and turning them into teachers of first-year medical students. The concept was actually pretty interesting, offering a comedic spin on “The Paper Chase,” but there were some serious problems with the execution.
Of the class of first-year medical students, we’re given three on which to place our predominant focus: Lucy Bennett (Kerry Bische), who’s too sweet for her own good; Drew Suffin (Michael Mosley), a grumpy bastard who’s taking a second shot at med school after totally fucking up his life the first time around; and Cole Aaronson (Dave Franco), whose family donated a buttload of money to Sacred Heart, thereby insuring that their complete dumbass of a son can basically do everything wrong and yet still end up with a medical degree. Beyond Drs. Cox and Turk, the ever-irascible Denise (Elisa Coupe) has been carried over from the previous incarnation of the show, now serving as a resident as well as a student advisor and teaching assistant. She quickly enters into a romantic relationship with Drew, which makes for a rather interesting dynamic. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see nearly enough of it.
Have you ever seen the “Saturday Night Live” sketch where John Belushi plays a character called The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave? Well, in Season Nine of “Scrubs,” he’s played by Dr. John Dorian (Zach Braff). Things initially look promising, with the announcement that JD is going to be a med school instructor followed by the reveal that he and Elliot (Sarah Chalke) are expecting their first child, but it soon becomes evident that any maturity achieved by JD by the end of Season Eight has been wiped clean for comedic purposes. In addition, the “guy love” between JD and Turk is ramped up to ridiculous levels, and while this is possibly to compensate for the fact that we never, ever see Turk’s wife, Carla, during the season, it seriously tarnishes the rather sweet “bromance” that had been so steadfastly developed in previous seasons.
You can appreciate why the show’s producers thought it would be a good idea to use JD as a link between “old ‘Scrubs’” and “new ‘Scrubs’” for the brief period until he became a father and entered adulthood – no, for real this time – but by keeping so much of the focus on him, the new characters weren’t allowed sufficient opportunity to breathe. Optimally, Season Nine should have begun with a two-parter where JD came to teach but, by the end of the second episode, discovered that he wasn’t done learning yet and departed, returning only for the very special sweeps episode in which Elliot gives birth. Instead, he stuck around for half the season, by which point even the most diehard “Scrubs” fans were screaming, “Would you get the hell out of here already? We’re trying to learn to like the new guys!”
I’m with Lawrence: as far as I’m concerned, “Scrubs” ended with Season Eight. This doesn’t mean that I hated the show’s ninth season, though. To invoke Lawrence’s name one last time, I can’t help but remember that, in all of the advance interviews, he pointedly said that, since he viewed this less as a new season than a spin-off, he was hoping to make it more like “Frasier” than “After M*A*S*H.” Looking at Season Nine as a whole, I’d have to say that he didn’t succeed as well as he might’ve hoped. But, then again, I actually kind of liked “After M*A*S*H.”
Special Features: It should come as no surprise that A) the set is seriously lacking in substantial bonus material, and B) the most impressive of the slim pickings comes via Bill Lawrence, who took the time to sit down and offer audio commentary for the lengthy collection of deleted scenes from the season. (He explains that the excess material was mostly down to a new creative team who were still honing their instincts for how much comedy would fit into a network television half-hour.) Lawrence also contributes to “Scrubbing In,” a short look into the season which also offers contributions from Braff, Chalke, and the new cast members. Beyond that, the obligatory blooper reel is funny enough, but “Live from the Golf Cart,” which spotlights security guards Dunkirk and Underhill, is about as rib-tickling as the characters themselves. So, y’know, not very.