Facing an almost inevitable cancellation last year, Bill Lawrence’s “Scrubs” pulled out of the creative stasis that it had been mired in for much of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seasons of the series. It reached a pinnacle in the 1.0 series finale with one of the best episodes of the entire run, which featured Ted’s amazingly wonderful rendition of “Hey Ya.” The resurrection of “Scrubs” last season was probably due, in part, to the approaching end of the show’s run and the fact that ABC had picked up the show after NBC had dropped it, emboldening Lawrence with actual support and a great deal of promotion.
Unfortunately, it did little to help the ratings of “Scrubs,” which — like “According to Jim” did for years — has managed to survive year after year despite less than mediocre ratings (the difference, of course, is that “Scrubs” has been phenomenal at times, while “According to Jim” sucked monkey forehead during its entire interminable run). ABC must have learned their lesson about the pointlessness of promoting “Scrubs,” however, because last week’s two-episode ninth-season premiere arrived practically unannounced after President Obama’s Afghanistan speech. The ratings reflected that lack of promotion (plus an inexplicable premiere date in December) — “Scrubs 2.0” was down 35 percent from its already lackluster season eight premiere, producing only 4.5 million viewers, or what an average episode of “The Jay Leno Show” manages to get.
It’s a shame, too, because “Scrubs 2.0” continues the momentum of the last season’s effort. Reworking “Scrubs” is the best thing that could have ever happened to it, as it allowed Lawrence to shed a few characters that had exhausted their usefulness, beloved though they may have been (Neil Flynn’s The Janitor and Judy Reyes’ Nurse Carla chief among them). More importantly, by moving the action to a teaching hospital, Lawrence was able to refocus his attention on what made the first four seasons of “Scrubs” so outstanding: The sense of fear, of the nervousness and trepidation that accompanies newbies being put in charge of people’s lives. More importantly, it’s allowed John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox a full return to his old bastard self, and two episodes in, his comic rage is as good as it’s ever been, as he cuts down unsuspecting med students with a new sense of purpose. (Thankfully, he hasn’t yet featured his tender side yet, which bogged down way too many of the recent seasons’ episodes.)
It helps, too, that he has a few new, naive students to terrorize, namely Lucy Bennett (Kerry Bishe), the show’s new narrator, who is something resembling Zach Braff’s first-season character crossed with Heather Graham. So far, she’s also kind of bland and not all together befitting of the “Scrubs” mold. Michael Mosley also joins the cast as Drew Suffin, an older med student giving it a second try after flaming out spectacularly during his first go-around. Dave Franco (James’ little brother) has also come aboard as a caddish asshole brohan who believes he can get away with anything he wants since his family paid for a wing of the teaching hospital. Last season’s stand-out intern, Denise Mahoney (Eliza Coupe), also returns as the emotionally disconnected hate-fucking attending physician at the new Sacred Heart hospital. She’s my favorite character now.
J.D. and Turk (Donald Faison) are also back as professors (as are Dr. Kelso and The Todd), but they’ve been relegated to the background of the show, which is particularly fortunate in the case of Braff, who has seemingly gotten dumber as the series has progressed. He’s being phased out of the show (along with Sarah Chalke, whose character is now pregnant with JD’s child), but the transition can’t happen fast enough — Braff is weighing down his scenes, and his brown-bear homoerotic relationship with Turk wore out its welcome about four seasons ago.
With “Scrubs” returning, essentially, to the beginning, it’s likely to be a case of recycled plot-lines with new characters (the season’s second episode is a prime example), but in a way, that’s fine with me, too. Over the years, “Scrubs” has held up in reruns better than almost any sitcom around (the syndication rights are probably why “Scrubs” is still on the air). So, I’m not terribly bothered to watch reruns with a fresh batch of characters, one of whom (Eliza Coupe) is as good as some of the original characters ever were. The old characters will provide nostalgic flavor, but the new ones bring some fresh life to the show, and the whiplash poignancy is still as effective as ever.
“Scrubs 2.0” is not, however, likely to appeal to anyone that wasn’t a fan of “Scrubs” before, and given the ratings, its cult followers are unfortunately dwindling as well. As for me: I’m going to stick around until the very end, and if the first two episodes of this season are any indication, at least it won’t be a bitter one.