Is It That Bad?: Scrubs Med School

Some shows go gracefully into that good night with an ending planned well in advance. You know, your Breakings Bad and your Mad Men. Some shows go off the rails and get back on track for an emotionally satisfying end. Fraiser is the example par excellence. Some chug towards an end that no one is really happy with when the show just kind of stops being made. Think…ohh…most shows.

Then there’s Scrubs, which had the rare honor of being all three.

After a weak Season 7 (abbreviated by the writer’s strike) and countless potential finales, Season 8 was the one finally given the honor of being the last season when the show moved from NBC to ABC. The show refocused, turning into a flip of the first season with our beloved doctors now taking on the mentorship/teaching roles and moving to the next phase of their lives. It also provided us, in a show of emotional moments, a finale that ended on a parade of some of the most poignant character moments the show had ever seen. You laughed, you cried, you felt like the show got the ending it always deserved.

Of course, that’s before the show kept going.

While Scrubs was over on creator Bill Lawrence’s terms, ABC announced that the show was renewed for a 13-episode season. This, of course, was for a show that had already ended. The solution was to essentially create a spin-off called Scrubs: Med School. The focus would be on a group of young med students at “New Sacred Heart” which was now a university hospital. The demand from ABC though was that the show would still remain Scrubs and under the Scrubs banner, making it a ninth season of the show rather than the first season of a new one.

Which, by the way, is a problem. The fact is that very few shows can take a full-blown cast change, especially one where it loses its main character and a number of its supporting characters, with little to no overall damage. This goes doubly for a show like Scrubs that was so founded in its character relationships and based in jokes about its characters. That combined with the weight of expectation and following up such an emotional finale means that this season would be damned before it even began.

So, to no surprise, the season was maligned and never made it past its opening 13-episode order. But was that fair? Did we just never give the new show and its characters a chance? Is this really worth skipping every time you go through Scrubs on Netflix these days?

As is only appropriate with a show like Scrubs, let’s explain it through the three main characters that replaced our trio of J.D. (Zach Braff), Turk (Donald Faison), and Elliot (Sarah Chalke).

The Good: Lucy (Kerry Bishe)

Perhaps more explicitly than anyone else, Lucy is a replacement character. Like, textually, she is taking the torch of narrating the series from J.D. and is replacing him as the new series’ insecure lead who has a lot of growing up to do.

Except Lucy seems to be Scrubs learning from its mistakes. Lucy, even as a young character, is a far less irritating character than 85% of J.D.’s time on Scrubs, and you very quickly empathize and want to follow her and see her evolve. Which is what this show was about at its best.

No matter what, this is still Scrubs at its core. There’s plenty of goofy, vaguely non-sequitur comedy with characters you really do like to hang around with. Plenty of emotion too with a surprising sense of accuracy about the way it handles the medical profession. Scrubs Season 9 is really not all that different from any other season and is in fact funnier than at least Season 7. If you like the show and you need a fix, you can do much worse.

The Bad: Cole (Dave Franco)

Cole is the worst. Can we just be real here? The absolute worst. Dave Franco can be empathetic and funny, but here you spend most of the season desperately hoping to punch him in his smug face. I’ve never noticed how much Franco-face he’s got until this show.

He’s a static, hateful sort of character who just never seems to interact with the spirit of the show or have any appreciably enjoyable comedic moments. Honestly? One of the only characters in the history of this show that I actively can’t stand seeing show up.

Part of the problem of Season 9 is that there’s just a few too many miscalculations on the character ends. Scrubs was so much about the evolution of its relationships that it’s honestly jarring to see how much many of them took a step backwards.

The arc of Dr. Cox over the course of the show was growing to care about the people who cared about him, and opening his heart. This season removes or pushes aside the characters that made that arc work, vaulting the character back to his earliest version and really turning up how mean and vicious the character could be. It almost reeks of someone wanting to make a new character and being forced to put a familiar one in its place.

It also never replaces those old relationships with compelling new ones. No one seems to be growing in ways we haven’t seen before, the youth of the characters and their problems seems to make no evolution in the way Scrubs does things and you can’t help but get the feeling that even with all these new people, you’ve seen it all before. Which is boring at its best and at its worst, it means that the bad new folks (like Cole) stand out all the more.

The eh: Drew (Michael Mosley)

Did anyone make sure Drew was in the right place? Honestly, this is a concern. He seems for all the world to be the lead character of another small ABC medical drama, someone trying to piece things back together after a previous failure. He’s not a bad character, he’s just so jarringly out of tone with the rest of the show.

I think the biggest thing a lot of people really seized on with this season was the fact that it ultimately had two conflicting ideas of what it was. There’s clearly a lot of people involved who wanted this to be another season of Scrubs, so it half-heartedly continues all the stories of those characters past the end point we already had.

You see how much of the framework of the old show is placed onto the new one. A trio of three at the show’s core, a tough teaching doctor (Denise Mahoney, who was introduced in season 8), all the old doctors flickering in and out. Hell, J.D. is a main narrating character for the first five or so episodes, we still spend so much time on his neuroses in those times.

There were also clearly a lot of people involves who wanted this to essentially be a new show, so it makes it hard to do that when it was forced to work around the original Scrubs to try desperately to find its own identity.

It’s a disconnect, two fundamentally opposed ideas that are forced to work in concert the whole season. That’s why Season 9, while still a lot of good ideas and moments that make for a good show, doesn’t work. There’s just no clear picture of what this is and no clear picture of how to continue something you already finished.

So, Is It That Bad?

No, there’s enough of the old charm that maybe another half season could have buffed out the problems. But there’s enough here stifling the new show that you see that those problems may have taken too much time to fix for ABC to want to give it much more of a chance. Season 9 of Scrubs isn’t a disaster, it’s really more of a shame than anything else.