TV Review: ‘Scrubs’ Returns For Awkward Season-Nine Premiere
CHICAGO – With great comedies often being cancelled before their time, how many TV writers and producers look at the trajectory of “Scrubs” with awe? Zach Braff’s sitcom has become the show that wouldn’t die, avoiding one network’s cancellation axe to be rescued by another and now coming back for another season after it aired its impressive series finale. Like the undead, this version of “Scrubs” almost looks the same, but isn’t quite right.
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
When “Scrubs” ended, with a bittersweet and beautiful series finale earlier this year, creator Bill Lawrence was stunned to learn that ABC wanted more. Of course, a lot of the cast had moved on to other projects, and it would be difficult to bring even the regulars back for a true renewal. Consequently, Lawrence wanted to rename the show “Med School” and bring on new cast members with occasional supporting work by familiar faces for “Scrubs” fans. Lawrence’s concept sounds more like a spin-off, something closer to “After-MASH” or “Archie Bunker’s Place”. TV viewers of the right age will remember how those turned out. “Scrubs” 2.0 isn’t quite that level of a disaster, but it’s a ghost of what this show used to be.
Eliza Coupe, Donald Faison, Zach Braff
Photo credit: Karen Neal/ABC
At least in the first two episodes, J.D.(Zach Braff) is still around, returned to Sacred Heart to teach at its medical school alongside Turk (Donald Faison) and Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley). The bitter-and-cynical Denise (Eliza Coupe), a familiar face from last season, pops up as a student advisor and Kelso (Ken Jenkins) even makes a few cameo appearances with one-liners. The Todd (Robert Maschio) is still there but Sarah Chalke appears in only a cameo in the first episode and Judy Reyes, Neil Flynn, and Christa Miller are gone.
Replacing them (and, clearly, eventually replacing even Braff, Faison, and McGinley as the leads of the show) are a group of new students including the wide-eyed and sweet Lucy (Kerry Bishe), med school drop out Drew (Michael Mosley), and cocky Cole (Dave Franco). It’s an interesting idea to switch the genders and take the naive J.D. of the first few seasons and turn him into the naive Lucy of this new iteration of the show, but it’s a lot to ask of an audience to not only wave goodbye to their favorite characters but present them with new ones who remind them so much of what they first liked about the series. It’s like breaking up with someone and dating a new person who looks exactly the same. It’s not going to work.
Photo credit: Karen Neal/ABC
The writing has been in steady decline on “Scrubs” for years, but the talented and underrated cast of the show often elevated the material. Losing Chalke, Reyes, and Flynn is like remaking “Cheers” without Carla, Norm, and Woody. Yes, there would still be a few talented actors, but the show would feel empty, like something crucial was missing.
Consequently, this places a lot of weight on the shoulders of the new cast. Relatively new Coupe is getting better. I found her cynical routine last season more annoying than funny, but now that she’s a lead, she shows potential. Bishe is the most promising of the new crew, a beautiful young lady with solid comic timing. Mosley and Franco, at least in the first two episodes, are playing archetype sitcom characters (“the tough guy who’s really nice,” “the cute guy who’s really a jerk”) and aren’t memorable.
The ninth season of “Scrubs” is clearly an experiment. If they were truly confident in the new cast, they wouldn’t have the all-stars like Braff and Faison sticking around to support them. And if the network was truly confident in the show overall, they wouldn’t have waited until the last minute to renew it and would have the original cast back in the first place. Finally, even with all of the cast shuffling, if the writing was stronger, all of the changes would be easier to overlook.
As I watched the first two episodes of “Scrubs,” I kept wondering how I would feel about the show without the baggage of eight seasons and two cancellations. The problem is that those elements are impossible to ignore. The desperation inherent in bringing back something that ended so beautifully for one more season permeates every element of the series with the new cast members under amazing pressure to bring back some of the “Scrubs” charm. If the NBC cancellation was strike one and the series finale earlier this year was strike two, I have a feeling this season will be a clear strike three. Though, with “Scrubs,” you can never say die.