The Off-Beat Dramedy That Low Key Started A Revolution
At first glance, there was nothing special about Scrubs. Just another show premiering on NBC during the Fall of 2001 from writer, Bill Lawrence, creator of popular sit-com, Spin City. It didn’t take long for audiences to realize that the little show about rookie doctors had plenty of heart to go with the almost cartoonish comedy, and proved that the single camera style could actually work.
Scrubs, like most shows took a while to find its audience, and with that, it tool a few seasons before the network trusted the show to find its own voice. There was a heavy reliance on slapstick sound effects and quick cuts to make the show more “broad” in the early going, but while that was going on, the writers never compromised the overall vision of the show. Yes, Scrubs was very much a comedy, but it still took place in a hospital. Bad things happen in hospitals. The only happy occasion to visit a hospital is for child birth, besides that, people are either sick or dying. Scrubs never lost sight of that fact no matter how much JD, played with a charming doofiness by Zach Braff, would daydream.
Our first real taste of this was in season one episode My Old Lady. Beginning with JD’s voice over, that we already gotten accustomed to, JD informed us that 1 in 3 patients admitted to Sacred Heart die. We then followed he, Turk, and Elliot as they each bonded with their respective patients. JD’s being the most obvious choice to kick it; an elderly woman refusing dialysis since she’d already led a full life, and didn’t see the point in dragging it on anymore. Turk and Elliot on the other hand had patients with far less severe diagnosis and seemingly routine solutions. It was then, when the audience was good and comfortable in their assumption that they’d outsmarted the show, that all three patients died. Scrubs had reminded us that life doesn’t care about your plans, and just because the odds are on your side, doesn’t mean things will go your way.
That was the balancing act at work. You’d be laughing in one scene and fighting back tears the next. The show seldom pulled punches and made sure to treat the audiences and its stories with more respect than others of the era, but it wasn’t just the writing and mixture of comedy with drama that made Scrubs stand apart, it was the production style.
Scrubs was hardly the first single camera comedy to hit prime time, in fact, there were about 100 before it even showed up, mostly popular in the 60’s and 70’s. Still, the style had taken a considerable dive in the 90’s, and almost every show that attempted to utilize it was cancelled by season two. Of course, that may not have been the reason those shows didn’t work, but it was a trend nonetheless. Scrubs on the other hand made the format work for itself in a way that a traditional sitcom wouldn’t have. Imagine the daydream sequences and jump cuts being done on a sitcom set. Nah, I prefer the actual halls of the converted hospital. One could argue, if it weren’t for Scrubs’ sustained success with the format, that many other shows wouldn’t have taken the chance. I can’t go that far, but I can say that before it, many failed, and after practically every shows uses the format, with the sitcom style we’d grown up watching acting as some sort of novelty.
Scrubs ran for nine official seasons, 180+ episodes, between two networks and for as meme’d and referential the show is, I don’t think it gets the full respect it deserves as the bridge between television generations. The serialized stories, show of diversity, and self referential nature are all standard fare today. Even during its down years, Scrubs was one of the best shows on TV. If for some reason you’re not familiar, hop on your friends Netflix account and start your next binge immediately. You can add that to the short list of good reasons to check in to a hospital.