Created by Bill Lawrence, Scrubs premiered in October 2001, and quickly distinguished itself as an airy, slapstick-laden, effervescent delight, the perfect whipsmart antidote to both the self-seriousness of other hospital-set small screen shows and America’s post-9/11 anxiety and ennui in general. While it never quite had the full zeitgeist snap of sexier NBC sitcom hits like Friends and Seinfeld, the series was nonetheless a reliable and consistently funny performer, launching Zach Braff to stardom as well as affirming the comedic gifts of any number of bit players, from John C. McGinley to Neil Flynn, as, respectively, the show’s gruff mentor and demented janitor, both of whom long nursed antagonistic relationships with Braff’s daydream-happy John “J.D.” Dorian.
After failing to get re-upped by NBC following its eighth season, ABC picked up the series for an aborted run, but their hearts never really seemed in this rebooted “Scrubs 2.0.” And it’s somewhat understandable, actually, as the reformed Scrubs never could seemingly decide quite what it wanted to be. While McGinley and Donald Faison each reprise their roles, most of the series’ original players have moved on (Braff returns in a half dozen of this set’s 13 episodes, embarking upon a characteristically misguided career as a short-term teacher at the med school), making for an awkward and sometimes jarring mash-up of old and new.
The joke writing is still above-average (analog clocks are derided as “old people clocks,” and Faison lectures his young charges that being a surgeon “isn’t about the glamor, the money, or even making a great mix CD for the operating room”), thanks to Lawrence’s guiding hand, and the retention of a handful of staff writers. But something always feels off, starting with the casting. The rebooted Scrubs is built around a new group of interns. Lucy (Kerry Bishé) is the wide-eyed innocent — a narrator and stand-in for the audience, very much in the mold of J.D. Tomboyish Denise (Eliza Coupe) and Drew (Michael Mosley), a previous med school washout, are the romantically intertwined couple, and Cole (Dave Franco) is the cocky, focus-stricken jerk. Maya (Nicky Whelan) and Trang (Matthew Moy) also pop up in ill-defined roles in slightly more than half the episodes. None of the performers really pop and draw you in, either in sympathetic fashion or courtesy of bravura and/or standoffish “bit” energy, as McGinley, Ken Jenkins and Robert Maschio previously did in the show’s earlier incarnations. Though his character is purposefully meant to grate, Franco in particular — a shaggy, low-rent/goofus version of his older brother James — becomes wearying quite quickly, always demonstratively playing the most obvious emotion in a scene.
Housed in a regular, clear plastic Amaray case with a snap-in tray, in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover, Scrubs: The Complete Ninth Season comes to DVD presented on two discs, with a Dolby digital audio track. In addition to a two-minute “Live From the Golf Cart” stunt bit involving some minor characters, there’s also a peppy two-minute blooper reel in which plenty of pastry is tossed about, and Braff gets frisky with a costumed raccoon tail. Creator Lawrence then pops up in an adjunct video screen for optional commentary during the disc’s presentation of deleted scenes, complaining good-naturedly about how a half-hour sitcom is really only 20 minutes and 41 seconds. There is also a six-minute featurette about some of the old cast members passing the torch to the new cast (Braff jokes about it being the Muppet Babies version of Scrubs), with plenty of back-slapping interview tidbits interspersed throughout. It’s a fine one-time watch, but there’s nothing of real substance here — much like the series’ wrap-up, sadly, which ends with a whimper in the form of “Our Thanks,” an episode in which the med students are tasked with coming up with kind words to say to the families of those who served as cadavers. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C (Show) C+ (Disc)