“Scrubs” pre-postmortem: Was Season 9 worth it?

Is this how they convinced Zach Braff and Donald Faison to return for Season 9?
Is this how ABC convinced Zach Braff and Donald Faison to come back?

By Stacey Harrison

With tonight’s finale, Scrubs may be ending what has to be one of the most unlikely nine-year runs on television. The quirky show fought off not one but two cases of network apathy, constantly revolving time slots, a (friendly?) rivalry with Family Guy and a complete premise makeover on its way to posterity.

But about this last season, which has seen the show move from the halls of Sacred Heart to the classrooms at Winston University, jettisoning Zach Braff and other regulars and replacing them with a bunch of newbies. Was it worth it, or should there have been a do-not-resuscitate order?

Aside from having been a Scrubs fan from Day One (Day One being when a friend insisted I finally watch the show during Season 4, prompting me to go out and catch up with each season on DVD), I have a strange fascination with forgotten sequels and spin-offs. Yes, while the world may forget French Connection II, After M*A*S*H, and Bat Out of Hell III, for me they hold an inexplicable attraction. Is it the train-wreck aspect? Not necessarily, since French Connection II is actually pretty good. Maybe it’s the thrill of seeing characters out of their iconic settings and following their lesser-known adventures, like Tom Sawyer Abroad, Joe Namath in a Rams jersey, or Super Mario Bros. 2.

More American Graffiti, RoboCop 3, Mannequin Two: On the Move, The Next Karate Kid … I could go on. Anyway, does Season 9 of Scrubs fit into this category? Will the revamp go down as a one-season curiosity or will it be remembered as a worthy curtain call for what was, at its best, one of the finest shows on TV.

If you’d asked me after the first handful of episodes, with the unnecessary reworking of the theme song and the bland new lead actors, I would’ve sounded like one of those annoying sportscasters who got so upset about Michael Jordan not retiring after his push-off in Utah. The new stories weren’t compelling, and having J.D., Elliott, Turk, Cox and Kelso around in bits and pieces had all the awkward chemistry of those lame reunion specials. (Anyone remember 2002’s L.A. Law: The Movie?) Kerry Bishe as Lucy was supposed to be the new star — and it is an intriguing idea giving her a mix of J.D.’s daydreaming personality and Ellott’s poor-little-rich-girl background — but her generic good looks and mousy voice made her seem better suited to playing Intern #4. The less said about Dave Franco’s douchetastic Cole, the better, although his casting may provide some insight as to how General Hospital (another ABC show) persuaded his much more famous older brother to lend them his services. The bright spot among the new kids was Drew, played by Michael Mosley, whose square jaw demeanor puts one in mind of a lost Affleck brother. He was the Cox-in-training, a former med school burnout looking for redemption. His relationship with Perry, who saw him as a kindred spirit, and Denise, who relished finding a man strong enough to go toe-to-toe with her, really helped Scrubs: Med School find its direction.

Those first few fumbling steps could be forgiven on a regular new show, but therein lies the rub when you are a spin-off — a term that even creator Bill Lawrence used to describe this season. You attach the name Scrubs to it, and there’s a certain expectation. It was always a tricky balance, mixing lighthearted fantasy sequences with aching poignancy, and so much of that depends on chemistry. I had the benefit of catching Scrubs a few seasons in, after they’d worked the bugs out and the characters were established. Would I have been as taken had I seen it back in 2001?

And the new season did have some classic Scrubs moments. It gave us more Eliza Coupe, who would have been my pick for the new lead. We found out J.D. and Elliott get married and are about to have a kid. Kelso grew more empathetic, and Turk got to utter the line, “People, I said it from Day One, I can’t teach you without your pants on!” For a season that was network-dictated, and that its creator admitted was produced largely just to keep some nice people working, it could have been much worse. While it’s no “Goodbye, Farewell & Amen,” it’s certainly not anything that will leave a St. Elsewhere-flavored ball of yuck in your mouth. Call it a breezy victory lap, one well earned.

Seriously, though, check out French Connection II.

Photo: © 2009 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. Credit: Karen Neal

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