By: Aleks Chan
At this year’s Television Critics Association soirée, SCRUBS creator Bill Lawrence was refreshingly frank in his interviews about what led to SCRUBS – which after being abused on NBC for seven seasons, moved to ABC last year for a supposed final season of mediocre ratings – being brought back for a ninth season, revamped, recasted, and relocated. Though he stands to make very little off this season, he’s doing it for his team: “It would be really cool for everybody to keep working because there aren’t a lot of jobs out there.”
He also told The Newark Star-Ledger’s Alan Sepinwall the following disclaimer about SCRUBS 2.0:
“The one thing I’ve said to everybody, and it’s a quote I’m living by: It very well may suck. But don’t say it sucks until you see it. And my pledge is that if it sucks, it’s not going to suck in a fizzly way. It’s going to suck in a giant, ‘Oh my god’ kind of way, because we’re really swinging for the fences and trying to do some big stuff.”
Tonight’s premiere does little swinging at nonexistent fences, but is hardly worth acknowledging as self-sabotage. Really, this is more like SCRUBS 1.5: a half-realized spin-off that’s been lumped together to satiate the tempers of the SCRUBS stronghold who contend that last May’s finale was the best stopping point for series. It’s new, but not really!
This season, Sacred Heart Hospital has been torn down and rebuilt on the Winston University medical school campus, where focus has been shifted to a new class of students. It’s been a year since the finale, and J.D. (Zach Braff, who has signed on for a few episodes to “smooth” the transition to a new female lead) has returned to teach, as has his best friend and man-crush Turk (Donald Faison) and his mentor/verbal vivisection impresario Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley. Faison and McGinley are the only two regulars signed on to continue with the show, but others promise to make appearances.
Our attention is then directed to the new cast, who are introduced rather broadly: Lucy (Kerry Bishé) is the new primary protagonist (she will also take over narration duties from J.D. in the coming weeks), doe-eyed and naïve, Drew (Michael Mosley) is slightly older (so easily annoyed) than the rest of class, having bombed med school previously, and Cole (Dave Franco) is a smarmy, surfer-tongued brute taking advantage of his family’s deep pockets (which financed the school and hospital’s building). Eliza Coupe returns after being upped to a series regular from a recurring role last season as Denise, a sourpuss tough girl with a secretly soft heart and is an adviser to the students.
The opening half-hour strains to get the ball rolling, clumsily setting up a premise that seems a little cheap: Lawrence has implied that the docs were always teaching classes while also administering to their patients all along and that the show never focused on it. It’s as if the show picked everything up and moved to the office down the hall. And though it seems to have been the intention all along to keep the same location, starting over would have been more sensible, and it wouldn’t feel like the show was constructing extensions out of thin air to introduce characters that barely resonate.
And though I will admit to having intermittently loved and loathed the show over its run, I agree with weary SCRUBS fans that the finale was a comfortable resting place for the series. But I do not see this new season as a betrayal, but rather an unfortunate unwillingness to let the ride come to an end. It plays heavily from the SCRUBS playbook, replete with fantastical flashbacks, slightly over-the-head pop culture references, and heartfelt, message-y montages. But instead of springing forward with a renewed energy, this SCRUBS feels tired – even Dr. Cox’s usually brilliantly scathing staccato takedowns sound winded.
Perhaps by the time J.D. departs (Braff is only committed to six episodes), this new SCRUBS will have fleshed out its new cast beyond their casting descriptions and maybe even settled into a format that better suits it than rehashing the SCRUBS of old. There’s some hope – J.D. opines: “Part of me hates how familiar this seems. I hope I can find a way to make this all feel new.” Me too. Grade: C+
Related: You Be the Critic: Share your thoughts on the SCRUBS season premiere here.