Premierewatch: 'Scrubs' moves to ABC

Courteneycoxarquette_ellemagazinesw As I mentioned in a post yesterday, the move from NBC to ABC -- and, more likely, the knowledge that this is the show's final season -- seems to have given Scrubs a jolt of energy to start the season. These first two episodes mixed comedy and drama better than the show has done in a long time, resulting in a very satisfying hour of TV.

I prefer these spoilers; they make me feel fancy.

Both episodes hit on the theme that between medical bureaucracies, staring death in the face day after day and These Kids Today (in the form of a new crop of interns), it's tough to keep your sanity (which, on some level, has always been what Scrubs has been about). Given how well they fit together, I'm inclined not to come at them separately but rather look at elements that ran through both of them. And, since I'm writing the recap, I can. So here goes.

The new chief: Courteney Cox is Dr. Taylor Maddox, who inspires some lustful fantasizing from J.D. (note to you single guys out there: Probably not best to lead with a question about how a woman gave birth) and seems just swell, as long as you're not a spider.

Except she's, well, not. Like her predecessor Bob Kelso -- who's still enjoying his free muffins for life and tormenting Ted -- she's a bottom line-obsessed, damn-the-patients administrator. And she fired the Janitor! This cannot stand. (And, given that Cox's guest stint is only for a few episodes, chances are it won't.) Still, after the ambitious misfire that was Dirt, it's good to see Cox back in her comedic element.

The new interns: Scrubs has cycled new interns through Sacred Heart in the past, but other than Keith Dudemeister -- who got a couple good lines in tonight's first episode -- they've served more as occasional joke facilitators than actual characters. I'm kind of hoping that changes this time around, because the new crop is promising.

Aziz Ansari, as the easygoing, meme-inspiring Ed, fits perfectly into the show's sensibility. He's a little bit Todd-esque in that he seems to instinctively know how to enter a scene, deliver one or two killer lines and then get out. Eliza Coupe, as Denise (or Jo, as J.D. calls him), the intern with the awful bedside manner, and Betsy Beutler, as know-it-all Katie (aka Mini-Elliot), had some decent moments too. I totally won't mind if they become regular parts of the show this year. (You can see more of them in webisodes on ABC.com.)

Zachbraff_scrubs_s8_240 The regulars: The hour was pretty J.D.- and Turk-focused, with the others taking something of a back seat. In general, though, everyone seemed to dial their characters back a little -- and not just because of a lack of eighth-year enthusiasm, as implied in the closing bumper on the first episode (damn that Dr. Shalhoub!). Rather, it seems like both the cast and the writers have realized that the self-consciously wacky gags of the past couple seasons took away from the show. Yeah, J.D. is still fantasizing, but the cutaways tonight all felt in line with what we know about him.

Carla, Elliot, the Janitor and Kelso didn't get a whole lot to do, but J.D.'s heart-to-heart with Cox in the first episode was a nice, subtle moment that still managed to be quite funny in spots (J.D.'s coffee-sharing, Cox's story about his former impossible intern -- "No, it was a she." J.D.: "So it wasn't me?" Cox: "No, it was you").

And, OK, here's something specific about the second episode: Glynn Turman pretty well blew me away as George, the dying patient with whom J.D. and Turk spend the evening. By turns irascible, funny and poignant, Turman -- who won a guest-acting Emmy for In Treatment last year -- helped make the episode one of the finest Scrubs in a long time. This maybe isn't the kind of big, showy guest spot that attracts awards attention, but let me just throw Turman's name out there again for the '09 Emmys. I've watched the episode three times, and I've teared up all three times at his final scene.

Other thoughts on the show's maiden ABC voyage:

  • JD and Turk's Steak Night song has almost the exact same cadence as a nonsense song my wife and I sometimes sing to each other. So, in addition to being awesome, it's also been stuck in my head since I first watched the screener a couple weeks ago.
  • A collection of good lines: Maddox: "Would it have been funny if he [J.D., whom the Janitor had just tripped] had broken his neck?" Janitor: "I feel like you want me to say no."
  • Jordan: "Hurry up -- cougars only drink free till 9." Maddox: "What about MILFs?" Jordan: "Oh yeah -- I forgot I had kids."
  • J.D. to George: "Although I'm a man, I don't like beer. I prefer appletinis; they make me feel fancy. [to Turk] You hurt and embarrassed me in front of George. You happy?" Turk: "Lil bit."
  • J.D. again: "Now when [the convenience store clerk] thinks of us, he'll think we're splittin' a beer, sexin' up the ladies and shootin' off flares. Like men do!"
  • I loved how the bit with the red balloon -- Ed, getting back at a fellow Lost fan by posing as a woman online, tells his mark to meet him at the hospital and carry a red balloon -- carried through the episode. I saw Ted and Colonel Doctor holding them in addition to the random guy in the lobby; anyone else catch another one?
  • Excellent closing songs in both episodes: Ben Lee's "Catch My Disease" in the first and Death Cab for Cutie's devastating "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" in the second.

I'm not going to Steak Night, but I am turning things over to you. What did you think of Scrubs' first episodes on ABC?