After a satisfying finale, should ‘Scrubs’ retire?

05.07.09 8 years ago 6 Comments


Sports legends don’t all get to go out like John Elway or Jerome Bettis, walking off the field after a Super Bowl win, or like Ted Williams, homering in his final at-bat to cap off a season in which he hit .316. More go out like Steve Carlton, released by the Twins with an ERA over 16, or Willie Mays, hitting .211 for the Mets.

Or you could be like Brett Favre, retiring and threatening to retire so many times that the only way your long-time team knows how to handle you is to send you packing. And you go from the Packers to the Jets and you have some great moments, especially since we assume it’s just a one-season hurrah anyway. And then you retire and everybody writes the latest in an ever-evolving series of career obituaries only for rumors to circulate that you’re thinking of coming back again, this time on the Minnesota Vikings…

There’s a limit to the number of times even the most passionate Favre defender can welcome him back and rave about his childlike enthusiasm for the game. Isn’t there?

Is “Scrubs” becoming the Brett Favre of the TV world?

[Thoughts on Wednesday (May 6) night’s “Scrubs” finale and the show’s future after the break…]

Wednesday night’s “Scrubs” was a season finale, but it felt like a series finale. 

Titled, fittingly, “My Finale,” the episode saw Zach Braff’s John Dorian saying good-bye to Sacred Heart. Over the course of an hour, he was on the receiving end of countless hugs, fished for countless departing compliments, tied up several lingering plotlines and basically did everything possible to bring the “Scrubs” story full-circle after eight seasons and 169 episodes. “Scrubs” was always about JD growing up, learning responsibility and becoming a man and the finale left little doubt that the doctor leaving the hospital is no longer the same guy he was when we met him in “My First Day” back in 2001.

Yes, “Scrubs” is an ensemble, but the people in JD’s life, as integral as they’ve always been to the heart and funny-bone of the show, have existed in large part to push the main character’s evolution. 

“My Finale” has all of the attributes and deficiencies of many series’ finales.

On the plus side, it was a tremendous reward to viewers who have stuck with the show for years. It wasn’t just learning the Janitor’s alleged name (Glenn Matthews, though I have my doubts on his honesty), or JD confessing to putting the penny in the door in the pilot, or Cox calling JD “a damn exceptional person” or JD walking down a hallway greeted by one familiar departed face after another. “My Finale” was a tonally quintessential episode of “Scrubs,” making time time for both a Huntington’s diagnosis and a humor-free guest appearance by [showkiller] Josh Cooke, with an elaborate fantasy in which JD paid homage to quintessential series finales by turning out the lights at Sacred Heart (and causing chaos).

On the negative side, the finale went on forever, with its hour running time and toward the end, the concentration on sentiment went from schmaltzy to diabetes-enducing. And yet that was also in keeping with what “Scrubs” has done over the years. Just because “Scrubs” has always had the audacity to deliver entirely laugh-free episodes, honoring the dramatic side of these doctors’ lives, doesn’t mean that it’s avoided some real clunkers over the years. Some “Scrubs” fans love the show as a comedy. Some “Scrubs” fans love when it goes into more emotional territory. The episodes that are favorites for some are the ones that caused other viewers to abandon the show for episodes or seasons at a stretch.

I’ve admitted before that I’ve lost track of “Scrubs” for extended periods, but I’ve always returned. Of the people saluting JD in his fantasy hallway, I recognized maybe two-thirds.

And I know that the things that weighed down the “Scrubs” finale for me are probably the things that made other viewers cry. That future-home-movies montage set to Peter Gabriel’s cover of Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love”? It did nothing for me and went on for far too long. I got much more misty at the outtakes over the closing credits, which may have allowed the show to break some sort of record for Most Hugs in a One-Hour Television Series, Musical or Comedy.

I loved the scenes with JD and Cox and I loved JD’s farewell with Carla, whose centrality to the show has often been under-appreciated (“You were Bambi. Somebody had to teach you had to walk.”). I loved JD’s sniff-test analysis of various hugs (“You smell like a father figure”). I loved the respect the show has always had for its audience.

And as JD left Sacred Heart, giving one last “Adios” to series creator Bill Lawrence, playing a janitor, “Scrubs” was reaching its resolution with no place left to go. No effort was made to position any of the young interns as worthy future JDs. No effort was made to suggest that Turk and Carla could/should anchor a spinoff, that Elliott’s ongoing adventures of Sacred Heart might still be worthy of a series. 

With only very rare exceptions, the “Scrubs” episode titles began with the word “My” and the “My” was always a JD possessive. 

Wednesday’s episode was an appropriate ending.

Cue sound effect of a record needle scratching across an LP, because the industry trades have been reporting that ABC is looking to bring “Scrubs” back.

I just don’t want to have to begrudge “Scrubs” its place on the schedule and in recent months, I’ve begun to do just that.

A TV critic should rarely be concerned about TV ratings, but since most TV critics are also industry reporters, it’s an unavoidable side-effect. It’s rare instance where I’m forced to use ratings as an argument in favor of cancellation, but here I go…

“Scrubs” is a danger to ABC’s ratings. And I couldn’t care less about that from an overall network standpoint. But wherever “Scrubs” is put in the lineup, it will be a danger to the ratings of the shows around it. On NBC, where “Scrubs” was usually a minor beneficiary of its place between or among established shows, that wasn’t an issue.

On ABC, “Scrubs” has had an ironic relationship with its 8 p.m. partner for the past two months, “Better Off Ted.” On one hand, as I acknowledged yesterday, the two single-camera oddball workplace comedies were a flawless thematic and tonal pairing, so most people who liked “Scrubs” and subsequently stuck around for “Better Off Ted,” were probably pleased. However, because “Scrubs” has pretty much pared its audience down to a core, adoring following, “Better Off Ted” never had the chance to reach any fresh eyes and therefore to reach an audience substantial enough for renewal on its own merit. This would have been true for any show stuck in the 8:30 half-hour behind “Scrubs” and had it been a piece of dreck like “In the Motherhood,” I probably wouldn’t have cared nearly as much.

The rumors have ABC contemplating bringing back both “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted” as a package deal. Once again, I’m of two minds here. Mind one says that the chance of another season of “Better Off Ted” should make me happy and that another season of “Scrubs,” especially if Lawrence remains involved, isn’t cause for unhappiness. Mind number two says that “Scrubs” isn’t going to suddenly expend its audience in Season Nine, meaning that the audience for “Better Off Ted” will remain similarly limited, making the fate of “Better Off Ted” forever tied to that of “Scrubs” in an block that will inevitably finish fourth in whatever hour ABC places it. 

This brings me back to Brett Favre.

“Scrubs” was never the MVP of NBC’s lineups, but it was never less than well-regarded, by audiences and critics if not by the NBC brass, which bumped “Scrubs” around the lineup with callous disregard for viewer continuity. It looks like it might be cancelled after its sixth season and again after its seventh and critics scrambled to write respectful eulogies, always raving about the show’s playfulness and heart. The weaker episodes were forgotten in those tributes, just like Favre’s audacious touchdowns were emphasized over his reckless interceptions when we thought we’d seen the last of him. 

Just as the Jets figured a new quarterback would shore up the position, or at least generate more media buzz than Chad Pennington, and reached out and grabbed Favre at a bottom-basement price, ABC saw “Scrubs” and figured that at the very least, the ABC Studios-produced series would generate more media buzz than bringing back “According to Jim.”

ABC picked “Scrubs” up, but the reality was that the new network didn’t treat “Scrubs” much better than its old network. Episodes were aired out of sequence. Episodes were doubled up, burn-off style. The show was pulled for weeks at a time and episodes were aired out-of-time-period. When ABC originally paired “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted,” they were supposed to air opposite “American Idol” and they only missed that buzzsaw because FOX preferred “Idol” at 9 p.m. I’ve talked about how the ratings for “Scrubs” lowered the ratings for “Better Off Ted,” but ABC did no more to assist the ratings for “Scrubs” than NBC did in later years.

Brett Favre has already blown his chance at the right ending. No, he didn’t want to go out on a playoff pick with the Packers, but that was still better than what happened in the last quarter of his Jets’ campaign. Now he’s contemplating going to the Vikings to hand the ball off to the league’s best running back in the hope of lucking his way back to a Super Bowl? If he could do it without any additional media attention, I’d say, “Have at it.” But we all know that isn’t going to happen.

Nobody’s saying that “Scrubs” is contemplating a move to The CW. But a return next season with a cast of leftovers and fresh faces wouldn’t be “Scrubs,” even if Lawrence’s participation would certainly prevent outright embarrassment. “Scrubs” didn’t get the right ending on NBC, not with the Season Seven finale, “My Princess.” With “My Finale,” the show got the ending it deserved.

Heck, as I finished writing this recap, Favre has reportedly told the Minnesota Vikings that he isn’t planning on coming back and that he’s going to stay retired. Does anybody still believe him? It hardly matters, but it’s still a good career move.

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