Natural Born Reviewers | Scrubs: The Michael J. Fox episodes
Scrubs (2001-2010) is a TV series set in a teaching hospital. It follows in the tradition of ensemble cast medical dramas like St. Elsewhere and ER, but instead is a goofy, fun and often slapticky sitcom. It just might be the bastard child of Doogie Howser, MD and M*A*S*H. The seven main actors are perfectly cast and run a comedy relay, deftly passing the baton back and forth between each other.
The first eight seasons are narrated by main character and perpetual child J.D. (Zach Braff), a needy attending physician prone to hero worship and surreal fantasies (illustrated in numerous daydream cutaways). His hetero life partner and roommate Turk (Donald Faison) is a competitive surgeon. Elliot (Sarah Chalke), a fellow doctor, is a neurotic mess and J.D.’s on-again, off-again love interest. Carla (Judy Reyes) is the bossy, fiery head nurse, Turk’s love interest, and close friends with J.D. and later Elliot. Add to this core foursome: Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), J.D.’s de facto mentor, competent doctor, and abusive egomaniac who addresses J.D. by girls’ names; Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins), the cruel, penny-pinching Chief of Medicine; and the surly, weird hospital custodian, “Janitor” (Neil Flynn) is J.D.’s antagonist/nemesis.
We LOVE this show. Marnifer in particular considers Scrubs comfort food entertainment. You don’t want to know how many times she’s watched seasons 1-7. (We both suggest skipping the final two crappy seasons.)
In 2000, Michael J. Fox retired from acting due to worsening symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease. In 2004, he guest-starred on two episodes of Scrubs: “My Catalyst” and “My Porcelain God.” We recommend these episodes after the jump.
This episode introduces Dr. Kevin Casey (Michael J. Fox), who has obvious and severe OCD but has embraced it and succeeded despite limitations. M.J.Fox gets literal fanfare when he first appears onscreen, a note to how long it’s been since we’ve seen him on television. The effects of Parkinson’s disease are noticeable in some of his physical movements, but it’s much more apparent in the tiredness of his eyes. Nonetheless he looks great and is in his element, turning out a spectacular performance.
Dr. Kevin Casey’s medical knowledge exceeds Dr. Cox, threatening Cox’s ego. His surgical skill exceeds Turk (who was riding high on beating the record time for a procedure), threatening Turk’s ego. And because three is a number, J.D. gets upset when Dr. Kevin Casey expresses disdain for J.D.’s brand of mentor idolatry.
In the middle of an otherwise intentionally silly show comes an unexpected moment of depth. Dr. Kevin Casey is compulsively washing his hands and lets out a roar of pure exasperation at his OCD. It is true and moving. It’s almost uncomfortably real. The roar feels borne of Fox’s own life, and you can imagine he’s screaming at his own disease. The trio of J.D., Turk and Cox resolve their petty ego blows when SURPRISE! they see that first thing they noticed but somehow forgot about; Dr Kevin Casey SUFFERS from OCD. What we like particularly about this episode is that each of the ego-bruised boys get appropriate perspective and tones down their annoying overreactions. Dr. Cox is Marnifer’s favorite character, but she even recognizes that he’s a complete asshole. We also really like Turk, who’s generally funny and good-natured. J.D. unfortunately is a character both of us like less and less as the seasons go on. His immaturity and general jerky behavior get harder to suffer.
Along the way, wrapped up in their own problems and lashing out for no good reason, all four men inadvertently drive Ted (the lawyer, played by Sam Lloyd) to jump off the roof. This has been building for a couple episodes, as the utter misery of his life and verbal cruelty of Dr. Kelso have pushed him to the edge (of the hospital’s roof). This is callously played for laughs, and quickly ignored and forgotten about when Ted’s suicide attempt fails to kill or even injure him. What makes Scrubs subjectively hilarious is often objectively horrifying.
My Porcelain God
The is the one with the Epiphany Toilet. There is a toilet on the roof.
Dr. Kevin Casey has been at Sacred Heart for several weeks since the last episode, and Elliot is so distracted talking about how he has helped everyone except her that she almost kills a patient and develops a fear of intubating (a procedure learned during her first week as an intern). This starts her quest to get Dr. Kevin Casey to help her with her fear of intubating. Oddly, when this episode runs in syndication it cuts Elliot’s intubation mistake, so her sudden fear either makes no sense or seems utterly manipulative. Dr. Kevin Casey is too distracted with his own issues (the toilet on the roof is his Everest) to help her. This is a re-occurring theme on this series, where trying to help others leads to the irrational expectation that you should help everyone all the time, and resentment or rejection when that is just not possible. This is one of the better examples because Dr. Kevin Casey doesn’t get trapped by the expectation, he just rolls with it, taking time for himself and not regretting it when he leaves without helping Elliot. However, he leaves behind a photo of himself conquering the roof toilet, which inspires Elliot to have the epiphany that just like Dorothy or Dumbo, she had the power inside herself all along.
This is the Elliot that started the series as a super competitive, competent, and determined woman who had no problem manipulating people. Then quickly became a weak and dainty nervous wreck. This the same Elliot who got a haircut and became competent, confident, and determined in the first episode of season 3, but quickly reverted to nervous wreck. In the previous episode she was berated and harassed by the staff into abandoning her new look and the last shreds of her confidence, and is now so incompetent she’s recycling a first season issue. Rumor has it this was because her hair and makeup was too complicated for the crew to maintain. For her part, Sarah Chalke is brilliant as Elliot, with fabulous twitches, quirks, and spot-on kooky delivery.
Liamfer keeps wanting to call this show out on the poor female role models, but their male counterparts aren’t any better. If you’re looking for a mentor or role model, don’t watch Scrubs. This is more like Bridezillas – laughing at awful people doing awful things to each other. Except Scrubs is fictional characters, not real life awful people. To Liamfer, that makes a huge difference.
The scenes with Kelso’s gardener are funny and heartwarming. After the last episode where Kelso has been so abusive that Ted attempts suicide, this is necessary to keep Kelso likable enough to avoid becoming a Disney villain. Likewise, in the previous episode the roof was associated with misery and suicide, but the odd and amusing toilet on the roof wipes that away. This episode is really about other people, yet it is “My Porcelain God” and not “His” or “Her” or “Our.” The fantasy cutaways are shared between J.D., Elliot and Dr. Kevin Casey. However, that doesn’t mean J.D. doesn’t get to be a jerk in this episode, or continue his streak as fiction’s most unlikable protagonist. When he suspects he was Turk’s second choice as best man, this ungrateful assclown poisons Turk and Carla’s relationship. This causes an argument between Turk and Carla, which is not resolved, but goes away by the next episode. It’s essentially forgotten when J.D. and Turk address the best man issue. Turk and Carla are arguing about something else in the next episode. And something else in the episode after that. And several other issues in the episode after that. Though they are held up as the series’ ideal couple, Turk and Carla really do not have a healthy relationship. They are likable and have good chemistry, but frequently are still awful people doing awful things to each other for little or no reason.
Overall, these are two excellent episodes that are a good introduction for anyone who’s never watched before. The interplay of the ensemble cast is well-showcased, and benefits greatly from the magnetic charisma of Michael J. Fox. We look forward to his return to a lead role in his own series later this month.