The Overwhelming Meh-ness of Scrubs

Our increasingly bipolar culture has come to loathe the middle ground, seeing it as a noncommittal realm where those who don’t have the courage to suck or excel reside. Of course, in actuality, it’s here where most entertainment lies, much of it either unjustly panned or ridiculously praised in order to make it seem more important or offensive than it really is. Though being a moody bastard precludes me from truly appreciating the middle ground, I still wade there, confused about how Night Court is considered a great sitcom, or Bon Jovi is a tried and true band worthy of copious praise or “they ruined music” venom, or even how Spanglish is a movie that marks a new low in American cinema or a true slice of emotional transcendence. To me, they’re just sort of… there. My life is no different knowing they exist, and I don’t think I’d be lacking any enlightenment were they to remain in oblivion. Apparently we’re here to polarize, even though most of what we encounter truly exemplifies “OK.”

The epitome of this for me right now is Scrubs. I’ve spent almost all the time since its inception trying to figure out what in the fuck I think about this show. Is it a slice of impish comic brilliance or a melodramatic succession of unfunny jokes book ended by shallow emotional framing devices that leave the show somewhere between fatally uneven and unwatchable to anyone not run by their gut? Early in the show’s run, I thought the former, and in the last few years, I came to think the latter. But now, with the show in a completely unnecessary amount of syndication (it currently runs on ABC with reruns on Fox, Comedy Central, and TV Land– the latter being a channel devoted to reruns of all television up to now– while 30 Rock currently runs in my darkened living room with a giggling me as its audience), I’ve had time to reconsider. The show is the apex of completely acceptable comedy. It is not, however, the worst show on TV, nor its most consistent. It’s just OK, which of course confounds me as far as its divisive reaction is concerned.

That last sentence isn’t exactly true; I know the show’s Achilles heel/Christ-like figure of emo-humor is douche extraordinaire Zach Braff. His “OK guys, let’s get serious for a minute” voiceovers virtually ruin every episode to some extent. But watching Scrubs regularly makes this akin to having an adorable, sociable, playful puppy come to your house a few times a week, roll around and be insatiable, then end your time together by taking a shit on your floor. You knew it was possible, you knew there was a distinct probability it would happen, and after spending more time with the animal, it becomes apparent that the puppy will do that every time. But it’s not your puppy, so you can’t do anything about it. It’s not your fault, but the fault of the owner. However, it’s still shit, and I can’t think of that many people that want dog shit on the floor.

The “feelings” portion of each show has been justified to me as both “necessary, because it’s set in a hospital” and as postmodernism. I disagree with them both (comedy doesn’t always need to observe the boundaries of realism and decency and that referencing the “feelings” portions within the episode is postmodern, not the existence of the “feelings” monologues themselves, respectively). And that ruined the show for me at first, magnifying the bucket of cringe-inducing earnestness that was Zach Braff’s tour de self important shit Garden State. But there are elements of the show that are damn funny, even inspired.

Like most mainstream entertainment, especially in the time we’re stuck in, it isn’t half bad once the blatant and dissonant emoting is removed from the equation. Though lacking the ensemble brilliance of 30 Rock or the complete absence of regard for sentimentality of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Scrubs has many, many enjoyable moments. Though many of the show’s bits, cutaways, and running gags fall dismally flat, the ones that don’t are the reasons to come back to the show. They range from goofy to shockingly subversive (Scrubs’ more inspired jokes touch upon surprisingly candid jabs at race and filthy, filthy sexual innuendos, among others), and almost always have at least one really exemplary bit in each episode. Not to mention John C. McGinley’s Dr. Cox, whose violently anti-emotional counterpart to Braff’s wounded faun makes for the show’s most consistent element, and probably provides the show’s few genuinely likable sentimental moments. Scrubs is like Taco Bell: it’s bad to live on a steady diet of it, but it’s not nearly as bad as they tell you it is.

But of course, this is where my problem lies: to the hipster crowd, defending Scrubs is like drop kicking a child in the middle of a mall. To the legions of its devoted fans, pointing out any of the show’s obvious flaws is akin to murdering their house pets. I have friends who think less of me for liking the show, and  have a friend who’s becoming an EMT due to her fondness of the program. I just don’t get it. I’ve never gone out of my way to watch the show, but if nothing else is on and I want to shut my mind off for an hour or two, there are certainly worse ways to go about doing so. And even in that, Scrubs is fine entertainment, with the upside of its constant seesawing consistently enjoyable, sometimes so much so that it drowns out the “serious” portions. But I refuse to call it a great show, or even one of the best shows on TV. It’s OK, I guess. I don’t think that’s enough, but I also don’t think that’s grounds for calling for the heads of all involved. Really, when television is home to The Hills and Rock of Love: Charm School, there are bigger fish to fry. Or incinerate.

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