Posts Tagged ‘laffz’

The Overwhelming Meh-ness of Scrubs

January 7, 2009

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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“I’ve never had a piggy bank, but one time I had some bacon that tasted an awful lot like change…”

December 19, 2008

Mitch Hedberg’s “last” album, Do You Believe in Gosh?, was released back in September. Even with the hint of its release, his still-loyal fans (including this dude) were filled with the sort of glee reserved for Christmas or graduations, itchy to hear the last bits of new material left in his canon. Any complaints from his fans about the album are purely rooted in either too-high-to-fulfill expectations or douchebag hipster snobbery; Do You Believe in Gosh?‘s saddest point is that it shows that Mitch on top of his game at the time of his passing, with his new material eschewing risky new ground and staying with what made him so likable to begin with. Though it arguably pigeonholed him as the stoner’s Stephen Wright, it also made Mitch a reliable source of humor: no amount of parking tickets, shitty coworkers, messy breakups, deadbeat landlords, or Sarah Palins could dull the blow of a Mitch Hedberg act, at once charming and funny in an endearing way. Despite the lack of “himself” in his material (and thus dodging the psycho-traumatic bellyaching of his late 90’s/new millennium contemporaries), he still came across as very much approachable. The moment Mitch’s untimely death sinks in is after the last joke of the CD, when it’s apparent that there is no more new Mitch Hedberg. But the energy and razor-sharp cleverness of his puckish-yet-affecting jokes briefly suspend reality, leaving you in the audience on the evening the CD was recorded, drink in hand, watching him avoid eye contact with the audience even though all he’d encounter would be a sea of approving gazes.

Those familiar with Mitch’s work– and it’s somewhat easy to be, considering his relative ubiquity on Comedy Central and the like even before his death– will find both familiarity and a subtly different approach on Gosh?. His lifelong battle with stage fright, whereas his specials and previous two CDs showed a man who still managed to pull off his carefree brand of one-liners despite his crippling awareness of the judgments of his audience, seems only an afterthought on this album. The CD is nothing but new material, though the jokes on the CD all follow the same path as his other jokes did– charming observational humor with an absurdist slant, only about half to three quarters of the jokes being effective while the others were brushed off in an almost post-modern awareness of how bad they were. Some of the bits on Do You Believe in Gosh? fall awkwardly flat, and would render another comedian’s CD as a mixed bag. But Mitch– even though it’s very clear that he’s the joke’s creator– seems to be refreshingly more in on the joke than you. His act can seem dumb. In fact, it is dumb. But the first person that would call him on it is Mitch himself. It was a brilliant way to strip away pretense, thus enabling the simple charm of his work to burrow into his fans. Some may not have warmed up to him, but those who did hung onto each goofy word that left his mouth.

Do You Believe in Gosh? is not a documenting of his last show. In fact, it wasn’t even intended to be released as a CD. Mitch was rehearsing to record a new CD before he died, and spent time on the road polishing up his act. So there’s a sense of ease and spontaneity on the album that was missing on his prior two albums. And though this could come off, in theory, as hearing a bootleg of a show Miles Davis played around the time Kind of Blue was released as opposed to listening to Kind of Blue itself, it actually strengthens the argument of Mitch Hedberg being a great and versatile comedian. Missing from his first two albums are almost any interaction with the audience aside from the occasional jab at himself after a joke bombed. Gosh? includes conversations with the crowd that kill as much as his best material, a refreshing discovery considering Mitch’s act was so meticulously rehearsed. And that quality of meticulous preparation is all but gone here, perhaps due to the fact that he didn’t think the show would ever be heard by anyone not in the audience or because he’d grown as a performer, playing as much off the room as well as his tried and true material. Mitch had been around for a while, and of course to add to the Universe’s unending sense of irony, and was probably about to ascend to a elevated status in the entertainment world. Do You Believe in Gosh? is a great case for his theoretical ascension.

The saddest parts of the CD– aside from the aforementioned ending– is how Mitch died. On his first two CDs, Mitch was clearly on something: Strategic Grill Locations features the man either stoned out of his mind or on a near-drooling dose of painkillers while Mitch All Together (named a joke only on the previous CD) features an occasionally abrasive energy that nods to an excess of coke. But Do You Believe in Gosh? hints at an at least metaphorical sobriety, having Mitch sound completely in control and confident. He never came off as a basket case or a mess during his life, and though he freely admitted to drug use in his act (ranging from the classic “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.” to some of his banter with “Phil” on his latest), it’s not apparent anywhere on the album that he was out of control or the sense that we’re catching him in the midst of a downward spiral. It’s not that his first 2 CDs are sloppy; in fact, I personally find them funnier overall. But they’re missing the coherent, focused, loose approach that Gosh? has in spades, and it leaves the listener feeling good about the place Mitch was in when he died.

His last show– circulated online via a very rudimentary bootleg– utilizes the same material as Do You Believe in Gosh? along with more audience banter. He sounds carefree in his delivery of new material, and the audience responds favorably. Then he closes out his show with a smattering of his old, beloved material, with the audience delivering the punchlines as he does. Though I don’t know much about his personal life, I’ve always viewed his overdose and subsequent death as accidental; though hiding behind a pleasant facade is nothing new in entertainment, Mitch didn’t seem to be tortured enough to take his own life. The end of his last show, though, adds a sad coda to Do You Believe in Gosh?: he seems perfectly in tune with his audience, and like a band, he gives them the material they came to hear at the end, everyone laughing just as hard as they did the first time they heard it. It’s a melancholy end to a set of jokes that relied as much on the charm of the man telling them as the material itself. And as on his other CDs, neither charm nor good material is lacking on Do You Believe in Gosh?.