5.07.2009

Glenn Matthews?!

Eight years ago, we watched a doe-eyed young intern walk through the doors of a hospital, eager for his first day. Noticing the janitor working on a jammed door, he made a fatal mistake and suggested that perhaps a penny was stuck in there.

“Why a penny?” snarled The Janitor, getting in young John Dorian's face with a screwdriver, “Did you put a penny in there? If I find out it was you...you're goin' DOWN.”

Thus began Scrubs, an unconventional hospital sitcom that could indulge you in fantasy sequences akin to the animated likes of The Simpsons or Family Guy one minute, and have you bawling your eyes out over a patient the next. It's truly hard to compare it to any other sitcom, and one episode even explored a fantasy sequence of what the show would be like if it were a conventional sitcom. Over eight seasons, there have been a slew of memorable guest stars, from big name movie stars to exceptional character actors. It had some of the best recurring characters as well, from sweaty lawyer Ted Buckland to The Todd, a high-five happy sex-crazed surgeon with an obnoxious “DOC” tattooed on his arm. It was a journey for John Dorian, or J.D., in which bonds were formed and mistakes were made, and one on which we all learned a little something about life. Arguably, the most important people in J.D.'s life were:

Perry Cox: Bitter and sarcastic, John C. McGinley's Dr. Cox let his exterior down maybe two or three times over the course of the series. Initially seeing him as a jerk in the first episode, J.D. quickly realizes he's the good guy, the mentor that will tell it like it is, and force him to be a better doctor. Despite constant rants, and constantly referring to J.D. by various girl's names, Cox always has the best interests of the patients at heart, and his mannerisms are just his way of dealing with things. By the end of the series he has adjusted to being the new chief of medicine after tormenting his predecessor, and he finally admits that J.D. is the best doctor he ever saw and his friend, after an intern tricks him into the confession while J.D. emotionally basks in the praise he sought for eight years.

Christopher Turk: Turk was J.D.'s college roommate, and his roommate while both were interns, up until he eventually got married and J.D. had to find his own place. The two share a “bromance”, and are as close as two heterosexual friends can be, possibly too close. The series finale was not without gratuitous hugging between these two expressing their guy love as J.D. prepares to take a job at another hospital. The two had their differences over the years and disagreed, but ultimately Turk always had his friend's back.

Elliot Reid: As much as he loved his best friend, J.D.'s true love was the neurotic doctor Reid, as crazy as she was beautiful. They had an on-again off-again relationship for the first few seasons, always consummated in a crash of upbeat popular music and camera work on par with any romantic film. Their hook-ups were truly epic, but by the third or fourth season it seemed like they were doomed. When he finally woos her away from her latest boyfriend, he suddenly loses interest and tells her he doesn't love her. It takes a long time for these two to get back to being friends, but eventually they move on as J.D. finds himself having a baby with another female doctor and Elliot is engaged to a younger intern. Their paths eventually bring them back together, mostly because show creator Bill Lawrence was prodded by his wife(and Scrubs costar) Christa Miller to unite those crazy kids. Lawrence managed to please his wife and the fans while avoiding the dreaded sitcom clichés, and when they do reconnect it's over coffee and conversation as mature adults, and not as the hormonal 20-somethings they'd been in past seasons. They're both still a little crazy, but they're crazy about each other, and it works.

Carla Espinosa: The sassy Dominican head nurse at the hospital took J.D. under her wing early on, giving him the nickname of “Bambi”. She helps him with his procedures and defends him when Dr. Cox goes too far in his rants. She initially rejects the advances of Turk, but he wears her down eventually and the two wed and have a daughter. By the end of the series, she and Turk are expecting their second child, and J.D. thanks her for all her help over the years and admits that Turk probably loves them both equally.

Bob Kelso: On his first day, J.D. sees the kindly old chief of medicine as the “good guy” in comparison to Dr. Cox's relentless sarcasm. Kelso speaks in a kindly voice and calls everyone “sport”. He soon realizes this isn't the case, that Kelso is a fire-breathing bureaucrat who seems more concerned with the hospital's funds than his patients. Over the years, we get to see why Bob is the way he is, from troubles at home to the pressures of his job, of being caught in the middle of his staff and his board of directors. On his 65th birthday he is forced into retirement, and eventually recommends Cox as his replacement. Kelso hangs around the hospital in the final season because he gets free muffins from the coffee shop. By the end, he realizes he misses practicing medicine and decides to work privately, part time, in a capacity that will allow him to travel.

The Janitor: Neil Flynn's Janitor was originally intended to be a figment of J.D.'s imagination, just another fantasy that would be revealed at the end of the first season. Careful viewers will note that he never interacted with any of the other cast members at the time. But he proved so popular in his torment of our protagonist, that he became a regular. As I recall, anytime someone did ask for his real name, he'd either hide his badge or reveal that it simply said “The Janitor”. On occasion, he has impersonated a physician under the alias “Dr. Jan(Yahn) Itor”. And he once admitted to having an acting career and showed J.D. actual footage from The Fugitive in which Flynn portrayed a subway cop. When the time came for the inevitable revelation of his name in the final episode, it was so perfectly ordinary and anticlimactic. Nothing could live up to fan expectations, and honestly no real name could live up to his identity: he is The Janitor. He's also a known liar, and seconds after telling J.D. his name someone walks by and greets him with a different name. Maybe he told J.D the truth and lied to the other guy, or vice versa; it's ambiguous enough to be faithful to the character while letting fans decide for themselves if the name, which I won't mention here, is his name.

So here we are, at the end of a long strange journey. After being mishandled and mistreated for seven years at NBC, the show's allegedly final season aired on ABC. I say “allegedly” because there has been some talk of a ninth season, even though key cast members like Zach Braff(J.D.) and Judy Reyes(Carla), and the show's creator Bill Lawrence have all said they wouldn't be returning. Whether a continuation or a spinoff focusing on new interns is in the works doesn't matter; this is the end of this chapter, and J.D.'s journey, and works as well as a finale should. There were great nods to how other sitcoms do it, like an hilarious gag in which J.D. fantasizes about turning off a light switch the same way Cheers ended. Of course, doctors start freaking out without power as patients go into distress, and fantasy J.D. has to quickly flip the switch back on, while the real J.D. wonders why an entire building would be wired to one switch. And they manage to get back a large chunk of familiar faces from past seasons without something as convoluted as the courtroom scenes in the final Seinfeld. Reflecting on the past as he walks down the hall one last time, J.D. imagines everyone there to see him off. It was impossible to bring everyone back, but there are most of the important ones, including some of the more touching patients he's lost over the years. Brendan Fraser and Masi Oka are two that I would have liked to have seen in the group, but I was still glad to see others like “Tasty Coma Wife”(Amy Smart), Lonnie, and of course Hooch(“Hooch is crazy”). But, when J.D. gets to the end of that hall and turns around, it's dark and empty.

I like that the show stayed true to itself. As outrageous as some of the events in the series were, most of the unrealistic stuff was confined to the fantasy sequences. It was how J.D. escaped, how he dealt with the harsh realities of his life and his job. In reality, one doctor leaving is not that big an event. He helps the patients he can, including a man whose mother is suffering a degenerative brain disease that he may have to deal with himself someday. When I left my last job, the entire “cast” didn't show up to see me off, though they were all on my mind. Just a few close friends had some drinks, for as long as they were able to. J.D. learns one final lesson from his patients about dwelling on the past. The son of the woman with the disease tells him that he doesn't want to know about the future because, once he does, he can't unlearn it. With the unknown, his future can be anything he wants it to be. And so, with Peter Gabriel singing a heart tugging tune, J.D. steps through the doors one last time and imagines his future as it could be, playing out like a movie on the back of his goodbye banner. He sees himself marrying Elliot, sees her pregnant, and sees their child. He sees his friendship with Turk and Carla survive the years, and even Dr. Cox dropping by with his wife and kids. J.D.'s first son Sam eventually grows up and one day shares the news that he and Turk's daughter Izzie are getting married. And throughout this entire tearjerking montage, I kept remembering how many times this show has yanked the rug out from under me when I least expected it. The fantasy ends, and as J.D. walked out into the parking lot, I was hoping he wasn't about to get hit by a car, or that we'd find out he was a patient in the hospital with a brain disorder living out one last dream sequence, or anything that would destroy me emotionally. But then, to do that to this beloved main character would be yet another television cliché, and for eight years Lawrence and company went out of their way to avoid those. Instead, J.D. just gives us his final thought, that just because the future he envisions with Elliot and his friends is a fantasy, doesn't mean he can't make those dreams come true. And as he drives off one last time, we'd all like to think that he will, and he does.

It was an amazing experience, and I'm glad it got to end properly. And what of that penny? After hounding him to admit it, J.D. confesses that he dropped it by accident and, being scared on his first day, lied to The Janitor. Was he just saying this to appease him? Was there as much truth to his confession as The Janitor's supposed real name? That's what I loved about the episode, that things were definitive enough to be conclusive, but open enough for us to choose the ending we wanted.

Laughter was the best medicine. Farewell, Scrubs, and thanks.

6 Comments:

Blogger Lorna said...

Makes me wish I'd watched it; I was "off" doctor shows when it started and I never just jump in paartway through a series.

I thought the show was staying on, just the kid moving....

5/07/2009 9:47 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

It's definitely worth checking out on DVD, Lorna. I've actually watched most of the episodes 3 or 4 times, laughing at the same jokes and crying at the same tragedies.

And the "kid" is not much younger than I am, so thanks for making me feel young. =)

5/08/2009 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree: comparing Scrubs to Family Guy is unfairly cruel and insulting

5/16/2009 1:23 AM  
Blogger MCF said...

It's the random pop culture references that make for the comparison. They might not have been crude like some of FG's "This is like that time that..." sequences, but JD's fantasies have often pulled in obscure and nostalgic icons, from Colin Hay to Rerun(R.I.P.) to Marsha Brady to Greg Brady to Carrottop.

FG, of course, has never had the emotional dramatic content that Scrubs has, except for that one sad musical montage of Peter setting the little birds free that had been living in his beard while Brian helps a dying old woman spend her last minutes seeing the life they could have had together.

5/16/2009 8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MCF you pretty much took my feelings for scrubs and made them a coherent piece of writing,thanks

6/28/2009 4:04 PM  
Blogger TXGC TNT Coaches said...

I _finally_ just saw the episode... I thought the passerby called Janitor "Glennie", as though Janitor's name was actually known to those that cared enough to ask. Did I mishear it?

11/07/2009 5:39 PM  

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