Spoilers for last night's "Scrubs" double feature coming up just as soon as I inject myself with Dopamine...
I would say the chances of "Scrubs" continuing next year -- without Zach Braff, without Bill Lawrence, and possibly without the rest of the cast -- are slim at best. And last night's episodes showed just how much the series would miss Braff if it tries to continue without him.
Yes, J.D. is often on the verge of being a cartoon (not so much this year, thankfully). And, yes, his narration sometimes feels obligatory. But "My Absence," filmed without Braff(*) as part of the show's reduced season eight budget, definitely felt lacking.
(*) I assume he had to be paid something for lending his voice to those scenes with J.D. on the phone. Would voice-only work be charged at a different rate, and not apply to his contract as a series regular?
"My Absence" wasn't so much bad as it was insubstantial. Its two main plots -- Elliot is frustrated with how much she misses J.D. when he's gone, and Cox and Carla grapple with their level of compassion for the interns -- were largely dramatic, and yet not dramatic enough to carry an episode that was relatively light on laughs. Gooch's song about Turk's baby was adorable (who wants a Ted/Gooch spin-off?), and Denise had her usual good line or five ("Watch the lip, Grandpa, because you wouldn't be the first old man I beat up"), but the episode really could have used a couple of J.D. fantasies, or some more physical J.D./Turk interaction over the new baby, or any of the other flavors J.D. brings to the show.
Now, they've done good episodes where J.D. wasn't the central character, or even the main narrator, so it's entirely possible that the show could be consistently good without him in the unlikely event of renewal. But watching "My Absence" back to back with the much stronger "My Comedy Show" felt like I should be content with the show's resurgence this year and maybe not root for them to push their luck without the head writer and the leading man.
"My Comedy Show" had a better balance of pathos and comedy -- and different kinds of comedy, at that. Turk and J.D.'s direction of the intern sketch show was as broad as you'd expect, while Carla's psi-ops with the Janitor to make him forget about the "boobie hair" incident was subtler (and yet funnier for the level of evil involved).
It's been a while since J.D. and Turk had to confront how other people perceive their bromance, and the brief snippet of "Guy Love" over the climax was a nice punchline. The Janitor story, in addition to reminding us just how devious Carla can be (and how much Kelso likes her), gave the writers a chance to quasi-retcon away some particularly cartoony stories that they regretted, like Janitor hanging J.D. from the flagpole. (Bill was just complaining about that one on his blog.)
A few other thoughts:
• These episodes were also notable for finally introducing Sunny Day, the main character from the "Scrubs: Interns" webisodes into the show proper. She and Denise make an amusing contrast in temperaments.
• No more new episodes until the show moves to Wednesdays on March 18. And, unless ABC decides to quickly pull the plug on "Better Off Ted," this will be the last pairing of original episodes. While I wasn't crazy about these double-features late in the NBC run, they've worked quite well here -- in part because the show overall is much better in part because they often have felt thematically linked in some way, intentionally or not.
• Laverne! I miss Laverne, so it was nice to have her pop up in the flashback to Turk and J.D.'s intern show. Now, have we seen Aloma Wright as Shirley yet this season?
• Janitor questioning whether he was actually in "The Fugitive" gives us more options for what his name could be. For a while, some of the writers have been arguing that his name has to be Neil Flynn, since Neil Flynn is the name of the actor playing that role in "The Fugitive." But if we're erasing any problematic bits of Janitor continuity, then he could be named anything, couldn't he?
• The outtake from "My Comedy Show" with J.D. and Turk looking for the "Loser -->" sign was hilarious, though not quite as hilarious as the earlier riff about the flatness of Elliot's behind. ("I've chewed on that thing, and it's flatter than day-old beer.")
• Jimmy the Overly Touchy Orderly is, in fact, a great impressionist. His Dane Cook -- "Why do people find me funny?" -- was genius. And J.D. did a pretty good Dr. Cox impression, with the elongated vowels.
• Line of the night probably goes to Kelso's "My muffin thinks you're crazy and she wants you to go." It wasn't just the line itself, but the solemn intensity of Ken Jenkins' delivery.
What did everybody else think?