"Maybe he'll let us sing for the burn ward." -TedYou've probably noticed by this point in the season that, for budgetary reasons, not every castmember is in every episode (with the obvious exception, so far, of Zach Braff). No Turk at all tonight, for instance, and no Elliot in the second episode. And while I certainly miss Turk (and the ever-present potential for a Turk dance number), the "Scrubs" writers have very ably dipped deeper into the supporting cast to make up for their absence.
Both of these episodes dealt heavily with Dr. Cox's struggle to deal with the responsibilities of being chief of medicine(*), and as such, they were a strong dramatic showcase for John C. McGinley, and at times for Ken Jenkins and Zach Braff. The scene where Kelso explains to JD that he'll have to become the new Dr. Cox, and that Perry will hate him for it, was particularly well-played by Jenkins, but all three of them were good throughout.
(*) Fanboy nitpick: Cox was interim chief between Kelso's mandatory retirement and the hiring of Dr. Maddox, so shouldn't he be familiar with the crippling workload by now?
But because that storyline was mostly serious, and because some main characters were absent from one or both of the episodes, the comic heavy lifting got handed to Ted and The Janitor, and Sam Lloyd and Neil Flynn were more than up to the challenge.
Flynn has had license to improvise from the beginning of the series, but this season it feels like the writers have specifically constructed scenes that are about nothing but letting him riff for as long as he can. Maybe there was some dialogue written for scenes like Janitor demonstrating the value of hanging the painting from the ceiling, or Janitor on the phone in his "office," or Janitor talking about a date with Lady, but it's clear at some point that Flynn is just flying solo, and it's been really funny to watch.
And what can you say about Sam Lloyd at this point? First he almost single-handedly make a story about a man's last night alive into one of the season's funniest episodes, and tonight he was perfect no matter what he was asked to do. We got equal parts Ted as punchline and Ted as tragic figure -- often in the same moment, like when Ted explained that Kelso used to sign all of his forms on Ted's back, and that "I imagine it's what a hug feels like, is it?"(**) The hopefulness in his voice when he talked about his band getting to play the burn ward was so wonderfully-played; it's both funny and sad that this is one of the few things Ted would have to look forward to.
(**) Pointless fanboy nitpick number two: Wasn't there an episode a few years back where Carla hugged Ted and Ted held on a little too long?
And his awkward courtship of Stephanie Gooch (played by Kate Micucci) was equal parts silly and sweet. Like Bill Lawrence, I can never get enough glimpses of Ted's band, and the half-a cappella, half-ukelele rendition of "Carry On Wayward Son" was a delight. So was our glimpse, in the outtakes (which have been a tremendous addition) of Ted hijacking one of JD's fantasies so he and Gooch could get it on. I hope we see more of this couple as the season moves along.
Short of Turk running in near the end to do some pop-locking, I just could not have been more satisfied with those two shows last night. They're really back on their game this year, aren't they?
Some other thoughts:
• In case you missed my post late last week, ABC reversed course slightly on its original plan to not air another new episode until the move to Wednesday. There were obviously two on last night, and there will be two more next week. There are repeats scheduled on Feb. 17, and barring anything unusual, it should be repeats from then on until the March 18 move. If anything changes yet again, I'll do a post on it.
• I need assistance settling a minor wager with my wife: one of us is convinced that the "like-like" song that Ted and Gooch dueted on was one of the songs from "Juno," and one of us is convinced otherwise. I won't say who's who to avoid influencing the judges, but a recession-sized $5 pot is on the line. Anyone?
• Do you think this is the last we'll see of Ed? (And I don't want to hear from people running to check IMDb.) On the one hand, I've really liked Aziz Ansari. On the other, his behavior throughout the season would almost certainly get him fired, with no second chances.
• Whether or not Ed comes back, "My New Role" gave us the first televised glimpse of Howie, the boring intern who appeared in the "Scrubs: Interns" webisodes with Denise and Katie.
• If this show were more popular, I would fear a wave of "Licked by (Your Name Here)" notes in office fridges around the country.
• John C. McGinley's son has Down syndrome, so there was an added layer of emotion to Cox's scenes with long-time patient Craig.
• The kid who plays Cox's son Jack may not be the next Jonathan Lipnicki, but if anything, his age-appropriate exuberance added some extra comedy to those scenes in the second episode where he was punking his dad, and then when he was taunting JD's baby. I think if he'd sounded natural doing it, I would have been creeped out.
• I'm glad they didn't drag out the idea that Cox and Kelso's friendship had to stay a secret, as it would have deprived us of the joy of Kelso rubbing it in JD's face.
• I really enjoyed the opening of "My New Role," with the sounds of the hospital (forms being stapled, oxygen pumps huffing, etc.) accidentally turning into a percussive salute to Cox's first day on the job. "Flight of the Conchords" did a similar bit involving office supplies (scotch tape being ripped, the hum of the copy machine) in its first season, but it's a cool idea that I don't mind seeing/hearing more than once.
What did everybody else think?