Friday, December 07, 2007

Three hospitals, many tragedies

Since I actually watched -- and enjoyed -- all three Thursday medical dramas on the same night in the first time since forever, it's time for a stethoscope-themed blog post. Spoilers for, in order, "ER," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scrubs" coming up just as soon as I swab a camel...

After having some fun with all those disaster episodes of "ER" yesterday, not to mention the chaotic-sounding 300 patients premise, the 300th episode turned out to be a fairly low-key affair. I'm actually happy with that; while people tend to remember the episodes with the pyrotechnics and the weeping, one of the things I've always admired about "ER," in good times and bad, is how it can be so buttoned-down when it wants to be. I think of episodes like Doug and Mark's road trip to bury Doug's dad, or the ER staff preparing for the paramedic's death in "The Healers," or even Abby's black-out sex with Moretti a few weeks ago, and think about how a lot of other series (including a certain other Thursday medical drama to be discussed later) would try to underline all the emotions for the audience with sweeping music, teary-eyed close-ups and whatnot. I'm not saying "ER" isn't often guilty of going over-the-top, but when they tighten up, it often turns out to be more affecting.

There were tears in both the resolution of the Down's syndrome story and Luka/Abby, but they felt real and earned. (And the Luka scene was made far more uncomfortable -- and fascinating -- by our knowledge of what Abby was refusing to tell him even as he tried to take all the blame on himself.) The moment when Abby called out Neela about Ray, meanwhile, stung precisely because there weren't a lot of fireworks in the scene; the casual coldness is what made it seem so painful. I'm not wild about the chaplain character, but the tribute to the patients the ER lost in the last year was also a nice, understated tribute to the series as a whole which has killed off a lot of doctors and patients.

And I want to say a word about Scott Grimes, who I couldn't stand when Morris was introduced (at the time, I was surprised they dumped Coop and kept Morris) and now find delightful. His reaction to the arrival of the food poisoning patients was among the funniest non-"30 Rock" things I saw last night. The key difference, I think, between when Morris first appeared and now is that he's at least semi-competent. If the guy's an obnoxious clown and also a terrible doctor, then I spend all my time thinking about how the writers are contriving to keep their comic relief character on the show. By making Morris a vaguely good doctor, and by occasionally providing serious glimpses into his personality (like the conversation with Lowell about being abandoned by his own father), I feel freer to laugh at him when he's acting the buffoon.

I remain baffled about ABC's scheduling decision with this "Grey's Anatomy" two-parter. Thanksgiving night generally has a lower audience than a regular Thursday, so why air part one on turkey night, then air a rerun, then put this one on a week after that? ABC has a weird history of doing this (I remember them interrupting an intense "NYPD Blue" two-parter with a Barbara Walters special in between), and it never makes sense to me.

While parts of "Crash Into You" part two were just as strong as in part one -- Bailey's marriage falling apart while George played messenger, anything with Lexie and Seth Green, Karev telling off Ava, Meredith telling Dr. Hahn to shut up (a rare instance where Meredith was justified in telling anyone to shut up, whereas there are so many instances when others are justified in telling her to) -- more of the parts of "Grey's" that I dislike creeped into this one.

Remember that "Scrubs" scene where Dr. Cox rattles off a list of all the things he cares about more than his final week with J.D. as a resident? That's basically how I feel about the state of Meredith and McDreamy at this point. Now it's just getting stupid, the attempts to keep them apart, and Dempsey has zero chemistry with the computer geek nurse. Zero. I'm glad that Shonda continues her "Okay, so maybe Izzie and George are a mistake" theme, but if it's now as obvious to the characters and their creator as it is to us poor, frustrated viewers, why can't they just break up already? Why must we now spend as much time with them angsting about their incompatibility as we did with them angsting about whether George should break up his marriage for his One, True, Perfect Love?

Finally, "Scrubs" gets back in the groove with its best episode of the season, and better than almost anything I can remember from last year. The pathos was just right on Elliot's ALS plot (and helped by the occasional absurd touch like the patient's home care nurse "flying"), J.D. was credible in the scenes where he was required to act human, and the one-upsmanship and Janitor dating stories were both very funny at the same time they were providing some insight into the characters. The only real disappointment is that is much less elaborate than The Todd promised; no Tranny-Todd feature anywhere. But if they can be this entertaining and well-rounded going forward, I'm going to be a lot sadder when the episodes run out.

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said... is about the same since last year when The Todd first wore the shirt with the website on it. You should check out Right now the #1 doctor is Dr. Jan Itor.

Bobman said...

You should check out Right now the #1 doctor is Dr. Jan Itor.

I can't believe there's no Dr. Acula on there!

Theresa said...

I thought that Grey's Anatomy, while still not great, was much better than 90% of the episodes last season, and for once I didn't want to scream at Meredith (although I still wanted to scream at Shonda for throwing the Rose wrench in there). Plus, I feel like George and Izzie pretty much officially ended, and even if they didn't, their interaction was still limited to the very beginning and the very end of the two-parter---I'll take it.

As for Scrubs, I thought it was the strongest episode in ages, and actually had some laugh-out-loud moments for me. I like JD's "look to Turk for confirmation," everyone's falling asleep when Elliott started talking about her private practice, and
Turk's "but sometimes that IS what I'm talkin' 'bout!" I got a little sad about the Janitor's relationship troubles, and I like Kelso's continued obsession with muffins. I thought the balance between silly and serious was just about right for the first time in a long time.

Joel said...

I dunno... I thought this episode was pretty lame. The Elliot plot was done well -- though I think it was designed solely to have J.D. give her a heartfelt speech about how well he knows her -- but the rest of the episode was pretty laugh-free for me. Then again, my opinion of the season in general has been completely the opposite of Alan's so far, so this seems to be tracking that trend.

Anonymous said...

I love that the 300th episode of "ER" was relatively understated too! The NBC promos made it seem like an event-scale disaster-type episode.

Anonymous said...

I liked Scrubs a lot. It took them awhile to find the chemistry between Dr. Cox and Turk, but when they have a story with these two together, I'm always entertained.

As always, Kelso and the Janitor were hilarious.

The mess last season is more or less a distant memory at this point. And the good news is, by my calculations, there are still five episodes of Scrubs in the can.

Anonymous said...

p.s. is a nice touch. Besides profiles of all our favorite docs, the front page has a clickable link to "sponsor" The Janitorial. Good times.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

I think McDreamy's chemistry with Nurse Rose is better than his chemistry with Meredith!

Did anyone else notice that the actress who plays Rose was also Elliot's ALS patient last night?

Anonymous said...

If you told me five years go that not only would ER still be on, but it would be anchored by SCOTT FREAKING GRIMES from the Critters movies, I would have thought you MAD, MAAAAAAAAAAAD!

But he does it. He SO does it. It helps that the writers aren't keeping Morris stagnant, that he's evolving from a twerop to a somewhat decent dude.

SJ said...

Check out Franklin's bio on

"As the Primary Lab Technician, Franklyn is a hero to all. He gets results back in a timely manner, and his efforts contribute to saving many, many people, including a cheerleader. He hopes to someday travel back to Feudal Japan to visit his ancestors. As of Fall 2006, many around Sacred Heart have been abuzz about Franklin's striking resemblance to that of a character from a popular super-hero drama."

Anonymous said...

I wanted to vote for Dr. Vinnie Boombats.

Sadly, he's not there.

afoglia said...

I think "Scrubs" must have been too bad for too long for me to enjoy it anymore. I can't do anything but find problems. Yes, the Cox-Turk interactions was fun; but I didn't get Cox trying to raise his rating; JD was credible with Eliot, but that's all; and humanizing the Janitor by giving him a relationship is a terrible idea poorly executed.

Anonymous said...

I've been with ER since it was up against Mandy Patinkin and Adam Arkin on Chicago Hope that first season for both. I thought Scott Grimes' Morris has been portrayed as a good doctor. Recall when Weaver came back to the ER from a management position for a medical tuneup, and Morris was telling her about research and newer techniques. I agree that the goofy personal habits are easier to take with the smart character.

Alan Sepinwall said...

He's been portrayed as a better doctor lately but when he was introduced, he was afraid to deal with patients, let Coop (the asthmatic guy who's now in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) carry him professionally, and got fired by Rocket Romano for smoking dope in the middle of a shift (conveniently, Romano died seconds later from blunt force helicopter trauma).

Anonymous said...

Morris 'got fired by Rocket Romano for smoking dope in the middle of a shift'...he would have certainly gotten fired, but Romano didn't have time to finish the job. He ordered Morris to sit inside and wait for him (that's why Morris sat on his then-sorry butt for the entire post-helicopter crash sequence) and Pratt disgustedly told the immobile Morris to go home afterwards. Thus Morris was saved for later redemption!

I have a question: When Julia was mentioning patients who have touched the lives of the doctors, were they specifically patients who died? I know that Pratt (Charlie Metcalfe), Gates (brilliant kid with incurable metabolic illness from earlier this season), Luka (Curtis Ames), and probably Abby (Nate Lennox) were thinking of patients who were definitely dead or so ill that there passing was taken as fact (Dr. Lennox had end-stage ALS when he appeared in Season 12). But I am not sure that Neela (Paulie the homeless kid) and Morris' (Shaun Hatosy's Disassociative Identity Disorder patient from "Jigsaw) patients fit into this category. I remember Hatosy having his angry, violent other personality being convinced by Sam to have life-saving surgery, and I thought Paulie's storyline involved another street kid who was saved from death. I'm asking because it raised questions in what was otherwise an Emmy-caliber scene.
ER seems to stay a strong show after so many years because they really develop characters well and are good at finding little story angles that are original. The way Abby lashed out at Neela and later wasn't able to admit her infidelity to Luka showed the former; the story with Lowell and Peter Fonds showed the latter. After all these seasons, ER still has the formula for success. Congratulations on the 300th!

Anonymous said...

I've stuck with ER through the good times and bad more out of habit than anything else (and a fondness for watching helicoptors exact revenge on their human overlords), and I think this season is definitely one of the best in a while. I'd wager a large part of that has to do with the pared-down cast; there's only 6 main players this year, and they're all fairly strong actors. This is opposed to the 10 or so regulars ER normally has, and their habit of making some of them Micheal Michele.

I've definitely been enjoying Scott Grimes the past two years, mainly because of the competency factor. I still cringe every now and again when I think of how repulsive he was in the early run (up to Romano's death, mainly). The interaction this year between him, Pratt, and Frank is hands down my favorite dynamic on the show, and I'm pleased they keep throwing those three together. Maura Tierney's also been doing some brauva work, and matter-of-factness with which her alcoholism and sleeping with Morretti was presented only heightened the their chilling effect.

If I had a strong complaint about this season, it'd be that Morretti was written off so quickly; Stanley Tucci is always interesting to watch, and it felt like the viewers got shortchanged a bit with his rapid exit. Glad you're blogging this show again Alan (albeit only occasionally); I thought I was the only one left watching ; )

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to say that, yes, little miss smoke and mirrors, I missed all the plots on Scrubs this week because instead of watching the episode, I was madly digging around trying to find a website to confirm that, indeed, the ALS patient was Rose, from Grey's. All the while, my brother, who actually watched the ep, kept telling me no, her face doesn't look the same.

And the credits are at the end, on Scrubs.

I didn't get to ER till last night.

But I really just excited about Rose on Scrubs (as were her confused parents, likely) and Meredith telling Dr Hahn to shut up. :)

Anonymous said...

Like Joel, I've been enjoying this season of Scrubs though this particular ep didn't do much for me.

Also completely agree about Scott Grimes. Morris has become one of my favorite characters on "ER," something I'd never have guessed in his first year or two. I love his interactions with child-like characters, which I feel like are always informed by his own strange family (from his numerous donations).