Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Scrubs, "My Absence" & "My Comedy Show": Not his story

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?


Anonymous said...

Although the stories were a bit lighter than others this season, I found myself laughing harder than I have at all the other episodes. Mostly because Kelso had so many great lines.

I don't know if the show can go on without Braff, but it would have been nice to try an episode without him that wasn't focused on the fact that he's not there. We've seen other episodes this season where we've gotten so involved in the story we forgot a couple of key characters were missing. This episode kept reminding us JD wasn't there. Maybe I'm just a huge Turk fan, but I feel like the writers could have written an episode for Donald Faison to carry completely and we would have barely noticed JD's absence. (And yes, I do realize that the show was called "My Absence"). Not saying it would be the same Scrubs, but Turk, Kelso, Denise, and sometimes Cox are good enough on their own to develop some interesting storylines and keep us laughing.

Oh, and I LOVE Denise. She looked incredible in the final scene at the bar with the other interns.

Unknown said...

I don't think My Absence was weak because Braff wasn't there - it was weak because he kept popping up on the phone making us aware he wasn't there. I felt the phone gag -along with Eliot's whining- was by far the weakest story line all season. The rest of the show was perfectly fine - very good in fact.

Bobman said...

I agree completely with Bryan. I feel like I laughed harder at the first episode than the second, but the first was ruined by the stupid JD / Eliot storyline, and totally could have lived without it.

Jeff Martin said...

I really liked the recurring "His/Her Story" episodes in the early seasons. They always seemed to work well without JD as the central character (even though he did the lion's share of the narration), so a non-JD continuation of "Scrubs" could theoretically work.

That said, the show wouldn't be the same without him. Cox, Turk and Janitor, just for a start, are great on their own merit but are made even better because of their relationship with JD.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I've missed Turk.

Now, just have to wait for the dancing to come march..?

Anonymous said...

I find myself trying to figure out who is the main character missing from the episode, but I also try and see any background characters who are missing. Have wee seen nurse Shirley this season? Or Doug? Or Lloyd? Snoop Dog intern? Doctor Colonel? Just trying to get a count.

Lane said...

was this the first time we found out what Dr. Beardface's first name is?

Lane said...

* I mean Beard-fah-say

Roger said...

Janitor wasn't in the first episode either. I thought *that* was why it was the weaker episode.

Anonymous said...

No, they have revealed Beardface's name before. I believe in the one where JD had to learn all the names. And Col. Doctor has been around. It was his two-years sober cake that Cox thought was for him last week.

I agree the second one hit the mark more and it was the Carla-Janitor story line, not so much JD's presence. I do think thephone thing dragged down the first episode.

Nice catch on the whole name/Fugitive thing. You would think they would play with that somehow in the gang checking IMDB or something. I liked that call back, but also thought it would have funny to reference one of Flynn's other roles. I saw him on an old Seinfeld last week so that would have been funny.

Anonymous said...

I thought "My Absence" worked mostly because it had some of the best Kelso presence in years. And Ted. And Jo Denise.

And the highlight of the second episode was, of course, seeing Laverne again.

Anonymous said...

I'm still giggling over "girl balls" and "ham babies." The stories may have been weak, but the laughs were not.

Anonymous said...

There was so much I loved about these episodes: guy love, the fugitive, Denise/Kelso, Denise/everyone, laverne...but since these have all been mentioned: TURK DANCING!

and we have seen snoop dog attending this year

Anonymous said...

While the first epsidoe was certainly the weaker of the two, I think it was less about JD's presence and more that the story was just weaker, particularly Elliot's self realizations with the old woman who lost her husband. It was a bit out of left field and wound up involving two heart to heart talks (although the first one with Kelso had my favorite line of the night, when Elliot asked if she would be the kind of woman who would immediately die right after JD, and Bob replied "We can only hope so."

I was also a little confused by the Elliot/Denise/Sunny story in the second episode. The parallel between the over protective mother and Denise not going out for drinks after work felt pretty tenuous. Ah well. Being a bit on the chunky side myself, I am content to just have Denise around, validating my poor life decisions.

And I love how they are clearly letting Neil Flynn just improv for days. While his random improvs have always been a delight, they are clearly just letting the camera roll for him and it is spectacular...

Anonymous said...

Add me to the crowd who didn't think the problem with My Absence was *his* absence. The fact that they kept referring to it and that he wasn't really gone didn't help, but the real problem was the fact that Elliot can't carry the show, and she was given the A-story. That's a setup for failure. His Story III )that featured the Janitor with JD was stuck in the water tower) was a huge success, and ZB had about 90 seconds of air time.

Standouts last night: Kelso saying he "likes that bitch" and saying Denise has "girl balls," callbacks to old Janitor jokes (baby with Chinese local, Fugative), and of course, TURK DANCING!

Speaking of voiceover work, does anyone else think it's Zach doing the Cottonnelle ad with the puppy yellow lab?

Theresa said...

Ditto, dez. "Girl balls" = comic gold. Man, I love Kelso. His "boob hair" line also had me rolling, in addition to the aforementioned zingers.

Also, jumping back a bit, my boyfriend thinks that the whole exchange between the Janitor and JD last week while they were brainstorming with Ted was the funniest dialogue Scrubs has ever had.

I have long believed that ZB does the Cottonelle ads.

Anonymous said...

Amongst the most pleasant surprises this season (and there are many) is the fact that the writers have not only managed to keep Ken Jenkins involved but in the process have made him almost indispensable to the show. Indeed, I think he has become one of the most vital characters this year. I never saw that coming, and it's been wonderful.

And, at the risk of being redundant, I just want to shout again about how wonderful Eliza Coupe is. I dare say that her inclusion has been a delight of Amy Ryan-quality proportions. To the extent that I'll miss Scrubs, she'll be one of the people I'll miss the most.

jcpdiesel21 said...

I wasn't wild about either of these episodes, although both had some amusing moments. Like others mentioned, the problem with the first episode wasn't the lack of JD, but the constant reminder that he wasn't there. The storyline with him and Elliot didn't work and made Elliot seem more clingy and annoying than usual. So far I'm not a fan of Sunny Day, although I do like the contrast between her and Denise as shown in the second episode.

That is definitely Zach Braff's voice in the Cottonelle ads (he's credited in his IMDb entry). Also, I loved seeing Turk dancing again!

bsangs said...

I really love Denise/Jo. She's been the best addition to the show since Jordan became a quasi-regular during her angrier years.

Funny, everybody in my house thought the same thing regarding the phone plot with JD and Elliott. My wife even groaned and said, "They need to stop this now - it's like a bad SNL skit that keeps going and going." Had to agree. But enjoyed pretty much everything else.

And whoever pointed out the value of Kelso and what a nice surprise it's been - you are dead on. He's always been my secret favorite character and to see him getting elevated status this season, kudos. Now, I just hope they don't kill him off by the end. I keep having this nagging thought that they will though. :(

Oh, and GOOCH is crazy!

Anonymous said...

I didn't see the first half of My Abscene but I did love the Gooch and her cute-not-so-cute son.

Still, the best part was the intern skit. Jimmy does a GREAT Dane Cook impression (I did also enjoy his Jack Black impression too).

I miss Laverne :(

Still, as for the future, I must admit, Jo is shaping herself to be a really enjoyable character and I'm like Jimmy too.

I did miss Ed as well. Random thought: Will they ever show Donny?

drat said...

nobody found carla's body hair issue offputting? i found myself reaching for the fastforward on my tivo. guess im a little squeamish.

denise is good. i also liked the indian kid that was fired, and sunny day's sunniness hasnt become annoying yet. i even like the gooch. nice to get some new focus. most of the old characters have a staleness to them.

denise, btw, had an excellent cameo on the first season of flight of the conchords, the second season of which hasnt been able to nearly match the first.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, David. They could have easily made the issue about Carla finding a grey hair or something. The boob hair was a bit off-putting given the nature of that show.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Carla's boob hair was unusual for this history of this show. They've talked about women getting chin hairs and pooping on the delivery table. They air some of the things about our bodies that we as a society try to keep under wraps. I appreciate it.

Zach long ago confirmed on his blog that he's the puppy voice.

Pamela Jaye said...

I have not yet read the comments and only saw the eps once, someone may have mentioned this.

Ted was excited about his "first girlfriend" - but I'm pretty sure Ted is divorced. So either he really hated his wife even before he married her, or someone screwed up. (or it was an arranged marriage)

tried to look up Sunny Day, but no websites were listing characters for last night's second ep. thanks for the spelling (could have been Sunni Deh...)

Pamela Jaye said...

oh, and I loved JD pausing to fantasize over the phone. (he did, didn't he?)

I've always been curious how actors who are main cast are paid for shows. Especially with regard to Cameron and Chase.

Pamela Jaye said...

I believe we have not seen Doug this season. I notice little, but I finally noticed that.

Pamela Jaye said...

I didn't understand why Elliot was so upset by his absence. It didn't seem as if he'd gone away, just had a day off. Did I miss something? (cause he's had days off before - and he's the clingy one, not her. at least in the musical)

that said, i probably would have noticed his absence but the phone really drove it home - which may have been a bad idea. but it was funny

Unknown said...

Turk referring to himself as "a black Wayne Brady" was a line that just killed me