“Scrubs” begins its ninth season on Tuesday, and both ABC and the show’s creator, Bill Lawrence, are encouraging us to think of the show as new in all but its title. There’s a new setting, several new regulars and even a revamped opening credit sequence.
The transition — established characters like J.D. (Zach Braff), Turk (Donald Faison) and Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) are now teaching at a medical school — is an admirably honest attempt by Lawrence and Co. to deal with the show being renewed after airing what was for all intents and purposes a series finale episode last spring. And there are moments in Tuesday’s two-episode premiere (it’s at 9 p.m. ET on ABC) that are quite good.
The whole thing, though, feels just a little bit awkward. If you are — like me — enough of a “Scrubs” fan that you just enjoy spending time with these characters, then the almost-new show (I’m tempted to call it “AfterScrubs,” but it’s a better effort than “AfterMASH” was) will probably go down just fine. But I doubt that it will win over many new fans.
In the show’s world, more than a year has passed since J.D. left Sacred Heart. The hospital where they worked has been torn down and the staff shipped wholesale to Winston University, where Cox, Turk and even the retired Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins) are now on the faculty. So is J.D. (at least for now — Braff has only committed to a handful of episodes), who’s so excited for his new gig that he’s bought the jacket Michelle Pfeiffer wore in “Dangerous Minds” and sewn professorial patches on the elbows. (He’s also so excited that he has apparently forgotten about his son, the reason he left Sacred Heart in the first place. I hope that’s addressed later in the season.)
The doctors — and cynical intern Denise (Eliza Coupe), who’s now a TA/resident adviser — are charged with educating a fresh batch of med students, including new regulars Kerry Bishe, Michael Mosley and Dave Franco (James Franco’s little brother). Australian actress Nicky Whelan has a recurring part as another student.
The way the show is set up, it almost can’t help but feel a little repetitive. Bishe‘s Lucy, who takes over some of the voice-over narration from Braff, is New J.D., with some of Elliot’s (Sarah Chalke, who has a cameo in the premiere) neuroses thrown in. Cox still berates and breaks down his pupils (though McGinley, as always, does comic rage masterfully); they’re just greener this time around. J.D. is back in man-child mode a little, trying way too hard to get his students to think he’s the cool teacher.
“Scrubs” 2.0 is at its best when it does find new beats to play. Mosley’s Drew is a little older than the other students and is less afraid to stand up to Cox — who proceeds to torture him in a different way by anointing him the star of the class. That 10-degree twist on the old Cox-J.D. dynamic is just enough, and it leads to a good running bit throughout the premiere.
One thing that doesn’t get old? The very loving and very oddball relationship between J.D. and Turk. We hear a snippet of “Guy Love” as they race across the quad to embrace, and their riffs on the budding relationship between Drew and Denise in Tuesday’s second episode made me laugh out loud.
In a way, though, that could be a hindrance to the long-term health of “Scrubs” — with Braff only signed on for part-time duty and Judy Reyes no longer a regular, the show needs to find a way for Turk to grow independent of his wife and best friend.
“Scrubs” won’t harm its legacy as one of the better comedies of the ’00s with this reboot. And as I mentioned up above, if you’re already in, there’s enough that’s familiar to keep you smiling at the new version. But for the moment, anyway, it feels more like a farewell tour than a totally new show.
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