"How did I miss Scrubs?" by Troy H. Cheek on Apr 09, 2007
A couple of weeks back, I had the "opportunity" to take a little time off. Given the very short notice I was under, my girlfriend Kitten didn't have enough lead time to get time off during the same period. I went up to spend a few days with her anyway.
While she worked, I argued with the hotel cleaning staff. These arguments were a lot of fun, since the only Cantonese I know are swear words I learned watching Stargate SG-1 and Firefly, and apparently the only English words they know are "housekeeping" and "you go now."
After that got boring, or more accurately, after management asked me to behave or find another hotel, I turned on the TV. I am not much for television. I don't watch TV; I watch a few shows I like. I can't remember the last time I just sat down and flipped through the channels. This was a different town, different time zone, and different cable TV provider, so flipping was the only chance of finding anything to watch.
Sometime around day two, I found Scrubs. How did I miss this when it first came out?
I probably missed it because I hate TV shows about the daily operation of a hospital. My job for the last upteen years has been security officer at one hospital or another. I know how hospitals operate. A hospital security officer watching a TV show set in a hospital is almost as painful as a tech geek watching somebody use a computer in a movie. You see all the things they do wrong, all the things which couldn't possibly work in real life, all the things that you're paid to stop when you're at your real job, and it kills the willing suspension of disbelief by hanging it by the neck until dead.
So, when I found Scrubs I paused just long enough to try to identify the series. I found that I couldn't. I watched for a while and was suddenly hooked. Luckily, there was a) a marathon or something and b) I got in during the first episode.
Scrubs is the story of a young intern who talks to himself and hallucinates a lot. No, really. It's a comedy which gets most of its humor from the internal dialog of Doctor John "J.D." Dorian as he tries to deal with the stresses of becoming a doctor. It's a comedy, but it's more real than any other hospital based TV program I've ever watched.
I'll say that again: this comedy hospital is more real than the so-called reality based ones.
Over the next few days, I watched what I later learned was most of the first season. I understand that it is now in season six or seven, which means that I am very behind in the storyline, so I'll just focus on what I've seen.
On his first day, J.D. runs afoul of the janitor. The janitor pops up from time to time, in just about every episode, to bully J.D. or put him down. I noticed something, and then searched the internet for confirmation. I was right. J.D. was the only character who regularly interacted with the janitor.
Oh, sure, he's in the background sometimes, people walk around him and whatnot, or perhaps even say something similar to what he's said recently, but the janitor mostly interacts with J.D. and only him. Sure, J.D. is the narrator of the show and most episodes focus on him, but just about every other recurring character has had some kind of interaction with another recurring character outside of J.D.'s view or hearing, meaning that the show is about more than just him.
My searching revealed something else, which is that the producers were planning to use the janitor as an out if the series was cancelled. All through the first season, they were sure they were going to be cancelled, meaning they'd have to wrap the series up someday, probably on short notice. The method they were going to use? Have the janitor revealed as existing only in J.D.'s head, a figment of his imagination, proof that he couldn't handle the mental stress of being a doctor.
Brilliant. Of course, the series didn't end with just one season, and I'm told eventually the janitor began to interact with others, but it's still brilliant.
That got me to thinking. There was a project not all that long ago which took old Garfield comics and cut out Garfield's thought balloons. It left Jon's speech and thought -- and all other aspects of the comic, for that matter -- in place, but took out Garfield's thought balloons. This turned a mostly inane comic strip about a wise-cracking cat into a surreal comic about a guy named Jon who talks to himself and imagines his pets are conspiring against him.
Besides, a lot of the time, Garfield's pithy remarks are overkill, anyway. A shrug or confused look works fine all on its own.
I wondered what a similar project would do to Scrubs. No, wait. Hear me out.
Take the DVD of the first season of Scrubs. Assume that the janitor really is just a figment of J.D.'s imagination and edit out all the scenes featuring him. Then delete out all the little fantasy scenes that obviously only happened in J.D.'s head. Finally, cut out as much of his internal dialog as you can and still be able to follow the plot. You'd be left with just what "really happened" at the hospital. I have a feeling that the finished product would have the same surreal effect as editing out Garfield's thought balloons.
Somebody with more editing skill than I have needs to try that and get back to me.