“My Fifteen Seconds” (season 3, episode 7; originally aired 12/04/2003)
“My Fifteen Seconds” is built around the statistic that doctors tend to only listen to their patients for fifteen seconds at a time. As recurring Sacred Heart visitor Jill Tracy recovers from exposure to pesticides, J.D. and Dr. Cox give her the minimum amount of their attention, a handy countdown clock on-screen letting us know how much longer they’ll have to suffer through her inane banter. Cox and J.D. learn enough to cure her ailment and rule out her apartment being toxic, but in their lack of further care they miss clear, obvious clues that Jill is suffering from depression, and that the pesticides in her system were the result of a suicide attempt.
It’s a meaningful storyline in theory, and features another fine performance from Nicole Sullivan, but it suffers in practice thanks to what has J.D. and Cox so distracted. Cox spends the episode fighting against J.D. encroachment of his personal life now that Danni and J.D. are officially an item, resisting the double dates and morning waffles that come with the new relationship. It’s those interactions that serve as the episode’s A-story, pulling the action away from the hospital and toward their personal lives. Eventually, Jordan scolds J.D. and Cox about their poor listening skills at just the right time, leading both J.D. and Cox to realize they’ve been so focused on other things they didn’t catch Jill’s depression. They rush to the hospital in time to get Jill some help, their brief failure as doctors rescued at the last moment.
My issue with “My Fifteen Seconds” is that Jill Tracy is far more interesting than J.D.’s relationship with Danni. Now, hindsight is certainly part of this: it’s inevitable when rewatching a series that short-term relationships hold less weight than when they were potentially long-term relationships as the episode first aired (a problem that How I Met Your Mother would suffer from upon rewatch, for example). However, at the same time, it’s difficult to imagine Danni’s arrival seeming organic, or complex, or interesting the first time around. “My Fifteen Seconds” begins with the two in bed, and fills in the gaps of their relationship with some generic first date nonsense that is much more inane than anything Jill talks about. That the episode involves Danni telling J.D. she’s falling in love with him despite almost zero evidence of chemistry between the two characters is ludicrous regardless of how the relationship ends, a rushed escalation the episode neither earns nor uses to significant effect.
Cox expressing his disgust with J.D. is not without its pleasures, and the overall flow of the show continues to be strong in the third season. The episode weaves in Kelso’s punctured ear drums for a thematic flourish, gives the Janitor control of the P.A. system for a distinctive way of weaving him into different stories, and offers a solid Carla/Elliot story for good measure as the two come to terms with how their blossoming friendship—where Carla is the boss—intersects with their work hierarchy. The problem in an episode like this one is it keeps recentering itself on the one part of the episode that emphatically isn’t working; as much as hindsight is contributing to that, the episode’s A-story fails to earn its place in the hierarchy, leaving it easy to imagine a better episode where it didn’t exist and we could focus on the stronger stories lower on the narrative totem pole.
“My Friend The Doctor” (season 3, episode 8; originally aired 12/11/2003)
That’s where Danni’s relationship with J.D. ends up in “My Friend The Doctor.” We get a brief pivot where their courtship is put in contrast with Turk and Carla (dealing with talk of pregnancy) and Cox and Jordan (dealing with talk of postpartum intercourse), but Danni mostly fades away into the background, popping up watching a movie with J.D. and Carla but playing no significant role in the narrative.
That narrative focuses primarily on Elliot, who is in search of that definitive sink-or-swim moment that defines her as not just a student or resident but as a doctor. I’ll get to some of the ugliness of that storyline in the stray observations, but it’s a compelling in how it gives Elliot her moment while nonetheless reinforcing that you don’t get to pick your defining moments. J.D. and Turk swam, and Elliot sank, but her patient dying despite her best efforts was nonetheless a pivotal moment in her career. It will be something she carries with her, something that drives her and gives her career meaning (something that Elliot will struggle with more than some of her fellow doctors as the series progresses).
And yet in thinking about characters low on the totem pole, this seems like a chance to really dive into a Janitor story for the first time in a long while. The fact is that Neil Flynn is never given a terribly large amount to do on the show, perhaps because he has never had an outlet for tapping into the meaning of his character. Part of the fun of the Janitor is how his cruelty is often motivated by nothing in particular, but it inherently limits the character’s role in the story. In “My Friend The Doctor,” we discover that the character is making the most of his time in the margins by playing out three different personalities from the one we’ve come to know: the Todd knows him as Nigel the Englishman, Doug is familiar with Klaus the German, while others know him as Ephram the stutterer.
It’s a smart way to take advantage of the Janitor’s limited interaction with characters other than J.D., encouraging the audience to fill out the mythology of a character who we already know has too much free time on his hands. That the episode goes one step further and delves into the metatextuality of Neil Flynn’s appearance in The Fugitive is the icing on the cake, the kind of detail that once again inspires viewers’ imaginations. I have to imagine many people scrambled to IMDB to see if Neil Flynn was actually in The Fugitive, either because they’d never seen it or because they had and hadn’t thought to remember who played a transit cop. It also gives the Janitor that bit of mystery, that sense that his story is complex in ways that we’re never going to really see play out in the show but nonetheless gives his scenes greater meaning.
The Janitor’s role will increase in the series over time, but the storyline here was a nice pivot point where the character was enriched without suddenly being elevated into a leading role. It’s the kind of work that Scrubs failed to do when introducing Danni, making her a part of the world without giving viewers the information necessary to imagine her as part of it. While the Janitor’s story here is admittedly building on over two seasons of brief appearances and audience goodwill, it’s nonetheless a model the show would have been advised to follow with Danni.
- Not sure if Zach Braff in blackface was a smart choice in an episode with so much racism from the character (his “Buddha” crack to Dr. Wen and his attempt to force the African American family to quote Shaft). The show seems to sit in judgment of J.D. in both cases (“Yeah, that’s our Citizen Kane”), but that J.D. is self-reflexive about “having a gay day” but perfectly okay with being a racist asshole shifts the character away from silly to being a total jackass. And I don’t think the show is that critical of his behavior, given how they let him be so kind as to “give” Elliot her moment at the end of the episode, as though that’s the only way she could have earned it. Basically, in summary, J.D. is a dick this season.
- I don’t know how much I’d say Danni’s problems boil down to Tara Reid. She’s not the world’s greatest actress, but she also isn’t given this great character that she’s failing to translate; there’s just nothing there in any capacity for me.
- “Yeah, temperature-wise…and miniature boobs-wise!”—The Todd, on the hotness of broccoli.
- A simple but effective bit of fantasy in Cox’s game of “Whack-a-Newbie,” a fitting outlet given my above comments regarding J.D.’s asshattery. Less effective: that bizarre “Elliot got a beard by taking a month of birth control pills at once” fantasy that I’m not convinced was worth the “WTF” of it all.
- Netflix Music Rights Update: While the brief bit of U2 at the beginning of “My Friend The Doctor” didn’t survive the digital distribution transition, the show smartly kept Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero,” which is really sharply used for Dr. Cox’s triumphant dunk and his even more triumphant retrieval of his badge from the floor with a bad back. Not the most substantive B-story in existence, but some nice material for Cox and Carla nonetheless.
- “Reel it in, Queer Eye”—a topical reference that has totally stood the test of time, right? Right?
- I enjoy that Carla translates “Whoop Ass” so faithfully.
Next time on Scrubs: Orgasms and gigolos. No, seriously.