“My Hero” (season 1, episode 23; originally aired 05/14/2002)
The conclusion of “My Occurrence” is one of the most substantial emotional beats in Scrubs’ first season, but the beginning of “My Hero” is highlighted by the introduction of one of the show’s silliest elements in J.D.’s gleeful scream of “Eagleeee!”
This could be viewed as a complaint by some given where the character of J.D. would go in subsequent seasons, but there is something very affecting about the way Scrubs is capable of shifting gears. After Ben’s leukemia diagnosis, the show has taken us to a darker place than usual, with a character that we’ve come to know (and who is a character’s best friend and a character’s brother) placed into a life-altering situation that could have an unhappy ending. What we need in that moment is something to tell us that there is some sort of hope to be found, regardless of blast percentages, and “Eagle!” feels designed to give us that hope.
Of course, Ben as a character is designed to offer moments like this. Brendan Fraser’s broader comic persona is not entirely erased by the role, but it allows the show to temper the emotions of this moment. Ben is scared, like anyone would be in that situation, but he’s still a weird dude who wants to crack jokes, use funny voices, and spin people around on his shoulders. Ben is the person that drove us to an extremely emotional place at the end of the previous episode, but he’s also the person who can pulls us out of that at a moment’s notice; as with “My Occurrence,” this remains a strong performance from Fraser, and I’m with John C. McGinley (who does the commentary track on “My Hero” with Lawrence) that an Emmy nomination would have been warranted in this instance.
There are a number of scenes—including “Eagle!”—I find memorable within “My Hero,” but placed next to “My Occurrence” the episode is comparatively uneven, primarily because it is forced into a more traditional episode structure. I’m not opposed to that structure in theory, and understand that it would be unrealistic for Turk and Elliot’s storylines to center exclusively around Ben, but the thematic parallels between the storylines end up feeling forced.
More specifically, my problems stem from Turk’s storyline, which feels like stray characterization. Now, we’ve seen Turk’s ultra-competitive side before, so I’m not suggesting that his desire to be the top surgeon is coming from nowhere. Additionally, I found the notion of Todd as idiot savant to be quite clever, as it builds a nice detail into that character (which the show rarely revisits, but which passively justifies his continued employment despite his seeming incompetence). What still bothers me, however, is the way Turk so casually steps into claims of racial collusion by suggesting that Dr. Wen and Bonnie are both Asian. While the show rightfully treats his claim as imbecilic, and acknowledges that the character has crossed a line, it seems strange that Turk would rush to that conclusion given his earlier concerns about the challenges he faced as an African-American doctor.
The goal of the episode is to get each character into a complicated emotional space, nicely captured by the split-screen montage of all of the characters moving in a synchronized fashion. However, while Elliot and Carla’s failed attempt to anonymously roast Dr. Kelso (failed insomuch as it was the exact opposite of anonymous) felt like a natural extension of those characters, Turk’s storyline was more artificial. It isn’t enough to derail the episode by any means, and I don’t want to spend too much time remarking on it, but it does keep “My Hero” from offering the kind of all-inclusive storytelling impact as the latter half of “My Occurrence.”
That being said, of course, this is a tremendous showcase for John C. McGinley, who gets to reveal more of the vulnerability that we saw from Perry as he reflected on his relationship with Jordan back in “My Bad”. Ted’s band’s rendition of the Underdog theme song is one of the show’s finest musical moments, and Zach Braff’s reading of “Oh, thank God” is one of J.D.’s most human moments in the show’s run, but “My Hero” is McGinley’s episode. Perry is not dramatically changed in this episode: For example, his reaction to J.D.’s attempt at a pep talk—“You’ve got to get back in the game, Coxy!”—is just as acerbic as we would expect, and McGinley doesn’t stop playing the character as we know him. However, when Perry sits down with Ben at episode’s end after avoiding him throughout, McGinley plays Perry as a different version of himself. If Dr. Cox is normally—metaphorically speaking—a cast member on a reality show like The Real World (memorably parodied in the episode), it is as if the cameras were turned off before this scene began, inviting us into a private moment that really defines the relationship between these two characters (which will become all the more important when we revisit Ben in the show’s third season).
It’s a moment, if we’re nitpicking, that probably didn’t need J.D.’s voiceover to outline its meaning; in fact, my biggest pet peeve with this episode is that Ben’s recovery is told clunkily through voiceover, a quick endnote before moving onto a brief (but funny) Janitor/J.D. coda. However, as with Turk’s claims of racism, it does nothing to take away from how well “My Hero” builds on the themes of “My Occurrence” to deliver some strong, human moments that represent Scrubs at its most affecting.
“My Last Day” (season 1, episode 24; originally aired 05/21/2002)
I have a lot of respect for how “My Last Day” reaches its goals, but I can’t shake the feeling that those goals are counterintuitive.
Yes, that may just be a nice way of saying that this is far from my favorite episode of the season, and something of a disappointment when viewed in light of the strong episodes that preceded it—but I do think that this is a very functional episode of television that does its job well. The writers aimed to create a storyline that reflects the growth of each character as an individual—while also showing how their relationships with one another grew over the course of the season—ultimately building to a climax thats drops a few bombshells to create tension for a second season. I would argue the episode achieves all of those goals.
The episode often achieves them with some stylistic flair as well. That opening mirror sequence, as J.D. sees the entire cast of regular and recurring characters while preparing for his first day, is particularly well done in this area. On the one hand, it calls back to “My First Day,” where J.D. stood in front of the mirror playing with shaving cream—but instead of showing the character lost in his own world, the mirror now displays flashbacks from his first year at Sacred Heart. While the show doesn’t have an actual “Previously on” sequence (which is generally uncommon in sitcoms outside of season openers or in the case of a two-part episode, as seen recently on 30 Rock), the mirror conversations lay out every major recurring storyline that will eventually serve as the content of Jordan “stirring things up” at episode’s end.
Similarly, the various storylines of “My Last Day” serve to achieve those aforementioned goals. The way J.D., Turk, and Elliot toss around Mr. Bober without really getting to know him highlights the general theme of not losing sight of the human side of practicing medicine, while each individual character gets to explore their personal growth: J.D. gets words of encouragement from Dr. Cox as he organizes the plan to save his patient, Elliot stands up to Jordan to prove she’s not just a doormat, and Turk… well, Turk is a bit underserved by these storylines, but he’s nonetheless a part of the attempt to get the insurance-less Bober the surgery he needs. The episode even finds a storyline for Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso, with the latter offering the former a Residency Director position that would help justify the character’s continued involvement in the lives of our central characters in subsequent seasons.
All of this is well-structured, but it makes me feel absolutely nothing. Especially when viewed in quick succession with “My Occurrence”/”My Hero,” this episode feels anticlimactic in the areas where Scrubs found the most success. Instead of looking back on what the show did best over the course of the season and building that into the finale, the writers instead try to summarize the entire season, offering a sense of closure without necessarily offering a sense of satisfaction. While the episode is trying to leave us wanting more, creating a cliffhanger in regard to how everyone will respond to Jordan’s revelations, the episode never finds the gear the show discovered in “My Old Lady” or “My Bed Banter & Beyond,” and thus never really makes me care about seeing that cliffhanger resolved (although, to be fair, I know how it’s resolved, which may not be helping matters).
Perhaps my problems with “My Last Day” stem from the fact that I instinctively want to reflect on the season’s strongest elements. Coming to the end of a 12-week journey like this one, it’s natural to look back and try to sum up what makes Scrubs’ first season so strong, and how it builds a foundation for some very strong seasons yet to come, but instead I’m stuck talking about a bunch of highly constructed cliffhangers that hinge on a failed attempt at a love triangle (Cox, Turk, and Carla), an ultimately unimportant plot development (J.D. sleeping with Jordan), and a relationship that, while important, becomes a major point of contention in future seasons (Elliot and J.D.). While there are some moments before that cliffhanger that show the actors’ evolving understanding of their characters, “My Last Day” boils down to a transition point between seasons as opposed to a substantial statement in its own right.
However, if there is a single lesson we should learn about Scrubs before we embark on the remainder of this journey—a journey that I’m happy to announce will be continuing with season two in a few weeks’ time—it is that asking a single episode to stand in for the whole is mostly futile. In that sense, it is fitting we leave on an episode that can’t be cleanly identified as an all-time classic. It is an episode to be puzzled, an episode that reveals the divergent views of the series’ legacy that began this TV Club Classic journey with an extensive debate on its essential value. While I take great pleasure in revisiting the resonance of an episode of “My Hero,” episodes like “My Last Day” are equally valuable to understanding the show Scrubs would eventually become, which will hopefully make exploring the show’s evolution in its second season a compelling exercise in the months ahead.
- Detail gleaned from the commentary tracks: Judy Reyes screwed up the synchronization on the split-screen sequence in “My Hero,” requiring the shot to be flipped in post-production.
- Also from the commentary tracks: Lawrence suggests that the journal J.D. writes in at the end of “My Hero” is intended to be the diegetic justification for the voiceover, which I had never really considered. Does voiceover narration necessarily need any such justification? I know we sometimes like to rail against artificiality, but seeing the show through J.D.’s perspective is crucial to some of the season’s most substantial thematic observations, and I think that alone justified the structure.
- Despite my misgivings, “My Last Day” will become more important with time, particularly for Jordan: That moment wrapped up in a blanket on Perry’s couch reflects a more vulnerable side to the character we’ll see explored in future seasons, and is a very nice moment for Christa Miller as she prepares to gradually take on a larger role in the series.
- Ted’s band (known professionally as The Blanks) will, of course, become a recurring part of the show, but rewatching this it still seems kind of remarkable that they will become such a significant part of the show’s legacy. The show was conceived in a pre-YouTube age, but many of its stylistic elements present even in early seasons—like Ted’s band—are perfectively designed for online video, and become more prominent as the seasons go on (perhaps in order to accentuate this potential).
- A heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been reading or commenting over the past 12 weeks — whether it’s filling in favorite quotes, sparking debates, or simply reflecting on your own relationship with the show, it’s your contributions that make these projects worthwhile. I’ll see you in a few weeks (likely on Feb. 20).