“My Kingdom” (season 2, episode 19; originally aired 03/27/2003)
When an arc is interrupted by an episode that has nothing to do with that arc, it’s tremendously awkward. While it may be a limitation of casting—with Amy Smart’s schedule necessitating the break between episodes—plopping the mundane and standalone “My Kingdom” in between “My T.C.W.” and “My Interpretation” is less than effective.
The episode itself is fine, honestly, but we’re reaching the point in the second season where larger storylines are piling up, and the only one that gets any play here is the one that gained no traction in earlier episodes. “My Kingdom” goes into the record books as “The Episode Where Elliot And Paul Flowers Break Up,” but that’s hardly memorable given that I had trouble remembering Paul existed between these weekly reviews. Ricky Schroder’s performance never breaks free from a character who was introduced as dull and eventually devolves into insufferable, to the point where Elliot’s regret over the end of their relationship feels downright nonsensical; Paul spends this episode criticizing her every decision, refusing to allow her to fight her own battles, and just generally being a righteous asshat (if you’ll pardon my German). Watching the end of the relationship play out is cathartic (in a sense), but it also fails to acknowledge that the pairing only serves to strand Elliot in a non-starter of a storyline for a handful of episodes.
The central storyline of J.D. having trouble navigating his new surgery elective is more interesting, albeit ephemeral. The show has played around with the dynamic between medical and surgery in the past, but here the Jock/Nerd binary is exaggerated further in order to explore J.D. and Turk’s friendship. It’s a storyline driven more by moments than by any larger conclusions: the pimp entrance is among the show’s more memorable fantasy images, Turk’s ballet is fun, and, for the first time, we see J.D. order an appletini—a drink order that will define the character for the rest of the series. The conclusion here is that they can be friends without J.D. becoming “one of them,” a fairly simple conclusion that perhaps undersells the potential ramifications of the storyline (given that it excludes Turk from the “lesson”). It’s far from bad, but it definitely feels slight given the ideas introduced in “My T.C.W.” and then abandoned by “My Kingdom.”
Dr. Cox is similarly pulled away from an ongoing storyline (the birth of his son and the fact that he doesn’t know it’s his), but he’s merely a catalyst in “My Kingdom.” While there’s pleasure in Perry’s “Dr. Kelso is dead” prank, it’s also part of a long string of storylines in which Perry goads Kelso into a brief window of self-awareness regarding his feelings. I understand why the show goes to this well, as Ken Jenkins is brilliant at turning on an emotional dime in ways that make his sadness sharp and his subsequent cruelness sharper, but there’s a point at which the well starts to run dry. However, the standalone nature of this plot stuck out to me in a bad way. The ending—where Kelso has a Tom Sawyer moment and effectively attends his own funeral—is facile, as it’s clear that whatever lesson is learned will be entirely forgotten an episode later.
While I knew these storylines would be ephemeral based on my knowledge of what was coming later in the season, I’d argue they’re ephemeral even without that knowledge. Not every sitcom episode needs to feel like it’s the start of a larger storyline, but there’s a point where episodes like “My Kingdom” start to read as filler, and this late in the season, it’s tough to be too excited about developments that are eventually overlooked.
“My Interpretation” (season 2, episode 20; originally aired 04/03/2003)
There are a lot of plot developments in “My Interpretation,” which follows J.D. navigating a relationship with the newly designated Tasty Coma Widow and Perry trying to bond with a baby he doesn’t know is his. I like how those plots develop, weighing on the consciences of the two characters as they try to work through their issues and understand their role in circumstances in which they face considerable mental barriers.
Before we get into that: This is a really tremendous episode for Sarah Chalke. After spending a few episodes languishing in a dead-end relationship, Elliot is allowed to return to supporting-character status within the larger dramas, and her integration into both Turk’s sex dreams and J.D.’s interaction with his patient are hugely successful.
While more fans may remember the former—particularly those who, quite logically, find the image of Chalke in a naughty nurse outfit appealing—it’s the latter I found irresistible here. When Chalke speaks German, she captures the confidence of the character while also highlighting her oddities. While the fantasy Elliot isn’t a real person, there are parts of Elliot’s character that equally suggest she is a figment of our imagination, and seeing that come to life as a collection of German caricatures is a reminder that Chalke, when not stuck in a relationship with Ricky Schroder, is a huge asset to this show.
One of the other strong parts of “My Interpretation” is that J.D.’s storyline isn’t entirely about Jamie. Although she appears as a fantasy at one point, she’s really only involved directly as a bookend, with the rest of the episode focusing on J.D. going about his business and trying to avoid the issue. That business takes the form of storylines that, while eventually converging with his issues with Jamie, ultimately stand on their own. The storylines fold into one another nicely: J.D. discovering the Janitor’s melanoma forces him to get over an awkward situation and get things out in the open, which pushes him to come clean to Mr. Mueller regarding his pancreatic cancer after his brother tried to protect him, which then makes him realize that he’s been protecting Jamie when she should be allowed to make her own decision about when it’s right to move on from her husband’s death. Neither of those storylines explicitly serve as a thematic parallel—a nice change of pace from the traditional medical-procedural structure—but pivoting off of them gets J.D. to the realization that closes the episode. As J.D. interrupts Jamie’s dinner with her dead husband’s parents, an awkward moment that even “99 Luftballons” can’t fix, he’s nonetheless acting on an impulse that develops naturally over the course of the episode.
It echoes the way Dr. Cox comes to feel for Jordan’s newborn son. When the baby responds to “Jack” positively, and Jordan agrees to stick with the name, Perry realizes that he’s made a connection with the child even if he didn’t feel it himself. The power of having influence over someone, and seeing them love you in return, is central to all human relationships, but watching people on my Facebook feed navigate the early days of parenthood would suggest this is especially true of the relationship between a parent and a child. While most parents don’t start with the same disconnect as Perry, it’s touching to see him won over by a little smile—we’re still due for the truth to come out, but this brief moment demonstrates that knowledge of blood relation is not a prerequisite to having your heart warmed by a baby’s smile.
It’s awkward to transition from objectifying Sarah Chalke’s German accent to the power of a baby’s smile—such is “My Interpretation.” While working as a single thematic unit, the episode also successfully mixes in smaller details, like references to Turk and Carla’s wedding and a running gag where Laverne plays busybody. It’s a balance that captures the show at its best, and “My Interpretation” is a nice entry point into the final two installments of the season.
- While it’s just a “Chekhov’s Circular Saw” given its eventual use to cut up Kelso’s beloved table (which is equally foreshadowed in an overly obvious fashion), I enjoy the Janitor’s struggle to find a use for the tool—his mental push-and-pull considering cutting off his own finger is particularly fun.
- It’s amusing, and kind of depressing, that the appletini bit would become so definitive for J.D. as a character—my students were writing fan fiction this week, and one of them used J.D. as a character, and appletinis were one of the identifying characteristics offered in just a brief 250-word story. I wish the character was more than that—but the quirks are starting to add up.
- Speaking of J.D., I’m not sure how I feel about his incompetence at surgery, particularly dropping the heart—a lot of “My Kingdom” relies on exaggeration, but that sells the character short.
- Sound life choice from Elliot: “You’re right—I’ve got to stop touching my pits and rubbing them on people.” The grammar is less sound, though—what, precisely, does them refer to, Elliot? And this has been “Grammar Police Ruin a Perfectly Fine Joke.” Same time next week?
- Leslie David Baker, Stanley on The Office, makes an appearance to mark a convergence between my TV Club Classic and TV Club gigs.
- This entire review was written with “99 Luftballons” and “99 Red Balloons” playing on an infinite loop, in case you were wondering.
Next week: The second season of Scrubs comes to a close with a drama queen and a dream job.