“My Lucky Day” (season 2, episode 9; originally aired 12/05/2002)
One of the biggest challenges in making an ensemble sitcom is giving the impression that every character’s life keeps going even when that character isn’t onscreen or the center of attention.
Another challenge is managing to tell coherent stories when you’ve established that every character’s life keeps going even when that character isn’t onscreen or the center of attention.
At this point in its second season, after getting off to a slow start, narratively speaking, (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to be clear), Scrubs has a lot of balls in the air. On top of the adjustment to residency—which continues to drive the three central characters on an implicit level even in episodes where they have other storylines—Elliot is dealing with a financial crisis tied to an identity crisis, while Perry is officially in a relationship with a pregnant Jordan, which adds to his general issues balancing his pride with his legitimate desire to help J.D. et al. Neither storyline fundamentally changes the characters, but it presents a new narrative detail that the show has to deal with, something that has been largely absent in the second season to this point.
While other characters aren’t undergoing similar transformations as “My Lucky Day” begins, there are changes nonetheless. J.D. has transcended “confident” and emerged as a cocky young doctor, while Carla’s type-A personality is more exaggerated in light of the growing drama around her. We’ve known J.D. to be capable of selfishness and boastfulness, and we are aware that Carla enjoys meddling in others’ affairs; unless my memory is fooling me, the show has used the “Carla insists she is not X, and then we cut immediately to X” move before, repetition that might be more problematic were it not doubly evocative of the character trait the show tries to convey.
“My Lucky Day” amps up Elliot’s identity crisis, J.D.’s cockiness, and Carla’s nosy nature in order to hold them accountable for each, a strategy which encapsulates their character development within a tightly constructed thematic unit. I realize that this seems like an over-complication of sitcom structure, but it’s key to the show’s ability to balance its ensemble. It’s also something that is more easily facilitated within the single camera format, especially given Scrubs’ penchant for the montage (here in the form of a sequence scored to Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” an unimpeachable selection). At the risk of getting too academic: The montage has often been strongly linked with postmodernity, and I’m wondering if Scrubs (as one of the first prominent single-camera comedies, and certainly one of the first to engage in the montage with this level of frequency) might be a definitively postmodern sitcom, and whether that has allowed it to better embrace the breadth of the ensemble (in addition to its first-person narrative, of course, which reinforces the centering function of the montage).
I’ll save my exploration of that theory for my dissertation, but my ultimate point is that the montage is the glue that keeps “My Lucky Day” together. In truth, Ellliot’s characterization here is a broad, and the repetitiveness of Carla’s “lesson” is problematic even before it’s more or less repeated in the following episode. However, by weaving together their lessons with the quiet evolution of Perry and Jordan’s relationship (and with J.D. receiving yet another lesson on what it means to be a doctor), the episode achieves that feeling of cohesion within chaos.
“My Monster” (season 2, episode 10; originally aired 12/12/2002)
Another strategy, if you don’t want to bridge together characters by theme, is to bring them together based on location instead. “My Monster” is not the first episode to consider the influence of the hospital on the people who work within it, but it’s the first to so clearly characterize the hospital as an all-encompassing force within the lives of these characters.
I’ll spare you my postmodern analysis of the show’s use of space and time in the episode, but it is successful in bringing together the characters around something that doesn’t easily boil down to a moral. There’s a moment in the episode where Perry, Turk, and J.D. all commiserate over their issues with their respective partners, and it’s a key moment for the evolution of the ensemble: While the characters have been linked thematically before, we’ve never seen those links manifest within real conversations. Even though Perry insists that the conversation didn’t actually happen, the fact that it did brings us one step closer to bridging the two generations, and making it easier for the ensemble to appear as a fluid ecosystem rather than a strict hierarchy.
It’s also a funny sequence. While much of this review has focused on structure, those structures are designed to facilitate comedy as well as narrative or thematic value, and “My Monster” is evidence of this. One of the best problems that comes with having a large ensemble is that you have plenty of weapons, especially with Scrubs’ “B Team” always waiting in the wings. The Todd’s nonchalant shrug as he takes yet another shot at inviting Elliot to move into his pants made me laugh a great deal, but it has nothing to do with narrative or themes.
A theme does eventually emerge out of the episode, of course, and it leads to a major narrative development: after determining that the stress of being trapped in the “Monster” of Sacred Heart is best alleviated by relying on the friends and loved ones who help keep you afloat, and after Elliot decides to stay at J.D. and Turk’s apartment instead of sleeping in a van, she and J.D. control of their hormones and engage in the dreaded intercourse.
We’ll discuss the trajectory of this particular stage in J.D. and Elliot’s relationship next week, but note that it’s nearly identical to their initial tryst in the first season. It emerges just as J.D. suffers a letdown with another woman (here Lisa the Gift Shop Girl, a pre-Ellie Bartowski Sarah Lancaster), it begins in J.D. and Turk’s apartment, and we head into the cliffhanger unclear of what their relationship will be when we return. Although it’s possible the writers were simply struggling to come up with another idea, I’d like to think it’s a purposeful suggestion that this is simply how life works: Regardless of how you might line things up, or what themes you might lay out, or what contrivances you might create between a romantic couplings, sometimes sex just happens.
Scrubs is a more coherent show because of its commitment to thematic storytelling, bridging together its ensemble within individual episodes, but it’s a more daring show based on its willingness to have the narrative travel in directions that would seem to diverge from those themes without warning. It’s a delicate balance between structure and spontaneity, and it’s one the show handled extremely well when it was at its best in these early seasons.
- I know we had a big, long discussion about Cougar Town a few weeks ago, but I figure that even those who never took to the series have likely seen and enjoyed the Scrubs-centered coda at the end of last week’s (very strong) episode, “A One Story Town.”
- Another strategy to manage a growing ensemble: don’t feature part of the ensemble. “My Lucky Day” is a Janitor-free half-hour. I wonder if there were discussions at the time about whether or not the show was better without him, à la Sue Sylvester on Glee; I somehow doubt it, given that the Janitor is a far more consistent character, but one never knows.
- I don’t know if it was purposeful, but I enjoy that there’s an implicit Jeffersons reference in the early scene in Elliot’s apartment in “My Lucky Day,” while the show becomes a source of foreplay for Turk and Carla in “My Monster.”
- While I will personally never get tired of cameo appearances from David Copperfield or references to Jewel living in her van, they do date the series for new audiences who only know David Copperfield as that magician dude in the insurance commercials and who know Jewel as the host of Bravo’s Platinum Hit. (I will say, though, that Copperfield’s delivery of “Oh ho Magic” is damn good).
- The Coral’s “Dreaming of You” provides a really great backdrop to what is a really well designed final scene in “My Monster”—well-shot, well-realized, and… okay, yes, Sarah Chalke is also very desirable in the sequence in question. Let’s just get it out there.
Next week: With great sex with your ex comes great responsiblity. And awkwardness.