“My New Coat” (season 2, episode 5; originally aired 10/24/2002)
It was inevitable that we would come to an episode of Scrubs about which I have tremendously little to say, and it’s almost impressive that it’s taken us until the second season. This is not to say that “My New Coat” is a terrible episode—if it were, I’d probably have more to say about it. Instead, it’s the episodic manifestation of the random blonde-haired male surgeon introduced within it: milquetoast to its very core.
Quite frankly, there’s just nothing here to discuss that we haven’t already dealt with. J.D.’s storyline may feature the eponymous costume change, but it’s just another variation on the realities of being a doctor, and one which features neither a compelling patient (a man who loses his sense of smell) nor a subtlety in its moralizing. Similarly, Turk’s struggle dealing with the boys club of surgery is just another storyline about the balance between friends and fraternity, summarized all too clearly by a speech from the diminutive Dr. Amato. We haven’t exactly dealt with Elliot randomly sleeping with the aforementioned blonde surgeon before, but her path to self-identification with “Elliot Read: Tramp” fits too comfortably into a bland identity theme that we’ve seen too many times before. And while there are a few decent moments for Dr. Cox in the episode, they were all part of yet another “Dr. Cox challenges Dr. Kelso’s authority” storyline that doesn’t even bother to link back to his struggles to overcome this tendency back at the start of the season (with Christa Miller’s Jordan still on the bench after that early appearance).
Obviously, sitcoms are going to repeat storylines, so I don’t necessarily think the show should be blamed for this. Equally, these storylines are generally executed well, and there are some nice moments around them (like the Janitor and his white coat, or Ted’s birthday, or the “Mistake” opera singer). However, given the current state of the show moving into the body of the second season, there’s just nothing for this episode to hang onto. At least from my perspective, we didn’t need another episode hitting on these themes, and for the first time it really felt like the show was resting on its laurels. Rather than feeling like a story with any sense of purpose, it felt like a bunch of ideas that got thrown together and then wrapped up in a pretty bow by a series of monologues and voiceovers. It’s likely far from the worst episode of Scrubs, but for someone writing about every episode, it was an unfortunately empty experience.
“My Big Brother” (season 2, episode 6; originally aired 10/31/2002)
Tom Cavanagh didn’t qualify as a television star in 2002, but he was still starring in a successful series on NBC, the charming Ed, when “My Big Brother” debuted. As a result, his appearance in “My Big Brother” technically counts as another piece of network synergy similar to last season’s Sean Hayes cameo. The difference between the two guest spots is that Cavanagh also looks a whole lot like Zach Braff, and is extremely well cast in the role of J.D.’s brother Dan. From his first scene antagonizing Dr. Cox, Cavanagh gives Dan the exact right mix of charm and smarm to create both a resemblance to and a power over J.D.
There’s not a lot of difference between the introduction of a sitcom character’s parents—which we saw back in “My Old Man”—and the introduction of their older siblings, as each are based around living up to expectations. The main distinction is that the power dynamics are more fluid: While it is clear from the moment Dan arrives and places J.D. in a headlock that the older brother holds a higher position within the sibling hierarchy, it’s a position that grows tenuous given J.D.’s professional success and Dan’s relative professional failure. The relationship between a parent and a child is flexible to some degree, but the relationship between siblings can shift much more readily.
While I can’t say that my older brother and I have ever faced a situation like the one featured in “My Big Brother,” the basic framework of their sibling relationship is familiar to me. By positioning Dan romantically between J.D. and Elliot, the show gets to play with the power dynamics which allow J.D. to be a bit indignant, a bit superior, and ultimately a bit cruel. What I like about the restaurant scene, even if J.D. lays it out too blatantly in voiceover, is that J.D. isn’t doing anything specifically terrible. His defense of Dan’s “bartender living at home with Mom” existence isn’t meant as mockery, but it’s also not actually a defense of Dan. J.D. is just making himself feel better, an inherently selfish response that is understandable if also reprehensible.
While J.D.’s voiceover does prove a bit overbearing in the episode—it lays out the key themes at key moments too often—the storyline works because it reaches an ambiguous conclusion. Was it cruel for J.D. to point out that Dan is only driving a car across the country because he wants to imagine that he has a better life (which, at one point, J.D. suggests is his own)? Or was his speech an honest response to someone who doesn’t have their life on track and who needs motivation to do something about it? What we witness in the episode is a transformative moment in their relationship, and Cavanagh and Braff’s respective performances sell it as such despite the fact that the relationship didn’t even exist 20 minutes earlier. Given the weight this relationship will tragically carry in future episodes, the introduction here was more important than the writers or actors could have realized at the time, and I really like the nuance with which the sibling dynamic is introduced and—quite importantly—unresolved.
There’s less to say about the rest of the episode—but more than in “My New Coat,” there is that feeling of observing the goings-on at a hospital rather than a collection of pre-packaged storylines dropping into the space. This is not to say that Turk’s lesson about not being able to grieve over every patient was a particularly novel thematic turn, but Donald Faison and John C. McGinley have great chemistry, and Turk/Cox storylines are so much better now that their shared love for Carla is out of the picture.
I also enjoyed that Halloween happens in the background of the episode. The reveal of Dr. Kelso as the gorilla is one of those character moments that comes out of nowhere but contributes nicely to the “Sometimes you just want to be a kid again” moment in the conclusion. I liked also that this theme was less a recurring idea and more an eventual convergence, offering a subtle spin on a typical Scrubs lesson and bringing together a solid episode.
- Not to nitpick, but Neil Flynn is way too tall for that gorilla suit mixup to be plausible—the gorilla is clearly way shorter. However, I do love that “Folder Fling” sequence, so I’ll accept that J.D. exaggerated the gorilla’s size out of fear.
- There is no shortage of sequences with Turk dancing in them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them every time.
- Something felt completely off about that funeral sequence to me: Carla was too flippant, the women were too one-dimensional, etc. Anyone else feel this way?
- Things Elliot should not (or, depending on your stake in the matter, should) yell in a bar: “Do me! Do me!”
- A note for Scrubs fans: Tomorrow night’s episode of Cougar Town marks Sarah Chalke’s arrival on the cul-de-sac, so if the fact that Scrubs and Cougar Town share a co-creator wassn’t enough to get you to tune in—there you go. Seriously, though, are there any of you who aren’t watching Cougar Town? You have no excuse.