“My Own Personal Jesus” (season 1, episode 11; date aired 12/11/2001)
Without knowing too much of the story behind this particular Christmas episode, it presents an odd mash-up of three separate strategies one can take when it comes to celebrating holidays.
The first is the idea of exploring how the show’s premise would be impacted by the holiday, which in the case of Scrubs is pretty easy given that hospitals would be an incredibly busy (and on many levels problematic) space during the Christmas season. The second strategy, meanwhile, is to explore how individual characters approach the season, with their feelings about the holiday (whether cheerful or Scrooge-like) becoming a driving force within the narrative development. The third strategy, of course, is to pile on a large collection of seasonal iconography, here manifesting as the little star of “The Christmas Tree in the Park” and the miraculous pregnancy which eventually turns into a Live Nativity.
It shouldn’t be surprising, exactly, that Scrubs of all series would try to cram in as much as possible, but something about “My Own Personal Jesus” just never quite adds up. As much as I enjoy the holiday season, and often enjoy holiday episodes of particular series, this one feels like it came out of left field for both Elliot and Turk. While the J.D. and Cox story is generally effective, it’s also the most disconnected from the holiday, allowing it to feel as though it had been less manipulated to fit into a particular set of expectations.
For Turk, it’s not so much that I doubt the credulity of the storyline as it is that I don’t know if the show can so quickly create a crisis of faith when they haven’t really dealt with his faith before. I buy that a doctor working an overnight shift on Christmas Eve and seeing how the pain and suffering of the world doesn’t stop in recognition of Jesus’ birth would be disheartening, and I can imagine that that experience is something common among doctors (and potentially something that came from the “real J.D.” that served as a consultant on the show). However, it felt too much like a common experience rather than a character-specific one, his faith manifesting too suddenly (and too forcefully) for the loss of that faith to hold any great meaning. The theme could work if the character had been positioned as religious, or if the show had more explicitly dealt with religious themes in the past, but the sudden introduction makes the theme-ness of the episode more apparent (and limits the utility of this story to Turk as a character, neutralizing it as an episodic story with no long-term ramifications).
The same sort of goes for Elliot. Although we could see the storyline as an extension of Elliot’s battle with Dr. Cox over issues of gender stereotypes, and we’ve established that the character is particularly neurotic, the idea that she would so quickly refuse to deal with the girl’s pregnancy felt like an extreme circumstance that was forced by the story more than the character. I think this storyline actually would have worked much better outside of the holiday setting, without the sense that Elliot’s sudden concern with pregnancy was conveniently introduced based around the Mary figure in the episode. There’s nothing wrong with the storyline in theory, likely another experience that many female doctors go through, but its connection to Elliot as a character felt (again) situational rather than personal in this instance.
None of this is to suggest that the episode isn’t successful in its central goals—for instance, I really like J.D.’s “Turk as Minister” fantasy, so even if I don’t think it lands on the whole there are still some strong moments. Meanwhile, the Cox and J.D. storyline, as they attempt to cover up J.D.’s failed attempt to videotape the birth of Jordan and Perry’s friends’ baby, offers a welcome return for Christa Miller, and generally delivers with some good laughs (I particularly enjoy the cutaway to Jordan deciding not to buy the picture book adaptation of their pre-natal lice story, a wonderfully literal bit of work). And while I may be skeptical about its connection to particular characters, I do think that the emotional ending ends up working nicely: Turk’s run to the park, and everyone coming together for the holidays, does resonate as a reflection of the Christmas spirit, and I’m not so Scrooge-like as to not pick up what is put down in this instance.
I just wish that, after picking it up, I had any reason to hold onto it—while many of the various episodes highlighted in our TV Club Advent Calendar have been the kinds of things you remember and want to return to, “My Own Personal Jesus” never reaches the level of meaning necessary to establish it as an evergreen holiday special—instead, it’s just another first-season episode as the show explores itself.
“My Blind Date” (season 1, episode 12; date aired 01/08/2002)
One of my favorite things about “My Blind Date” is the way the central conceit is built into the story: What feels like a typical Janitor-J.D. interaction in fact lays the seeds for Alex Hansen’s fall, and what feels like a simple bit of slapstick actually works to justify the “Doctor flirts with a girl stuck in an MRI” storyline that we’ve seen a hundred times before (or, less facetiously, that is very much a contrived but unique sitcom construct that the episode works fairly hard to earn).
It’s a storyline that doesn’t necessarily reflect well on J.D., given his reluctance to expand on their flirtations until he knows what she looks like. While being inside J.D.’s head allows us to come to empathize with the character, it also reveals qualities that we might view less generously. At the same time, though, J.D.’s most pointed exclamation regarding his somewhat limiting position — “My heart hates uggos”—is not an internal observation but rather an answer to a question by Carla. It’s also an answer that comes instantly: The joke itself makes me laugh, but it’s the speed at which J.D. defaults to that position which recognizes it as a long-standing belief rather than a split-second judgment. While we have very little filter from J.D.’s inner-most thoughts, they aren’t necessarily hidden from those around him, which means that others in the episode get to render judgment on his uggos policy (and there isn’t necessarily a huge gulf between our understanding of the character and the perception of other characters).
I don’t necessarily blame J.D. for this position, as it’s not like you can necessarily predict you’re going to end up in this situation and have a non-shallow response at the ready. Their flirtations are fun and harmless, silly in a way that would appeal to J.D. but without seeming too unnatural given the inherent silliness the situation could devolve into. More importantly, however, the episode weaves in and out of the MRI room, treating it almost like a runner rather than a prominent storyline in its own right. J.D.’s mobility within the episode means that we never have to linger on the ridiculousness, and the brief bits of Dr. Kelso and Ted are nice punctuations rather than something we need to focus on. In fact, we don’t have time to focus on it, much as J.D. doesn’t have time to focus on it, which makes it the centerpiece of the episode without necessarily crowding out the two stories with which it is explicitly connected.
I like how the introduction of Alex is handled, and I’ll have more to say about the character (and J.D.’s relationship patterns in general) next week, but this episode is really about the other two storylines. On the one hand, while it seems that your mileage might vary in regards to Carla, this is a pivotal episode for Turk and Carla’s relationship, the “I love you” moment that moves about as quickly as the rest of their courtship. While so many relationships on television are drawn out, will-they, won’t-they affairs (like, I don’t know, a certain relationship on this show), Turk and Carla were never really in doubt, so it’s fitting that it’s something small (here Carla taking Turk’s fries) that sets off his doubts. Playing it through Michael McDonald’s acerbic patient (whom we actually met back in “My Day Off”) is smart, as it allows their relationship to remain cold without entirely icing (See what I did there?) the comedy, and the eventual reveal that he’s frustrated because he loves her despite how much she annoys him fits the tone of their relationship and provides the impulse to push J.D. to take a chance on Alex before she makes her way out of the MRI.
As much as the show’s romantic identity would become marred by the drawn-out fate of J.D. and Elliot, Turk and Carla’s relationship is handled really well in the first season. There are actually some very clear parallels between Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother in this instance, as Turk and Carla, like Marshall and Lily, form a pillar of romantic aspiration to which J.D., like Ted, aspires. I’ll likely expand on the “J.D. as Ted” comparison next week, but I quite like the dramatic material for Turk and Carla here, and generally enjoy the way their relationship develops over the course of the series (albeit with a few caveats in later seasons).
However, my favorite storyline here is easily Dr. Cox’s race for a “perfect game,” not only because it’s fun to watch John C. McGinley take complete and total control of the episode in every scene, but also because his interactions with Elliot are a key moment for the series as a whole. It was just last week in “My Nickname” that we got a concentrated dose of these two characters interacting together, but the sidelining of J.D. necessitates Elliot to take a larger role (provided of course, that we accept that no other non-speaking intern could have taken the role—I’m sure they’re all terrible at their jobs, anyways), and results in some really fun, yet meaningful, interactions.
Obviously, the “Help me to help you” runner is perhaps one of the most famous—with the “Elliot as overeager baseball catcher” fantasy a particular favorite of mine as well—but it’s the final scene that really sticks with me. On the one hand, it’s Elliot standing up to Dr. Cox, taking a leap of faith and suggesting that the other doctors need this perfect game to maintain their sanity. However, more importantly, Dr. Cox effectively sums up the medical profession in his refusal to fake the perfect game, suggesting that another game starts in a few minutes. Like many quasi-procedurals, Scrubs exists in a universe where what has happened before will happen again, and the challenge of that would be felt not only by the viewers (who sit through similar episodes week after week) but also, logically, by the characters themselves. There is nothing more frustrating than a crime procedural that seeks to be realistic but yet never seems to accumulate any sort of impact on the show’s characters. Here, that impact is very much embedded in how the characters interact with one another, as notions of temporality and seriality converge in a moment that feels indicative of the series’ broader appeal.
While the show may have been biting off more than it could chew with three separate stories in every episode, here we see the value of bringing them together: As “My Blind Date” comes to an end, the resolution of two stories feed into the third, and the subsequent convergence helps make an episode which could have technically felt gimmicky resonate as one of the early examples of what Scrubs can accomplish when it is at its most effective.
- While the Janitor effectively appears in both episodes, it is in a pretty marginalized fashion (perhaps more marginalized than in other episodes in which he appears)—while I very much support the show’s eventual decision to better integrate Neil Flynn and the character into the cast, I do think that this more marginal role better allows the central storylines to breathe, and it might be interesting to imagine a world in which the character was dropped rather than being added as a regular (not to see if the show would be better, mind you, but to see how different it would be). I love me a good counterfactual.
- While I do have issues with the plot and character elements of “My Own Personal Jesus,” the “Twelve Days of Christmas” riff was quite fun. The Scrubs Wiki has the full lyrics.
- “It’s a bouncing baby boy—and another soldier in the fight against Communism.” [I love the entire runner about the ’50s child-birth videos, but the extension into the doctor who delivers the baby really cracks me up.]
- Sorry to be light on quotes this week, but I’ve got papers to grade—feel free to, as always, chime in with your own below!