“My Own Private Practice Guy” (season 2, episode 17; originally aired 03/13/2003)
We’re not yet at the point where Neil Flynn’s Janitor is a full-fledged member of the Scrubs cast who’s able to carry storylines of his own. However, “My Own Private Practice Guy” marks the first instance in which a character other than J.D. is involved in one of the Janitor’s runners. After showing a measure of kindness to Elliot by fixing her pager, the Janitor is interrogated by J.D., who wants Elliot to know about the cruelty and hardship the man has caused him over the course of the past two seasons.
Of course, on the surface, there is no evidence of this history: The show has steadfastly avoided having the Janitor’s treatment of J.D. connect with other storylines, to the point where it could be seen as a figment of his imagination. I personally never bought into that argument, perhaps because the show is otherwise so stringent in the delineation of its real and fantasy worlds, but it creates a circumstance where Elliot has no reason to believe J.D.’s conspiracy theory. As far as she’s concerned, looking at the surface of the issue, the Janitor is the very definition of a friendly chap.
On the surface, Jay Mohr’s Pete is similarly friendly. While his reputation as a private-practice doctor suggests a degree of conceitedness, Pete is a nice guy: gregarious, charming, and interested in befriending J.D. as well as helping his patient. He’s also a character who has a history with the hospital, which J.D. reads on the level Pete offers—Dr. Cox, formerly Pete’s mentor, is upset with him for choosing to go into private practice while Perry is forced to remain in the dump that is Sacred Heart.
This surface reading provides some useful thematic parallels. J.D. is able to go to Pete for advice on dealing with Dr. Cox, even using one of Pete’s strategies for disarming his mentor’s rants with some measure of success, and there’s even a potential avenue to consider the future (as J.D. might eventually make a similar decision to go into private practice, a decision the show explores through another character later in its run). It becomes another investigation of mentorship between these two characters, adding to the complication of J.D. knowing that Perry is the father of Jordan’s baby.
And yet the episode flips the script: It turns out that this isn’t the simple case of professional jealousy Pete suggested, but rather a long-standing conflict that provides the origin story for Jordan and Perry’s divorce. In a critique of J.D.’s self-centeredness, he discovers that this isn’t about him—rather than a story about the immediate present, it’s an insight into a past we haven’t seen, an origin that to this point the show hasn’t considered. While Perry and Jordan’s breakup was made logical through their respective characterizations as difficult people, “My Private Practice Guy” seeks to move beyond that surface, but only after a bit of narrative subterfuge up to the point where Perry literally tackles Pete to the ground. It’s a moment that you think might be a fantasy until we return to the scene and discover it was a real moment of hurt and frustration.
Jay Mohr isn’t a great actor, but he’s well-cast here as someone who is childlike enough to serve as a pal to J.D. and man-like enough to conceivably go toe-to-toe with Perry. It’s a role that is never allowed to become too comedic (based on where the storyline heads), but nonetheless strikes a nice balance.
Similarly, John C. McGinley has a couple of strong moments in “My Own Private Practice Guy,” always able (at least at this point in the show’s run) to pull back from the broader side of the character to demonstrate the gravity of this relationship and his honest efforts to make good on his second chance with Jordan. Pete’s arrival isn’t used as a contrived speed bump in this relationship, as Jordan never interacts with the character. Instead, it becomes a stark reminder of a past he wants to avoid, a past that adds more weight to both Perry’s relationship with Jordan and his relationship with J.D. (in whom he confides late in the episode).
The rest of the episode is more of a throwaway, with the arousal-based narcoleptic a cheap plot device to probe Carla’s post-engagement self-image issues and Kelso’s battle with Turk over their respective stress-relief activities. It’s a charming if silly diversion, but that little twist creates a strong character moment to anchor the episode’s contribution to the season.
“My T.C.W.” (season 2, episode 18; originally aired 03/20/2003)
Although the title of this episode calls attention to her objectification—represented by yet another well-lit, wind machine-assisted, fantasy introduction—Jamie (the “Tasty Coma Wife” in question) is actually given more agency than many love interests on television. While she happens to be paired with our protagonist, she has a history of her own (tying back to our conversation about Pete above): After standing by her comatose husband for two years, Jamie is lonely, and connects with J.D. in order to keep from feeling like she’s going to be alone forever. Although “My T.C.W.” largely focuses on the ethical dilemma of J.D. pursuing a relationship with her, Jamie also has her own agency in this scenario, and her own ethical dilemmas to confront.
It doesn’t render Jamie the most complicated sitcom love interest in history, but it ensures that J.D.’s dilemma doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t a question of whether he should date a coma patient’s wife; instead, it’s a question about whether he should date Jamie, a coma patient’s wife who has shown every sign that she is ready to move on with her life. Although the acronym dehumanizes the character, the episode itself turns Jamie into a real person remarkably quickly, already outstripping Ricky Schroder’s dull Paul in terms of a sense of personality and purpose.
Amy Smart recently did a suitably unhinged arc on Showtime’s Shameless, but here she’s a charmingly normal woman who finds herself in a difficult situation. There’s a natural chemistry between Smart and Zach Braff, most evident in the scene at the bar, which makes you wish that these arcs didn’t have to self-start as much as they do. Given that she had been coming to the hospital for a few weeks, the writers would have ideally worked Jamie into previous episodes, planting the seeds for this development and allowing their chemistry to emerge more gradually. However, that would require additional time that wasn’t available in those episodes, and additional money to give Smart more screentime, realities that necessitate the zero to 60 plotting that defines “My T.C.W.” (and most television relationships—just look at last week’s Suburgatory, which squeezed both a meet-cute and a first date into the cold open).
“My T.C.W.” is a smart episode, though, and it’s about more than the beginning of this relationship. While divisive depending on how one feels about J.D., positioning him as a single character amid a group of couples—all of whom are fighting over the fact that the person they’re with isn’t meeting their every expectation—engenders some sympathy for the the guy. The final sequence in which J.D. imagines himself as alone in a busy hospital is on-the-nose, but his outburst in the cafeteria makes a lot of sense to me. For J.D., Jamie represents more than just an ethical dilemma: She represents the chance to not be alone, something that the people judging him for pursuing her can’t relate to at this point in time. It’s a realistic scene that Braff handles well, toeing that line between reasonableness and self-righteousness.
The episode around it is less successful, which is apparently a theme this week: Carla discovering Ralphie ate the ring is cute without adding anything of substance to their relationship, Elliot and Paul’s jerky fight is a trifle given how uninteresting Paul is, and Dr. Cox’s struggles with Jordan are pretty standard postpartum fare. But in the end, they all feel like rudimentary plots designed to lead into J.D.’s big speech. As a result, the ultimate success of “My T.C.W.” depends less on the episode itself and more on how it transitions from J.D.’s big speech into the final four episodes of the season.
- The show doesn’t often deal with race explicitly, but we see two instances of it here: first the sports conversation in “My Private Practice Guy” (“Y’all got hockey”), and then the crossword misunderstanding in “My T.C.W.” that leads into the Janitor runner with Ralphie’s vomiting.
- I enjoyed the little moment where J.D., believing he’s found a kindred spirit, realizes that the girls’ names from Dr. Cox belong exclusively to him.
- I always wonder how shows like Scrubs balance out physical humor. There are a lot of instances of physical humor in “My T.C.W.,” and I’m wondering if this was intentional or just a preference of a particular writer (in this case Bill Lawrence himself).
Next week: J.D. invades Turk’s kingdom, and the T.C.W. acronym gets a new W.