“My Sex Buddy” (season 2, episode 11; originally aired 01/02/2003) and “My New Old Friend” (season 2, episode 12; originally aired 01/09/2003)
My memory of Scrubs isn’t a steel trap, as I’ve discussed in the past, but it’s particularly slippery when it comes to Elliot and J.D.’s relationship.
Such is the peril of a long-running series with a long-running relationship that keeps weaving in and out of the central narrative: the more times the relationship weaves in and out, the more we begin to devalue to consider the relationship as a whole rather than as the sum of its parts. We might still know that the relationship is important, but we might stop thinking about what made specific flare-ups (to perhaps unfairly equate it to an STI) unique or meaningful.
Returning to “My Sex Buddy” and “My New Old Friend,” we see an installment in J.D. and Elliot’s relationship that I had little memory of. It isn’t one of those big season-ending moments, and it’s also not something that we could see as a major love triangle (with Lisa the Gift Shop Girl present, perhaps, but certainly not a viable love interest on the level of Sean). It’s a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things, which tends to reduce it within our retrospective perceptions of the series.
However, I like these episodes and what they do for these two characters. As with the bedroom sequence that started it off in “My Monster,” it’s messy and “real” in ways that later contrivances in the relationship are not. These characters aren’t yet at a point in their lives, in both their relationships with one another and in terms of their general maturity, to have the kind of conversation they’ll be having in six seasons which puts their entire situation into perspective. “My Sex Buddy” shows the two characters exploring something they both want despite knowing it’s not going to turn out well, an experience that leaves them in two very different positions by the beginning of “My New Old Friend”: While Elliot finds a sense of purpose from her refusal to fall into a romantic relationship when she really needs to take a stand for herself, even if that stand involves her sitting in the middle of an empty apartment crying, J.D. falls into the trap of falling in love with a bad idea all over again.
As I write this, the macro-level dynamics of their relationship are dominant in my mind. Is it objectively a bad idea for J.D. and Elliot to be together? My opinion on that issue shifted so often during the series, eventually settling at around the time the show itself chose to make a decision in the eighth season, so the temporality is all out of whack. However, these episodes make an argument for why it would be a bad idea in that particular moment, an argument that it’s hard to disagree with. Complain we might about how long the show strings along the question of J.D. and Elliot’s relationship status, but this particular interval feels like a natural occurrence: two crazy kids in a high-stress environment falling into old habits as a coping mechanism.
It all works because the show doesn’t try to pretend that this is going to be an installment in the epic saga of J.D. and Elliot. One of my favorite moments in the episodes is when Carla almost nonchalantly brings it up in conversation in “My New Old Friend” as their eating lunch in the cafeteria — this isn’t a moment of revelation, or of drama, but rather a simple acknowledgment that the awkwardness of their stint as sex buddies is lingering. It wasn’t treated as a bomb like Jordan’s revelations at the end of the first season, and it doesn’t dramatically alter the relationships between these characters as we head into the second half of the season. Instead, it’s a subtle turning point, resulting in a relationship that is basically the same as it was before (J.D. as the supportive friend who still sort of has a thing for Elliot on some level) but which has now gained an added bit of complexity. While I’m all for criticizing shows for lingering too long on will they-won’t they relationships, the basic principle of gradually accumulating a deep romantic history remains a fairly accurate depiction of how human relationships function, welcome in a show that also features The Todd giving an elderly woman an elbow drop.
There are, of course, other storylines going on at the same time. “My Sex Buddy” lines up fairly comfortably with the themes of the J.D. and Elliot situation, with Turk secretly trying to give Elliot a break she doesn’t think she needs (and thus resents) and…okay, so Carla’s storyline where she can’t help herself from offering an opinion regarding circumcision isn’t precisely thematically linked, but it offered Ken Jenkins the chance to deliver “Hi, I’m Bob, ask me about your baby’s Johnson,” which is always enjoyable. While Dr. Cox’s big speech in “My Sex Buddy” blatantly laid out a theme of having to leave your personal life outside of the hospital (perhaps as a stealth justification for Christa Miller’s loose recurring status at this point in the season), that ultimately fails to resonate beyond the more central thematic work of the J.D./Elliot story.
By comparison, it felt like more is allowed to go on in terms of alternate storylines in “My New Old Friend.” I’m not suggesting the episode is necessarily dramatically better, but there was a bit more diversity. Dr. Cox and Carla’s battle with Mr. Korman, played by the always delightful Richard Kind, is strong in part because it — more clearly than the storylines in “My Sex Buddy” — has a beginning, middle, and end. We saw him arrive and get tossed aside as a more comic character, the second act introduces his cancer as a dramatic inversion, and his final scene with Carla nicely ends on a comic beat while nonetheless reinforcing the lesson learned. Korman may not be a complex character, but he’s a dynamic one that’s allowed to be a part of both the comic and dramatic worlds of the show simultaneously. It’s also a sign that the Cox/Carla dynamic, weakened by the attempt to play up the romantic feelings between them, is now returning to a place where it can be both funny and resonant, which is a great resource for the show moving forward (although not one the writers use with any great regularity).
I’m less enthusiastic about Turk’s now habitual crisis of faith over the fact that everyone lies. While Kelso’s love for his car is charming and well-played by Ken Jenkins, and I’d argue that Donald Faison sells a crisis of faith with the best of them, there’s just not much there to really make it stick. It almost feels like an excuse to build the idea of truth into the moral at the end of the episode as Elliot admits that her stolen belongings were not just “stuff,” a justification I’ll allow given the success of the broader story work that makes these episodes a nice pivot for the season as a whole.
- Janitor Watch: I will eventually get to the point where I write about the Janitor in the main piece, but we’re still at the point where it feels like an afterthought. Here, though, we at least see a prominent appearance of Dr. Jan Itor — I like how, if you were to frame his choice to masquerade as a doctor in a dramatic sense, you could tie it into the central theme of truth. Of course, he doesn’t even have a kid as far as the facts established later are concerned, so that’s complicating things.
- I like the bald utility of the opening sequence of “My New Old Friend”: The writers had to establish Kelso’s love for his car, so an ice cream cone is a quick and easy fix.
- The Todd’s elbow drop is a lot of fun, but I also enjoy his perpetual fetching in “My New Old Friend”: a fun bit.
- I’ve always liked Bob Clendenin on Cougar Town, but my memory of his Scrubs appearances was more limited — he’s a lot of fun here in a dry way that I appreciate given the show’s penchant for the loud.
- Richard Kind just finished off a really terrific season on HBO’s doomed Luck last night, and it really was a revelatory (if also sort of subtle) performance that I hope people will check out in retrospect once we all acknowledge it was a great show killed by tragic circumstances. He was also very funny here. He has layers like that.
Next Week: Scrubs embraces philosophy and siblinghood.