“My Super Ego” (season 1, episode 7; originally aired 11/06/2001)
When discussing Kathryn Joosten’s memorable guest role in “My Old Lady,” I made note of the role of intertextual bleed contributing to the memorable nature of the character, given that Joosten had died on The West Wing earlier that year.
However, in other circumstances, intertextual bleed can create dissonance rather than convergence, and can dismantle storylines instead of contributing to their success. In the case of “My Super Ego,” it’s very difficult to separate Sean Hayes from Jack McFarland, his character on NBC’s Will & Grace, not only because of the highly exaggerated nature of that character but also because of the way it positions this guest appearance as a piece of network synergy (which raises some cynical alarm bells, at least initially).
In truth, I hadn’t really remembered much about this guest appearance before returning to the series for this project, perhaps in part because my brain dismissed it as a case of “stunt casting” and moved on. It doesn’t help, of course, that Nick Murdoch is very purposefully a transitory figure within the series, a narrative device that establishes the difficulty of hacking it as a doctor given the struggles that you face on a daily basis. The show isn’t in a position to have any of its own doctors completely fail out, so introducing a random intern we haven’t seen before this point and then having them prove unable to take the pressure is an effective (if less impactful, if that distinction makes any sense) way to make this particular observation.
On revisiting the episode, though, “My Super Ego” is a strong piece of work for Hayes, delivering a performance that we’re meant to see as a bit overbearing. Nick takes over everything: He’s better at internal medicine, he’s more popular with the other interns after leaping onto the seminar grenade, and he even “gets the girl” when Elliot starts pursuing him instead of J.D. We’re meant to hate the character for being so competent, and for being so nice in the face of J.D.’s internal frustration with him, and this is definitely an episode where being inside of J.D.’s head frames our perspective of the character (especially given the large number of fantasies in the episode).
When he falls, though, the episode sticks the landing. The running line of Laverne offering updates about young Peter’s condition initially presents as evidence of his ability to work with nurses and his strong bedside manner, but the episode retroactively pitches it as his inability to confront difficult situations head-on. He has a solution for every situation except his own, and when none of those solutions work he’s left with no way of telling Peter’s parents that their son’s going to die and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. His final speech in the stairwell is maybe a tad bit melodramatic, but Hayes sells it as something that he’s been burying beneath a veneer of confidence, which goes back to Turk’s façade in the pilot.
It also nicely connects in with the rest of the episode, which becomes about recognizing “survival” as a key part of being a doctor. For Turk it’s figuring out how to deal with the fact that a single missed cut could mean killing someone, while for Carla it’s figuring out how to deal with the fact that Turk might be more comfortable sharing his concerns about medicine with his fellow doctors rather than his girlfriend. The episode weaves Dr. Cox into both stories, both as a source of reluctant friendship for Carla (picking up on their interaction in “My Bad”) and as a source of torture for Turk (whose pre-surgery visit with “Downtown Lester Brown” is turned into a public event as a form of retribution). Elliot, meanwhile, just stands around being neurotic, getting swallowed into the final voiceover based on her status as the poster child for being overwhelmed by her life (which, as the episode argues, is sometimes necessary when you’re a doctor).
“My Super Ego” doesn’t add a great deal to the show’s thematic content, but it’s another solid contribution to the growing portrait of what it’s like to be a young doctor, and a solid guest appearance by Sean Hayes that does keep this particular cautionary tale from being entirely unremarkable.
“My Fifteen Minutes” (season 1, episode 8; originally aired 11/15/2001)
In the commentary track that Bill Lawrence and Neil Flynn recorded for “My Fifteen Minutes,” Lawrence notes that the structure of early season episodes was perhaps a little bit overstuffed, referring to it as “ABC Janitor.”
I hadn’t really thought about it before, actually, but it’s true that Scrubs spends both of these episodes developing three separate stories while working in a Janitor runner, and it’s also true that this can seem a bit overwhelming at points. Lawrence, who was recording these commentaries at least three years later (as the season-one DVD set came out in 2005), seems to view these as an artifact of the early seasons, and even suggests that his parents would call him to complain about the show being too hard to follow.
However, while that’s entirely possible, “My Fifteen Minutes” and episodes like it are intelligent ways to service multiple characters while a show is still developing its world. The episode moves quickly, perhaps too quickly at points, but it manages to tell us something about every single character in the process, and the way the storylines end up weaving together is a testament to the way the hospital setting can naturally handle a multitude of storylines happening simultaneously.
It’s actually an episode where drawing a distinction between the A-B-C stories might be difficult, given that they spin off into different directions. I guess we could probably isolate J.D.’s evaluation from Dr. Cox as the A-story if we want to treat the character as our main protagonist, but that storyline is the most disconnected from the rest of the episode, which makes it seem less prominent in the grand scheme of things. Given that the episode begins with Turk and J.D. saving the cameraman, we could also suggest that Dr. Kelso’s attempt to spin Turk’s involvement into a racially diverse (and incredibly stereotypical) ad campaign for the hospital becomes the A-story, but it peters out by the time we get to the third act. Meanwhile, Elliot’s inability to fit in with Carla’s friend seems pretty inconsequential earlier in the episode, but it ends up serving as a key component of the third act.
It’s one of those circumstances where the A-story is whatever sticks with the viewer a decade later, which in this case is probably Turk’s battle with Dr. Kelso. Part of it is the tremendous joke about Turk’s face appearing twice in the same college brochure, which extends into the various posters around Sacred Heart and the wonderful slogans connected to them, but it’s also the idea of emphasizing Turk’s race as a key component of his character. I really like the subtle way Eric Weinberg’s script settles this particular issue, with Turk proving a mentor to Carla’s friend’s son without having to do anything but be himself. The show rarely outright interrogates the racial dynamics of its minority characters, but this was a nice acknowledgement of the character’s particular set of anxieties that differ from J.D. and Elliot’s—despite the similarities in their basic situations.
Things are a bit less consequential in the other two storylines, but not in way that I’d consider problematic. The show will go to the well of “Dr. Cox is actually proud of J.D. even if he won’t admit it” enough times that Dr. Cox singling him out during evaluations doesn’t feel all that special, but it’s still a nice moment that emphasizes the way J.D. (for all his flaws) cares about his performance in ways that make him a good doctor. Similarly, Elliot’s neuroses leading her to embarrass herself isn’t anything new, but I enjoy that Carla is outright mean to Elliot, and that the latter doesn’t take it sitting down (even if her attempts to be less uptight ends up in her failed Mary Tyler Moore moment in a bad neighborhood). Neither storyline feels foundational to the characters’ developments, but they nonetheless feel like effective beats to hit at this point in the season.
There’s also the Janitor runner, of course, which is why Flynn was on the commentary track. In truth, I don’t buy the notion (presented in the commentary track) that this is the first real “storyline” as far as the Janitor goes (as there’s a narrative structure to even the slight runner in “My Super Ego”), but I would agree that it’s an early highlight in the relationship between the character and J.D. I think it’s because the Janitor is so convinced that J.D. has stolen an item from his cart that he can thinking of no other option, and Flynn manages to make what we know is entirely irrational seem entirely rational as far as the Janitor is concerned. Although he isn’t actually a figment of J.D.’s imagination, the Janitor still lives in his own world, which makes for a runner that never connects with any other part of the episode, but nonetheless feels like a “storyline” (especially given how their conversations become serialized).
It’s possible that all of this is a bit too much for a single episode, but I really like when sitcoms take on multiple storylines and find a way to bring them together. There’s something pat about it, and I wonder if the individual storylines aren’t done a disservice by being crammed into a single episode, but the impact on my opinion of the show is usually a tip of the hat for taking on something more ambitious. And while Scrubs won’t stay in that mode forever, it feels like a good place to start to me.
- The Batman/Robin/Alfred fantasy pictured above is probably the most memorable from these episodes, but this feels like the point where the fantasies are really becoming a tool for the writers. I enjoy Nick helping J.D. strangle him in “My Super-Ego,” and the childhood wrestling fan in me quite loves J.D.’s “The Intern” promo in “My Fifteen Minutes.”
- In terms of firsts, “My Super-Ego” brings Doug the Intern’s first real involvement in a major storyline after first appearing back in “My Mentor,” while the end of “My Fifteen Minutes” features the first prominent use of the “Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baaa” music cue that would become synonymous with emotional moments in the seasons to come.
- Is there a consensus on the best Turk poster that Kelso has made? “Time for an EKG, G” feels like the most memorable to me, but “What’s up? Your white blood cell count at Sacred Heart” is perhaps the most strained (and thus perhaps the most funny).
- I’m finding the airdates for these episodes interesting, seeing how often NBC was slotting new episodes of the show into the Must See TV lineup. It seems weird, though, that they wouldn’t air the episode with Hayes on Thursday (“My Fifteen Minutes” was aired on that night instead).
- “That smell is from the fart that I made.”
- “I don’t want to be Hot Lips again.”
- “Damn you, sir.”
Next Week: Turk becomes the only man to ever be inside of J.D., and Elliot finds the only woman more neurotic than she is.