“My Two Dads” and “My Bad” (season 1, episodes 5-6; originally aired 10/23/2001 and 10/30/2001)
Initially, I had thought that this would be a slow week in terms of content, especially after “My First Day” and “My Old Lady” (which are both foundational to the series in ways that these episodes are, well, not). However, I had forgotten how much these two episodes function as a sort of stealth two-parter, revealing Scrubs’ willingness to use arc structures in order to bridge episodes that otherwise engage in entirely different episodic storylines.
That being said, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to say about “My Two Dads,” which returns to the battle between Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso that was first introduced in “My First Day.” In fact, it’s basically pulling directly from Dr. Kelso’s argument in that episode, as his concerns over patients having insurance becomes a battleground for Dr. Cox, with J.D. caught squarely in the middle. The storyline, despite a change of scenery to the golf course and a montage set to J.D. playing out of a variety of hazards while being hounded by the two men, ends effectively where the pilot left off: Dr. Kelso sees patients as items being scanned at a grocery store, and Dr. Cox sees them as real people who need their help.
That isn’t a surprising conclusion, but I like how J.D. finds himself caught between them. His desire to “be a good doctor” leads him to catch what he believes is a mistake and report it to Dr. Kelso (thus earning him brownie points), but what if being a doctor requires a more complicated philosophy where right/wrong are blurred? It’s not rocket science, no, but I imagine it’s something that’s tough for doctors when they’re first starting out, and something that anyone who has started a new career and found themselves learning a whole new set of rules that are often unwritten can relate to, and that should at least be filtered through your own point of view (which you might not even have yet), can relate to. The final sequence in the episode is a fun Star Wars riff on the one hand (there’s an unintentional Star Wars joke for you), but it’s also kind of meaningful, as it highlights the mentor/mentee relationship that young doctors rely on.
The rest of the episode is somewhat less meaningful, although I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily bad. The show generally handles Turk and Carla’s relationship well in the first season, and having her be won over by his honesty regarding the “ass pen” is a nice continuation of the idea that it was his willingness to talk back to her regarding her relationship with Elliot that earned him a date in the first place. Similarly, while the Elliot storyline here is particularly silly (and I refuse to believe that she wouldn’t have been reprimanded for flashing a dead patient like that), there’s a certain oddball charm to Sarah Chalke in the episode, and there’s a bit of thematic flow between J.D. and Elliot’s simultaneous explorations of the best approaches to helping your patients.
The important flow, however, is between the two episodes. In general, “My Bad” offers an entirely new set of storylines: Elliot explores her neuroses with a psychiatrist instead of flashing her patients, Turk and Carla deal with an angry (and injured) mother instead of a writing implement evacuated from someone’s bowel, and J.D. babysits a board member instead of playing golf. However, by allowing Dr. Cox’s suspension to carry over into the second episodes, and to have Jordan’s arrival embroil J.D. in Cox’s future at Sacred Heart, “My Bad” takes on a greater degree of meaning, meaning that will be important to Dr. Cox as a character going forward.
It’s always weird returning to episodes like this after the fact, given what we already know about Dr. Cox and Jordan’s relationship. I had forgotten that we didn’t know Dr. Cox was named Perry before this episode, and that we were supposed to view him as a complete cipher (not unlike his ridiculously sparse apartment). Our minds, when re-watching a series, have a tendency to fill in the gaps, and it’s difficult to replicate what some of you are doing, seeing this for the first time. Of course, it’s still possible that you knew Christa Miller had been on the series, just as you might know that she’s married to Bill Lawrence (which might explain, not that it needs justification, the slow-motion wind-blown introduction the character receives as seen through the eyes of J.D.), but there’s still meant to be something momentous about meeting the former Mrs. Perry Cox in this setting.
What I like about Jordan’s introduction, outside of Miller’s fun and acerbic performance, is that the pieces fall into place so nicely. When we learn that she is Dr. Cox’s ex-wife, it makes sense in a real way, and her behavior up to that point nicely fits how we might imagine his ex-wife to act/speak/etc. That J.D. slept with her will eventually become a more important detail (those who have watched the entire season will know what I refer to), but for now it’s a small bit of awkwardness that otherwise fades away as we zero in on Dr. Cox’s pride, and the love he once felt for the woman he let get away. J.D. is involved, and is eventually the one who asks Jordan to help Perry with the Board (who were considering firing him for going through with charging the TIPS procedure to someone else’s insurance), but in those final moments this becomes about exploring J.D. and Dr. Cox’s relationship from Perry’s perspective for the first time.
Indeed, what perhaps ties these episodes together best is the football fantasies that bookend them. While J.D. imagines throwing around the pigskin with Dr. Cox in the beginning of “My Two Dads,” a foreshadowing of his own daddy issues, “My Bad” ends with Dr. Cox thinking back on throwing around the pigskin with Jordan, and on fond memories of their wedding day (which are, quite brilliantly, taken from the video of Miller’s wedding to Lawrence). John C. McGinley is great at playing the frustration of Dr. Cox, but he is at his best when he displays the vulnerability that lies at the heart of the character, and that Jordan (despite her complete lack of affection) brings to the surface. It’s the moment when Dr. Cox becomes Perry, and when a reluctant mentor becomes a character in his own right (and one who will be at the center of some of the show’s strongest work in future seasons).
The rest of “My Bad” is somewhat less important, but I like many of the moments embedded here. We get our most explicit suggestion that Dr. Cox and Carla share something of a close relationship as they help each other work out their respective hangups, two stubborn people who need someone equally stubborn to show them the error of their ways. Meanwhile, the scene where Turk talks to Elliot about having been in therapy is quite touching, a real moment in a storyline that definitely demonstrated the way Elliot’s neuroses are being dialed up. Scrubs would go on to use this kind of storytelling often, as a storyline that has been largely comic eventually morphs into something meaningful (as seen in Elliot’s tearful exit from her first therapy session, as well as in her conversation with Turk). The show is very interested in screwball comedy (like the Janitor’s feud with J.D., which doesn’t make this leap into “meaningful” at any point soon), but early on it had a very clear sense of how far was too far, and when to pull the plug and focus on the underlying meaning.
Going into this project, I wondered what would happen when I got to episodes that haven’t been identified as “important” for one reason or another, but “My Two Dads” and “My Bad” were both more important than I thought (thanks to the overarching narrative of Cox’s suspension) and also reveal how even that which remains fairly banal is still reflective of an evolving series, and evolving characters. The idea of returning to a series like this is not necessarily to valorize its quality (although the “Classic” distinction does suggest this), but rather to explore its origins and to see in retrospect how certain parts of the series’ appeal (and its influence on television as a whole) were developed. These episodes might rarely make it onto “Best Of” lists, but viewed in this context I think there’s plenty here to suggest the show that Scrubs would become.
- I think there’s an interesting question to be asked if an emotional episode like “My Old Lady” is more effective when it stands alone (and thus makes a single statement we can isolate and remember) or if it resonates into subsequent episodes (as will be demonstrated in later seasons). I think there’s a good logic to both, and we’ll see more long-term patient arcs as the show goes on, but it creates two different kinds of emotional responses that the writers would have to balance.
- Working celebrity cameos into J.D.’s fantasies makes sense on some level, given that we often think in those terms, but there’s an element of it that can become crassly commercial (especially when we have to deal with the Louie Anderson-hosted Family Feud). Still, the randomness of Jimmie Walker is helpful in disarming that concern (along with the silliness of J.D.’s fantasies in general).
- I like the show’s approach to a “Halloween episode” in “My Bad,” which is simply including various references that place it during a particular time period (which would match up with the initial airdate) without trying too hard to tie it into a particular theme. They go the opposite route for Christmas, of course, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
- “I’ve got an awful case of the gotta-see-ems!”
- “Easy, Chewie.”
- “It looks like his eyes are screaming.”
- “Philosophy is tricky.”
Next week: J.D. battles with another intern (whose middle name is “Network Synergy,” oddly enough), and we discover that it’s time to get an EKG, G.