9 SEASONS (2001 - 2010)
Great comedy comes from a place of truth. And that is why Scrubs is so high on the list of sitcoms.
Medical shows are a dime a dozen in the history of television, drama and comedy. But what made Scrubs stand out was the honest way it portrayed the modern medical profession. Granted it was in a hyper-exaggerated and fantasy-sequence-heavy way. But at its core, it touched on this truth. Much of my family is in the medical profession (I, of course, chose the more lucrative field of being a teacher in a Catholic high school). And when we speak about or watch scrubs, I often hear concurrent voices of recognition or explanations of how honestly the show portrays hospitals.
Of course simply being accurate is not enough. Your show has to be funny. And the story of John Dorian and his friends as they navigate their first decade out of med school is funny. The show has a strange, wackiness to it that stretches the bounds of reality.
And yet the show was able to turn on a dime and break your heart. I remember the the episode "My Philosophy" (2x13) where JD had a patient who needed a transplant. And in that same episode another patient was dying. I saw how the 2 stories were about to converge and the one would die and the other would get the transplant. But then the transplant came to late. And the episode ended with a sad, sad musical number.
Now, in order to be a great sitcom, you don't need to be both comedic and dramatic. But it is a sign of good writing that the show could go back and forth between the two seamlessly.
This is not only a testament to the producers but to the cast. As the series went on, there was a lot of devolving into mugging funny faces. But if you watch those early episodes, the actors could create a completely believable character who was both funny and tragic.
For me, I have a special place for John C. McGinley as Dr. Perry Cox. I think that he is one of the most fascinating sitcom characters ever. He is a person who cares so much and feels so deeply that it actually causes him intense pain. So he hides behind a shield of cruelty and sarcasm, all the while still doing his best to be a great doctor. I don't know how McGinley never won an Emmy for his role.
When dealing with life and death issues, the show would sometimes veer into morally questionable territory. To be sure, the personal lives of the characters were full of vice. But there was growth in the characters, especially as you watch them from the first to the last season. And even when dealing with controversial things like faith or abortion, I still found some good laughs. I personally love where Jesus talks to JD about abortion, and as a Catholic, I sympathize with the Lord's frustrations:
(of course they ruin this in a later episode where they do a throw away line about a priest being "pro-choice." It was so off-putting I almost stopped watching the show)
"My Old Lady" (1x04)
In this episode all 3 of the main characters have to deal with losing a patient for the first time. The show highlighted its dramatic strengths, but is also hooked you with how these characters deal with these strange circumstances. JD tells his patient about her condition, and she simply responds, "It's okay, I'm ready to die now." Death is a tough subject to tackle, especially for a comedy, but they did it very well and they established the tone of the series.
JUMP THE SHARK
"My Cold Shower" (6x19)
While Elliot prepares to marry Keith, each of the members of he staff begin to fantasize about what it would be like to be married to Eliot. This actually leads to some very funny interludes. But what makes this jump the shark is when JD thinks about a life with her, he sees only happiness and the episode ends with "It should have been me." What makes this so frustrating is that the end of Season 3, Elliot dumped her great boyfriend to be with JD, who didn't want her. I understand the show wanting to keep the romantic tension between the two leads, but she was engaged and JD was having a baby with another woman. Rather than feeling achingly romantic, it felt selfish. Not to mention a bit tired.
"My Screw Up" (3x14)
Not only is this the best episode of the series, it is one of the most powerful episodes of television I have seen. JD screws up and a patient of Dr. Cox's dies. This causes him to spiral out of control. But Cox's best friend Ben slowly tries to get him out of his funk in time for his son's first birthday party. McGinley's performance is perfect and the laughs are fast and furious. I particularly like where JD comes out of the shower wearing shower shorts saying "Shower shorts: for the man who has nothing to hide, but still wants to." And then the laughs build to a point where your heart breaks. Whenever I think of Scrubs I always think of this episode.
Scrubs stayed on the air longer than it should have. In its last year, it tried to re brand itself as a medical school show. But by that time, it felt played out.
But when it was firing on all cylinders, Scrubs was a wacky, but honest, roller coaster ride of emotions.