(Second Look is an opportunity to take a longer look at important series of television, mostly focused on specific seasons or runs of the show. The first show I’ll be tackling in this series is the second season of Scrubs, a season which slowly masters the comedic tones the next three undeniably classic seasons would employ to memorable effect.)
Scrubs begins its legacy-defining second season in a rather inelegant place; after blowing up a Jordan Bomb in the Sacred Heart Cafeteria at the end of season one, “My Overkill” has to find a way to work through the wreckage left in her wake, 22 minutes dedicated to completely unwinding the final moments of “My Last Day”. Like the season finale preceding it, “My Overkill” is an extremely busy episode of Scrubs – but when it’s not struggling to generate conflict (particularly with Elliot), “My Overkill” works a bit of Scrubs narrative magic, swiftly repairing deep rifts from the season finale, while keeping a focused eye on the future.
Smartly, “My Overkill” begins at its very foundation – that is, the friendship of J.D. and Turk, strong as ever, and slowly re-unravels the relationships around them. And the more “My Overkill” drifts away (and returns) to the image of J.D. and Turk hanging out on J.D.’s bed, the more the more prominent the isolation between characters gets; it’s not until J.D gets Turk, Carla, and Cox in the lunch room that it feels any of the cast is in the same room for an extended area of time. Every scene is shorter, which both spreads out the meaningful interactions between characters, but also allows the show to indulge in some heavy fantasy humor; but even a hearty serving of slapstick can’t shed the clouds surrounding each and every employee of Sacred Heart (except Todd, of course; the banana hammock makes a triumphant debut in the co-ed locker room).
“My Overkill” works a bit of Scrubs narrative magic, swiftly repairing deep rifts from the season finale, while keeping a focused eye on the future.
For the most part, Scrubs navigates the difficult waters it drove itself into well; it’s no small task for “My Overkill” to make Jordan’s explosion on the group relevant, considering how odd a lot of the behavior informing Jordan’s big speech was. Surprisingly, “My Overkill” is able to retroactively give some of her zingers some real weight, particularly with Cox: his unspoken disappointment of J.D., and longing for his ex-wife, give a sense of poignancy the season finale preceding it lacked.
The only problem with the Cox story is it’s the only one Scrubs really engages with on a deeper level; and even that comes at a price, with “My Overkill” approaching his current state of mind and emotions with such distance, failing to really shape his feelings until the final moments, when he lashes out on Colin Hay and starts caring about the status of J.D.’s pager again. On paper, this moment works, because it fits the narrative of bringing everything back into its natural orbit: but like the other stories of this episode, it never really digs its nails into anything to give that return to normalcy real meaning. Instead, we get a weird mix of stories with no sense of priority between them: Elliot is at Peak Crazy Hair and Carla is Frustrated Carla, which in turn reduces Turk to a reactionary character, trying to poke around the many emotional land mines Carla leaves around their relationship on a regular basis.
Scrubs, at its best, digs into these characters and observes how unhealthy their approaches can be; instead, “My Overkill” just kind of goes where it needs to go, the Janitor’s spray bottle eliminating whatever sense of narrative overhaul the end of season one teased the audience. And oddly, it’s both a letdown and a relief: a letdown in how tepidly Scrubs returns to its status quo, and a relief in how quickly it does away with a lot of conflicts generated just for the sake of bringing every potential issue to head in case of cancellation. If anything, “My Overkill” feels like Scrubs washing away most of what felt ridiculous in the season finale (Carla being pissed, Cox being in love with Carla, and Elliot pining over J.D.), and holding onto pieces of story with some potential to them, like J.D. developing real feelings for Elliot, Cox dealing with his ex-wife, or Carla and Turk’s relationship evolving (and feeling like something the show actually cares about).
It’s not so much a step forward, however, as it is a step sideways; in a lot of ways, “My Overkill” smartly sets up Scrubs in a number of interesting directions for season two, even as its boiling its characters down into simple structures, in order to make backing away from the complications of “My Last Day” a little bit easier. That’s a tough balancing act for any show to try and maintain; and because of that, I’m willing to forgive the clumsy approach of “My Overkill”, if only because of how it moves the show forward, slowly redirecting its characters in a number of meaningful ways in the third act, setting the stage for Scrubs to grow over the next two seasons.
– Welcome to my reviews of season two of Scrubs! Why the hell am I writing about this? Two reasons: one, I love writing about this show (and this is an important season), and two, it is something readers have asked me to revisit for years (you can read my columns about the first season over here). So, I’m writing about season two – welcome! Reviews will publish Monday and Thursday throughout the year – if you want to watch along, Scrubs is available on Hulu.
– Any theories about the Janitor being a figment of J.D.’s imagination are disposed of quickly; in the opening scene, the Janitor is seen yelling “That’s entertainment!” to a nurse who walks by. Kelso also laughs at his pranks later, calling J.D. “wet butt” as he walks by.
– boy, Elliot’s story in this episode is such a letdown. Really; she’s just around to look frazzled – and in one scene, be in a bra. Boy, the co-ed locker room magically appears on Scrubs – and it’s obvious it is for one crowd-pleasing reason.
– “My Overkill” marks the debut of the short-lived, longer version of the Scrubs opening theme. Enjoy your time in the credits while it lasts, Janitor!
– “Oh sorry honey – I was thinking about soup.”
– “You look horrible?”
– Cox getting angry is always frightening, and he does it TWICE in this episode.
– boy, those jump cuts to the ‘punk’ and the old men on the highway are still super weird.
– “This is how the Todd gets his self-esteem on.”