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Toeing the line beautifully: serious moments in 'Scrubs'

A look at one of the most underrated 2000's sitcoms

By Eve VolungeviciutePublished 3 months ago 4 min read

Scrubs is one of those shows that I haven’t really heard anyone talk about and had I not browsed some lists to add things to my ‘to watch’, I probably never would’ve discovered it. That would’ve been a shame as this comedy drama is probably one of the best I’ve seen and it’s a pity it’s not talked about more. I have never witnessed such an amazing blend of moments that will make you laugh out loud and moments that will make you bawl your eyes out. Perhaps that’s the reason it flew over some people’s heads, cause it did both so seamlessly? Who knows.

Being a show set in a hospital, it’s safe to say that the characters deal with some devastating situations. We are immediately thrust into the heaviness this show could give with the fourth episode of season one where each of the new interns loses their first patient, albeit under different circumstances. While one of the patients is peaceful and determined to have things their way, the other two are an unfortunate example of a sad reality – sometimes it’s impossible to save a patient and it’s just something every doctor has to live with. I know immediately that I could not (one of the many reasons I am not a doctor) but it is interesting to see this message conveyed with such poignancy.

One cannot possibly mention the ability of Scrubs to tug heartstrings without talking about Ben. His leukemia diagnosis provided what was possibly the first true insight into Dr. Cox’s character and humanized him. Despite knowing the prognosis in a logical sense as a doctor, he cannot handle it because, for the first time, the faraway statistic is actually happening to someone that is close to him, making it feel real.

This then leads to what is arguably the best episode of the series ‘My Screw Up’. It took me a couple of watches for the genius to fully sink in but it doesn’t take away from the fact. The storyline, the filming, the exploration of stages of grief – it was all jaw-dropping and heartbreaking at the same time. Yet another exploration of Dr. Cox’s character, showing that even though he’s a hardass and can be a bully, there is so much more to him.

Such exploration leads into one of the most devastating episodes of the entire series ‘My Lunch’. Three dying patients who need organ transplants and a former patient of JD’s who passes away – a morbidly lucky scenario. As it turns out, the patient had rabies, which is rare and extremely deadly. The montage of these patients dying one by one to The Fray’s ‘How to Save a Life’ is tear-jerking but this episode is so much more than that.

It’s a fascinating look into the ugliness of being a doctor and making mistakes that while completely unintentional might cost someone’s life. It also has one of the best moments JD and Dr. Cox share where they finally are equals as opposed to an intern and a mentor. Being responsible for people’s lives can be traumatizing and it’s easy to blame oneself, which is something the show highlights beautifully if not in a bittersweet manner.

Another moment that’s not mentioned much although for me personally is heartbreaking is during an episode of season five My Cabbage where it’s shown in a montage how easily an infection can spread in a hospital. The sequence ends with an inedaquate intern shaking the hand of Mrs Wilk, a long-term patient who has formed a bond with the hospital staff. Because he handled an infected piece of equipment before doing so, Mrs Wilk contracts another infection and passes away.

Although no one is outright responsible for this and it’s just an unfortunate chain of events, one can’t help but feel angry and frustrated. This captured feeling is probably one of the most universal human experiences and it’s done very effectively. This also shows how important it is for doctors to maintain their competence at all times and how it is a job that requires your 100% always.

Of course, one can’t talk about the sad moments of Scrubs and not mention the death of Laverne. A regular figure in the main cast’s lives, Laverne provided an extra bit of sassy humor to the show before her tragic passing in season six. This provides a bittersweet moment where Carla loses her confidant and a dear friend and her speech is beautiful as she says goodbye. Laverne’s monologue about how she believes everything happens for a reason is of course for everyone to interpret how they wish based on their own belief system, however, it seems to be yet another life lesson; that sometimes, bad things just happen with no explanation, leaving pain and grief at its wake. And that’s life.

Scrubs knows how to tug our heartstrings and these moments are definitely not the entire list from the show’s run. It’s one of the reasons why despite many JD fantasy sequences that are various degrees of ridiculousness this series is one of the most realistic portrayals of one of the most challenging professions in the world.


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