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"Scrubs": The Complete and Final Ninth Season DVD Review

Scrubs: The Complete and Final Ninth Season DVD cover art - buy from Amazon.com Scrubs: Season Nine (2009-10)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: Bill Lawrence / Writers: Steven Cragg, Brian Bradley, Corey Nickerson, Kevin Etten, Prentice Penny, Bill Lawrence, Josh Bycel, Jonathan Groff, Andy Schwartz, Leila Strachan, Lon Zimmet, Dan Rubin, Alessia Costantini, Sean Russell / Directors: Michael Spiller, Michael McDonald, John Putch, Gail Mancuso, Ken Whittingham, Chris Koch, Peter Lauer, Eren Celeboglu, Rick Blue

Regular Cast: Donald Faison (Dr. Christopher Turk), John C. McGinley (Dr. Perry Cox), Eliza Coupe (Dr. Denise Mahoney), Kerry Bishι (Lucy Bennett), Michael Mosley (Drew Suffin), Dave Franco (Cole Aaronson)

Recurring Characters: Zach Braff (Dr. John "J.D." Dorian), Ken Jenkins (Dr. Bob Kelso), Sarah Chalke (Dr. Elliot Reid), Nicky Whelan (Maya), Matthew Moy (Trang), Robert Maschio (Dr. Todd Quinlan), Windell D. Middlebrooks (Captain Melvis Duncook), Steven Cragg (Lt. Frank Underhill), Walter Addison (Ben Coleman)

Notable Guest Stars: Neil Flynn (The Janitor), John Billingsley (Alan), Antonio Sabato Jr. (Himself), Kurt Doss (Ryan Duncan), Paul Dooley (Paul), Sam Lloyd (Ted Buckland), Kate Micucci (Stephanie Gooch), Sonal Shah (Dr. Sonja "Sunny" Day), Tom Ormeny (Arthur), Christa Miller (Jordan Sullivan), Nadine Velazquez (Nicole), Reno Wilson (Dr. Russell Vaughn), Larry Sullivan (Eric Coleman)

Running Time: 280 Minutes (13 episodes) / Rating: TV-PG-DLS

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Analog Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 28, 2010; Season 9 Airdates: December 1, 2009 - March 17, 2010
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Clear Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99; Also available in The Complete Series Collection ($149.99 SRP)

Buy Scrubs from Amazon.com: Season 9 • The Complete Collection

In May of 1993, after four years on the air, "Saved by the Bell" ended its run with its lead students graduating. The next fall, Bayside High School, complete with Principal Belding, was back in "Saved by the Bell: The New Class." The spin-off made sense. "Bell" had established a winning formula for inexpensive live-action Saturday morning fare. And the original series was still popular; popular enough, in fact, to launch the primetime spin-off "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" with four returning cast members. But with high school series ("One Tree Hill" excluded), there's only so much time you can keep a student body enrolled. Executive producer Peter Engel, NBC, et al. decided to cast new younger students and keep the ball rolling.

Don't worry, we haven't gotten our reviews mixed up. The reason I opened an article on The Complete (and Final) Ninth Season (sic) of "Scrubs" with a discussion of 1990s teen sitcoms is because the medical comedy's swan song took a direction quite similar to "SBTB: The New Class."
It was much less understandable, though, and, in retrospect, practically inconceivable.

Debuting in the wake of the September 11th attacks, "Scrubs" would have a good long run, marked by critical acclaim and loyal fans. Viewership peaked in its second season when NBC made it part of the Must-See Thursday night lineup right behind "Friends", then television's third-ranked show overall. That arrangement wasn't held too long; in February 2004, "Scrubs" surrendered its timeslot to "Will & Grace" to make room for "The Apprentice." The hospital comedy moved to Tuesday nights and many viewers didn't bother to follow it.

The single-camera show fell to around the bottom of the Nielsen's Top 100 and cancellation was feared and suggested. But, "Scrubs" was saved. And then what was to be its final season had the writers' strike occur and wipe out the opportunity for closure. NBC let the series go, but ABC (whose parent company Disney had always been the producing studio) was there to renew it. Ratings didn't get any better at the alphabet network and "Scrubs" received a satisfying finale befitting of an 8-year run. But then, creator Bill Lawrence and cast members, who had repeatedly anticipated the show's end in the past, weren't closing the door just yet. Sure, Lawrence would move onto "Cougar Town", an ABC comedy he created with latter season "Scrubs" writer Kevin Biegel. Several cast members signed onto other pilots, one of which -- janitor Neil Flynn's "The Middle" -- made it to series. And there was the matter of the ratings, which had plummeted. Nevertheless, "Scrubs" caught another break, getting renewed while almost all others in its league were axed.

In Season 9 of "Scrubs", medical student Lucy Bennett (Kerry Bishι) takes over as protagonist/narrator, slightly recalling the uncertain J.D. of the series' beginning. Despite holding the hospital's highest positions of authority, Doctors Turk (Donald Faison) and Cox (John C. McGinley) are not above some sophomoric gloating.

The ninth season of "Scrubs" will never be mistaken for one of the previous eight. The reasons for that are numerous, and high among them is the fact that Dr. John Dorian (Zach Braff), better known as J.D., whose career the show tracked from internship to residency, is no longer the protagonist. And most of his colleagues, from neurotic on-and-off love interest Elliot (Sarah Chalke) to best friend's wife Carla (Judy Reyes) to retired hospital chief Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins) are no longer principal cast members.

Like "The New Class", Season 9 "Scrubs" turned our attentions to a new crop of students, namely fresh-faced twentysomething med students. Also like "New Class", two previous stars stayed on full-time as authority figures: cold, impatient chief of medicine Dr. Perry Cox (John C. McGinley, the Mr. Belding of this world) and J.D.'s fun-loving best friend, chief of surgery Dr. Christopher Turk (Donald Faison, the Screech).
Season 9 "Scrubs" clip from "Our Thanks":
The show's main setting, Sacred Heart Hospital, has been torn down and rebuilt on the campus of fictitious med school Winston University (more believable than the Indiana-California relocation from "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" to "Saved by the Bell").

While "Scrubs" had introduced younger cast members as interns learning from our leads a number of times, most extensively in Season 8, Season 9 brought just one of them back in the mannish Denise Mahoney (Eliza Coupe), whom J.D. had memorably nicknamed "Jo" after Nancy McKeon's "Facts of Life" character. Most prominent among the students of Cox, Turk, and teaching assistant Denise are three cast additions. Lucy Bennett (Kerry Bishι) assumes narrating duties from J.D., whose insecurities she seems to share. By med school standards, 30-year-old Drew Suffin (Michael Mosley) is an old man. There's a reason for that; having tried the profession before and quit, he's giving it one last go. Finally, there is Cole Aaronson (Dave Franco, younger brother of actor James Franco), an obnoxious, smartass slacker whose rich family's many donations to the hospital and school offer him protection, or so he thinks.

Perched in a tree for an outdoor class, J.D. (Zach Braff) peppers his lesson with botanical puns. Kindred spirits in emotionlessness, student Drew (Michael Mosley) and T.A. Denise (Eliza Coupe) become an unsentimental couple.

Though it thinks to ease us into it, the show comes to reveal that it is not "Scrubs" as we know it. While it's narrow-minded to resist change of any kind, such a drastic overhaul raises a question. Who among "Scrubs" fans liked it simply because it was set in a hospital and about doctors? Those who did are about the only ones who could conceivably not mind the cast being gutted and repopulated. And anyone with that kind of apathy to characters developed over eight years can't exactly be considered a devoted viewer.

The retooled "Scrubs" is wise enough not to just supply new characters in the molds of former ones. There isn't the feeling that we've seen these people and know their stories. But aside from horse-loving, needle-fearing Lucy, none of the younger personalities is easy to warm to. Removed from their world of comfort, the holdover doctors approach fatigue. How many times can Cox impart his wisdom via blunt, agitated monologue? And with the way that the show embraced J.D. and Turk's "guy love", the latter suddenly feels incomplete without his best bud.

Still, while shaken up, the series' comic sensibilities remain present. There are fewer flights of fancy. Most often tied to J.D.'s penchant for daydreaming, inspired fantasy scenes grow sparse. But the show still makes us laugh and with greater frequency than most.

The teaching style of Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) is likened to a hardass old-fashioned gym teacher in one of the season's rare fantasy sequences. Oddly-paired Trang (Matthew Moy) and Maya (Nicky Whelan) feature as the season's quirky supporting med student characters.

Why would "Scrubs", long a Nielsen weakling, continue without the full-time involvement of Bill Lawrence and Zach Braff? In a word: syndication. Disney stood to make plenty of dough off of each episode being added to an already widely distributed double-sized rerun package. That explains why the title had to remain "Scrubs" despite almost everything else changing (a small "Med School" appears on X-ray a mere two frames after the title disappears, hinting at a legally unviable subtitle). And it explains why the network would even put hope in such a project that seemed unlikely to either bring in new viewers or hold onto all fans of the original "Scrubs."

Despite the less than noble rationale for the series (to which Bill Lawrence added not wanting veteran crew members to be out of work in this economy), the med school incarnation of "Scrubs" isn't so bad. It benefits from leaving its doors open to former regulars. Zach Braff's J.D. returns in six episodes (retaining his top opening credit and joining the new title sequence on each), Ken Jenkins' delightful Dr. Kelso shows up nine times, Sarah Chalke makes four Elliot appearances, and "The Todd" (Robert Maschio) also brings his ambiguous innuendo humor to nine episodes.
Single-episode guest shots are made by Neil Flynn, Christa Miller (who followed her husband Lawrence to "Cougar Town") as Cox's caustic wife Jordan, and Sam Lloyd, whose ever-sweaty lawyer Ted gets a fitting send-off.

Without a new season to tie to, the end of "Scrubs" could have come to DVD anytime after March's unceremonious final broadcast, but Disney/ABC chose next Tuesday amidst all the other new and recent TV releases. In addition to the oddly-titled 2-disc set reviewed here, the final season is simultaneously released in The Complete Collection, which gathers the 25 discs of the season sets and adds an exclusive trivia game bonus disc and some physical goodies (a photo booth strip of the cast, J.D.'s Sacred Heart Hospital ID, and a lenticular cover). That big box wasn't made available for review. Unlike Season 8, Season 9 enjoys no release on Blu-ray, illustrating the high-def format's weak sales of TV content, at least as far as Disney's big-profits-or-bust home entertainment division is concerned.

Lucy's fantasies (like this promo for an inspirational Lifetime original movie of her life) are a little girlier even than J.D.'s. Against her every natural instinct, Denise warms to a patient's young son (Kurt Doss) in "Our Role Models." Ted (Sam Lloyd) and his girlfriend Gooch (Kate Micucci) make the best of a stuck elevator situation by singing a song for every American state.

Disc 1

1. Our First Day of School (21:45) (Originally aired December 1, 2009)
J.D. starts teaching and a new crop of med students start learning at Winston University.

2. Our Drunk Friend (21:32) (Originally aired December 1, 2009)
Lucy tries to help an alcoholic patient change his ways. Denise and Drew flirt with opening up to one another.

3. Our Role Models (21:32) (Originally aired December 8, 2009)
Lucy wants a mentor. Drew disappoints Cox.

4. Our Histories (21:32) (Originally aired December 15, 2009)
The med students put their party plans on hold to conduct final interviews with terminal patients (including guest star Paul Dooley). Dr. Cox messes with J.D. and Turk on their highly-anticipated Bro-A-Palooza night, to convince them they're getting old.

J.D. poses in a manner that's similar to the final image in his slideshow commemorating his final teaching lecture. An overwhelmed Lucy looks towards a pregnant, efficient Elliot (Sarah Chalke) for inspiration in "Our New Girl-Bro." Cole (Dave Franco) and Lucy (Kerry Bishι) are highly amused by a trick candle.

5. Our Mysteries (21:33) (Originally aired December 22, 2009)
On his last day, J.D. tries to track down the one student who gave him a negative evaluation.

6. Our New Girl-Bro (21:31) (Originally aired January 1, 2010)
A stretched-thin Lucy sees Elliot as a model to strive for. Missing J.D., Turk looks for a new work friend. Drew and Cox trick Cole into doing unsavory jobs.

7. Our White Coats (21:32) (Originally aired January 5, 2010)
Drew is distressed to be considered for keynote speaker at the students' lab coat ceremony. Lucy struggles to satisfy Dr. Cox with the reason she wants to become a doctor.

Disc 2

8. Our Couples (21:32) (Originally aired January 5, 2010)
Cox and Turk wrangle over a patient with a tumor. Lucy has mixed feelings about defending Cole. Denise and Drew mess with the security guards.

J.D.'s rose-petaled plans for the evening are derailed by pregnant Elliot's carnivorous cravings in the couple's final episode, "Our Stuff Gets Real." Turk appears quite immune to the wisdom imparted by the worldly Dr. Russell Vaughn (Reno Wilson). Stripped of his driving privileges, Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) is the only one there for Cole (Dave Franco) on the day of his skin cancer surgery.

9. Our Stuff Gets Real (21:32) (Originally aired January 12, 2010)
J.D. tries to get Elliot to go on a "babymoon." Lucy has trouble cutting up a dead patient she knew. Dr. Cox is reluctant to sign a will. This episode marks the final appearances of Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke.

10. Our True Lies (21:31) (Originally aired January 19, 2010)
The med students are held in the lecture hall until one confesses to cheating on their big exam.
Turk and Cox treat a lesbian woman strangely impervious to her surgical risks.

11. Our Dear Leaders (21:31) (Originally aired January 26, 2010)
Dr. Cox instructs Drew not to help his fellow students. Turk feels threatened by a worldly colleague (Reno Wilson) stealing his thunder.

12. Our Driving Issues (21:31) (Originally aired March 10, 2010)
Drew is torn between obeying Denise and Cox, Dr. Kelso loses his driving privileges, and Cole needs surgery for his skin cancer.

13. Our Thanks (21:31) (Originally aired March 17, 2010)
Turk is uncertain about Cole's newfound surgical ambitions. Lucy is upset her group can't come up with nice things to say about the cadaver they worked on. Drew is hesitant to move in with Denise.

As this unsightly shot of Lucy's study group illustrates, the ninth season of "Scrubs" was clearly composed for 1.78:1 hi-def broadcasts, rendering this cropped fullscreen DVD presentation compromised. To teach them a lesson, Dr. Cox tricks Turk and J.D. into wearing cowboy and indian costumes to a non-themed party.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Revealing that the Season 8 DVD was somehow no fluke, "Scrubs" is again presented in 1.33:1 "fullscreen", matching the aspect ratio of all its previous DVDs but not the 16:9 high definition broadcasts of its two ABC years. Consistency is the only explanation I can think of and I'm betting most would be prefer to throw that out the window in favor of widescreen transfers that are more likely to fill screens in the future. Even encoding the episodes to center-crop like 16:9 DVD menus do would have achieved the same effect in 4:3, while keeping widescreen TV owners happy. Framing is tight a number of times and it's evident we should be seeing more picture on the sides when characters are partially cropped out of sight. To boot, the picture is often overly grainy, recalling the series' origins but not 2009-10 television and not how the show looked in HD.

There's much less to say about the satisfactory Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, which is expectedly based primarily in the front channels. Still, the frequent score and the odd bit of sampled music do make their way to the back speakers. Dialogue remains crisp and the mix has appropriate weight to it.

Zach Braff gives his blessing to the Muppet Babies version of Scrubs in the featurette "Scrubbing In." As an executive producer, he kind of has to. Who wants to see and hear J.D.'s Bill Cosby impression when you can listen to Bill Lawrence explain why they deleted it?

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The last of "Scrubs" is also a first; this is the show's first season released to DVD without any audio commentaries. Not all is lost, though, because the show is still joined by some of the usual video bonus features on Disc 2. (Alternate lines have departed along with the improvisationally gifted Neil Flynn.)

"Scrubbing In" (6:03) is a promotional featurette selling the "slightly spin-off 'Scrubs'" (also called "Scrubs 2.0" and "the Muppet Babies version of 'Scrubs'").
Watch a clip from bonus featurette "Scrubbing In":
Zach Braff semi-hosts as new and returning characters are profiled and changes discussed by cast and crew. As the official explanation of this season that is most likely to endure, this is glossier and shorter than ideal, but it's better than nothing.

Next, we get nineteen short deleted scenes (more like snippets) deriving from eleven episodes (9:27). They're offered with commentary by creator/executive producer Bill Lawrence, but not the typical optional audio kind. Instead, Lawrence appears on camera via angled split screens. Here's the problem: he's not introducing them, but talking over them. So while he's explaining why he liked something but had to cut it, we get to see but not hear what he's talking about. Such a baffling rookie design mistake is hard to excuse on a long-running show's final season. To add insult to injury, the cut bits are presented in 16:9 widescreen and on the rare occasion they fill the screen, they look far superior to the DVD's episodes.

A fastly-edited reel of bloopers (1:48) is too short to even make a real impression.

Security guards Captain Duncook (Windell D. Middlebrooks) and Lieutenant Underhill (Steven Cragg) welcome a far funnier recurring character (The Todd, Robert Maschio) on their brief "Live from the Golf Cart" show. We learn the history of Winston University in the unusually creative DVD main menu opening.

Finally, "Live from the Golf Cart" (2:07) is a very brief show hosted by the season's two security guards, Capt. Duncook (Windell Middlebrooks) and Lt. Underhill (writer Steven Cragg, oft-uncredited). A far cry comedically from just about every recurring personality in "Scrubs" history, these two welcome the Todd (Robert Maschio), who promotes his self-published book with -- what else? -- innuendo.

Disc One opens with promos for ABC on DVD and Blu-ray, "Ugly Betty": The Complete Fourth and Final Season, "FlashForward": The Complete Series, and The Last Song. Disc Two's "Sneak Peeks" listing prompts ads for "Lost": The Final Season, "Castle": The Complete Second Season, "Cougar Town": The Complete First Season, "Private Practice": The Complete Third Season, "Legend of the Seeker": The Complete Second Season, The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos, and ABC. I know what you're thinking, there is a lot of television on DVD!

The DVD's main menu opens with a mildly amusing 90-second Winston University informational recruitment video before settling into a standard show clips montage set to Waz's retooling of Lazlo Bane's "Superman" theme tune.

Naturally, the discs are packaged in a standard, slipcovered clear keepcase whose interior artwork lists episodes and extras. The only insert is Disney's favorite booklet for promoting Blu-ray. Dubiously, the case's approximate runtime is over 100 minutes greater than that of this season.

Best friends J.D. (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) are an interracial version of the Hardy Boys, as they search for clues in this inspired fantasy sequence.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Scrubs" may have overstayed its welcome, but it remained entertaining to the very end. This very end was anticlimactic and easily the show's weakest season. Still, it stands as a short, curious, and painless experiment (more like "The College Years" than "The New Class"), essentially a spin-off without the different title declaring it such.

With subpar cropped fullscreen picture and an unusually weak extras slate, the lazy DVD disappoints to a greater degree than the season it holds. This final year is distinctive enough for unimpressed fans to skip without handing in their "completist" cards. Am I happy to have this join the series' first eight seasons on my shelf? Absolutely. Were I in your position and having to spend $20 on it instead of a few hours of critical thinking and writing, I might feel differently. As is, "Scrubs" is one of my favorite TV shows of this young millennium and I recommend seeing it in the method of your choosing. Just don't start at this end, obviously.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Scrubs: The Complete Collection

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Reviewed September 23, 2010.



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