Scrubs: A sitcom that's actually aged well?


The cast of Scrubs

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“Well, what you were doing 20 years ago on Tuesday 16 March?”, laughs Scrubs star Donald Faison.

I don’t have an answer. But then, in my defence, I was eight years old.

I’m on a Zoom call with Donald and his Scrubs co-star Zach Braff to talk about their new podcast.

In Fake Doctors Real Friends, they have another watch of the sitcom which made them famous and reminisce about what it was like to film.

There’s just one problem, they “barely remember” a lot of it.

“I think it’s better that way,” smiles Zach, “we’re watching it anew, like an actual viewer of the show”.

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Donald (l) and Zach (r) with the show’s creator Bill Lawrence (c)

Scrubs ran from 2001 to 2010 and it tells the story of a group of young doctors as they work their way up the ranks.

On the face of it, it’s a sitcom but, as well as jokes, the episodes are rammed full of sad moments. For extra emotional punch, they’re usually set to heart-wrenching noughties indie by the likes of Death Cab for Cutie.

So, whether you’re going through grief, you’re facing a break-up or even if you’re just struggling with work – there’s an episode of Scrubs to relate to.

And this meant for a lot of fans, like me, who grew up with the show, it became a sort of moral guide.

“We always have to give a shout-out to the man who created it all, Bill Lawrence,” Zach says.

“The show without commercials is 22 minutes long, and the fact that he can steer it from a moral lesson, to crazy comedy fantasies to multiple love stories is just genius writing.

“I can’t stop thinking about that as we watch them 20 years later – there’s a lot of morality in it and I’m glad it rubbed off on people.”

Before the interview, I’ve jotted “Zach” and “Donald” down on my notepad, so I don’t slip up and call them by their character names, JD and Turk.

It’s harder than you might think.

The pair, who play best friends in the show, are actually best friends in real life – and when they’re riffing back and forth off each other it’s easy to forget they don’t, in fact, have any medical training.

“Zach thinks we were best friends at first sight – I’m a little more realistic about it,” says Donald.

“I think it was when we hit the club and our eyes met over that first shot of tequila.”

Zach adds: “Donald was famous already so he was already in the club.

“I was working as a waiter, so when I got a TV show and all of a sudden I was allowed in the club, he was my Sensei, my Yoda.”

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Donald and Zach together in 2018

However long their friendship took to get started, it ended up with Donald getting married in Zach’s back garden – and naming him godfather to his children.

“We’d be flipping through the script and be like, um, this is the story we told the writers about what happened to us,” Zach says, when I ask how their relationship influenced the show.

“So it became a thing that sort of fed itself.”

You might think revisiting a 20-year-old show would be a dangerous game.

Friends finished three years after Scrubs started. It’s now found its way onto Netflix and has faced accusations that it’s homophobic, sexist and too-white.

Scrubs, too, is now available for a new audience to find. For UK viewers, all nine series were added to Channel 4’s streaming service, All 4, earlier this month.

In the USA it’s available on Disney’s streaming service, Hulu.

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“Some of it is way too un-PC, I’m sure, for now” Zach admits, “we often cringe and go okay, you definitely couldn’t do that joke today.

“Sometimes even at the time things would get censored because the creators were trying to push things as far as they could on network television.”

Overall, though, both actors think the show has aged pretty well – and, for Donald, that’s down to the subject matter.

“With this whole pandemic going on, right now we should shine a light on all of the people in the medical profession.

“So I definitely think Scrubs still holds up. For the simple fact that there are still people in the medical profession who’re going through the same things.”

And when I speak to fans on a Reddit page dedicated to the show – the consensus seems to be the same.

“I won’t lie, there are some jokes that do make me uncomfortable,” 19-year-old Clara says, “but I recognise that was part of the time and I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.”

She references an early episode where a female doctor, Elliot Reid, calls out the chief of medicine for calling her “sweetheart”.

Although Clara says it’s great the show tackled issues like this, the moral of the episode turns out to be that Elliot should have picked her battles better.

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Clara is one of those rare people in life who don’t bat an eyelid when you ask them to take a photo of themselves with a DVD boxset

But Clara thinks there are other ways that the show still comes across as “quite progressive”.

“Another female character has a monologue near the beginning of the series about how even though she wears a thong she’s still a good nurse.

“I like that they had that attitude that just because you embrace your sexuality, that doesn’t make you any less strong.”

She estimates she watches through the first eight seasons of Scrubs about once a year: “Does that make me sad?”, she asks.

Again, I don’t have an answer.

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