On the heels of ABC’s Hail Mary renewal of the medical comedy series “Scrubs” last spring, creator Bill Lawrence made it a point to promise one thing: The eighth season would be just as good as the first. At the time, it sounded like an especially lofty goal after the creative misfires that plagued the previous few seasons. But with the show’s eighth season (and potentially series) finale over, it’s hard to deny that, despite some missteps, Lawrence accomplished his goal.
The show’s first few seasons succeeded because of a skillful balance between comedy and drama. An episode could hop between J.D. (Zach Braff, “Garden State”) playing board games with the grim reaper and talking to an elderly patient about dying without losing any sense of dramatic significance. As the show aged, it slowly pushed toward broader and less complex jokes. Sequences like The Janitor (Neil Flynn, “The Fugitive”) living in a sand castle were vapid and fell short of the show’s previous comedic highs. Lackluster humor combined with generally weak writing brought on a staleness leading up to the show’s final season.
Most of the eighth season revolved around the show’s characters coming to terms with the permanent changes in their lives — Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley, “Identity”) went from loathing the hospital to running it, J.D. adjusted to being a single father and partner for Elliot (Sarah Chalke, “Chaos Theory”) and Turk (Donald Faison, “Clueless”) prepared for another child with his wife Carla (Judy Reyes, “Oz”).
The past few seasons covered similar territory, but the back-to-basics approach made these situations stand out in season eight. Additionally, the quirky humor was revived but its absurdity was kept grounded in reality, which gave the show’s stories some long-missed pathos. For example, in the season’s second episode, J.D. and Turk spent the night with George Valentine (Glynn Turman, “Sahara”), a dying patient. While the episode was reliably funny, the scenes between the three characters really encapsulated how much the eighth season’s new heartfelt approach worked.
The scenario alludes to a standout episode in the first season (“My Old Lady”) where the main cast, as interns, fearfully dealt with death for the first time. By contrast, J.D. and Turk, now experienced doctors, resolutely talk Valentine through his last hours. The show tactfully eschewed any high-concept gags and simply let the scene’s poignancy speak for itself, which paid off immensely.
As for the finale, it managed to bring all these threads together into a neat package. The majority of the episode was anchored around J.D.’s plan to leave the hospital to spend more time with son. Turk and J.D., the consummate best friends, came to terms with having to separate themselves for the first time. Also, as J.D. finally got the approval that he’d been seeking from Dr. Cox since the pilot, the storylines developed in the past eight seasons were satisfyingly concluded.
The ending sequence shows J.D. imagining the future after he leaves the hospital as an extended home movie. The scene is unabashedly sentimental — the sequence is scored to Peter Gabriel’s “Book of Love” — but after eight seasons of delivering humor and pathos, it’s hard to think of a more fitting conclusion to “Scrubs.”