ABC, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

2 out of 5 Stars

For diehard “Scrubs” fans, the seventh season was like a fancily wrapped present that’s hard to resist opening. But when finally unwrapped, instead of containing that new iMac, the box contains just another one of Grandma Millie’s lumpy sweaters with a cat on it.

The excitement generated by season seven dissipated quickly as the show moved in a new direction that was simply unnatural and out of place; almost out of the blue, childlike protagonist J.D. (Zach Braff, “Garden State”) fathered a child. Unfortunately, J.D. isn’t the father type — never has been, probably never will be.

The season also suffered from frustrating plot problems that culminated in a tremendously disappointing ending. “Scrubs” fans should’ve revolted against the finale after J.D. and Eliot (Sara Chalke, “Mama’s Boy”) decided to be just friends — probably the worst idea in TV history after Brody Jenner’s reality show.

Undeniably, “Scrubs” is deteriorating. The jokes and scenarios have steadily worsened as the series has progressed, screwing up the lives of J.D., Turk (Donald Faison, “Clueless”), Eliot and the rest of the Sacred Heart Hospital employees.

But these flaws can’t all be blamed on the creative team. When the writer’s strike began in November 2007, the show hadn’t completed filming on season seven, and when it finally returned to the air, the writers had little time to resolve the various storylines that were introduced before the work stoppage. With the series’s fate undetermined as it resumed in April 2007 — it was rumored that NBC was going to drop “Scrubs” from the lineup — it’s clear that the “Scrubs” writers scrambled for an ending just to cover their asses in case the show ended up getting canceled.

Thankfully, “Scrubs” has another shot to redeem itself after its disastrous seventh season. Two seconds away from being canned, the show was picked up by ABC for this year.

Thus far in it’s eighth season, “Scrubs” has lacked the goofy buffoonery it’s known for, and that’s probably due to a lack of screen time for its most humorous characters. Turk, an extremely prominent character in past seasons, was barely even in the premier. Even “The Todd” (Robert Maschio, “As the World Turns”) and his banana hammock were nowhere to be seen.

With the limited air time old characters have been given thus far, it seems the new interns will be given larger roles this season. Unfortunately, the newbies aren’t nearly as funny as those they’re replacing, especially Doug, the intern who works at the morgue, and another intern fondly known as Snoop Dogg Intern. Speaking of newbies, there’s also a new chief of medicine: Dr. Maddox, played by Courtney Cox (“Friends”). Cox doesn’t fit into the “Scrubs” universe and lacks the mean-spirited humor of the old chief of medicine, Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins, “The Sum of All Fears”).

Fans who have followed the show since its beginning will want to believe “Scrubs” still has something substantial to offer. Sure the hospital staff is as quirky and politically incorrect as ever, and the writing is trying awfully hard to be sharp. But let’s face it: From what we’ve seen so far in the eighth season, “Scrubs” is far from what it used to be. Even the show’s life lessons are beginning to get a bit tiring.

This season of “Scrubs” should be the last. Not just because it seems poised to suck, but because the characters are growing out of their roles; J.D. has a kid for crying out loud. The “Scrubs” creative team should use this potential last go around to revive the punchy one-liners and the strange fantasies of J.D. that made the early seasons so memorable.

It’s time for “Scrubs” to wrap up with dignity before it starts to resemble the lovechild of “ER” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” — overly dramatic and totally unfunny.

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