Scrubs’ Disastrous Season 9 Actually Only Made One Key Mistake

The much-criticized Scrubs season 9 is broadly considered to be the very worst of the entire series, but it actually only made one crucial mistake. After Scrubs season 8 delivered a satisfying finale, the announcement of a continuation was somewhat mystifying. Subtitled Scrubs: Med School, season 9 featured many of the show’s main characters in supporting roles, and instead shifted focus to concentrate on a group of overwhelmed medical students. There were also one or two key characters that did not return for Scrubs season 9, which contributed to it feeling like a different show rather than a continuation.

Ultimately, the revised format and lead characters didn’t land with audiences, and Scrubs was canceled after season 9. Returning characters from previous seasons appeared in a reduced capacity – something which wasn’t overly appreciated – but Scrubs season 9 had essentially lost its grip on the show’s winning formula. Though the new cast showed promise and Scrubs season 9 delivered some solid stories, it just didn’t live up to the eight previous seasons, which was the ultimate reason for its failure.

However, all of Scrubs‘ season 9 failings can be attributed to a single decision. By shifting the premise from a medical comedy-drama following doctors to one following medical students, Scrubs subtly altered the very fabric of the show. That one key change had a knock-on effect that undermined everything good about the season, including its returning characters and interesting new stories, and in doing so, the med school focus led to Scrubs season 9’s failure.

Season 9’s Med School Angle Ruined Scrubs’ Best Elements

The med school angle of Scrubs season 9 reworked the entire premise of the show. The first eight seasons of Scrubs delivered near-perfect medical drama with a reliable vein of comedy running throughout, and that carefully cultivated balance was a huge part of the show’s success. However, Scrubs season 9 saw the original Sacred Heart hospital demolished (off-screen), with the new Sacred Heart built as a med school on the campus of the fictional Winston University. In making the switch from qualified doctors to overwhelmed med students as the main characters, Scrubs season 9 ruined the show’s ability to deliver a solid balance of drama and comedy.

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By making its main characters med students, Scrubs season 9 removed the burden of responsibility that Scrubs‘ main characters grappled with throughout the show’s first eight seasons. This in turn undermined the drama that was originally at the show’s core, and at the same time subtly shifted the focus away from the medical profession and more onto college life. This made Scrubs season 9 feel more like a college-based sitcom than a medical comedy-drama, which again only served to further distance season 9 from its far more popular predecessors.

Keeping JD, Cox, & Turk As Mentors Should Have Worked

Donald Faison as Turk, Zach Braff as JD, and John C McGinley as Cox in Scrubs

One of the most-criticized elements of Scrubs season 9 actually shouldn’t have been a problem at all. With the shift of focus for the ninth season, many of Scrubs‘ former main characters appear in supporting roles. This saw J.D., Dr. Cox, and Turk all acting as mentors to the show’s med students: Cox as Chief of Medicine, Turk as Chief of Surgery, and J.D. as a visiting professor at Winston University. As Scrubs season 9 acted more as a spin-off, this change actually made a reasonable amount of sense, particularly as all three had previously filled a mentor role (Cox throughout the show and Turk and J.D. to their interns in later seasons).

In fact, by giving three of the show’s main characters important roles within Scrubs season 9’s story, it should have served as an interesting continuation of their character arcs. Had season 9 more accurately conveyed the same tone as previous seasons, J.D., Turk, and Cox all could have worked to pass the torch to the show’s new characters. This would have worked especially well as there are obvious stand-ins for each of them: J.D. and Lucy are both daydreaming narrators, Turk and Cole are both jockish surgeons, and Scrubs‘ Dr. Cox and season 9’s Drew are both irritable, reluctant leaders. However, as Scrubs season had changed the premise of the show slightly too drastically, this narrative potential ultimately went unfulfilled.

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Scrubs Shifting Focus To New Characters Wasn’t The Problem

Three characters from Scrubs season 9 next to each other

Just as its use of returning characters was a good idea, so too was the introduction of Scrubs season 9’s new characters. Season 9’s prospective doctors were able to loosely fit the show’s established character types, but with just enough changes to keep its stories interesting. Each of its new characters brought something interesting to Scrubs season 9’s dynamic, as did Eliza Coupe’s Denise, who was bumped from a supporting role to a leading one. Where some characters – like Neil Flynn’s Janitor and Judy Reyes’ Carla – didn’t return at all, there were new faces to fill the halls of New Sacred Heart, and objectively, this wasn’t really the issue with Scrubs season 9.

Lucy (Kerry Bishé) took over narration duties from J.D., and she was a character written to be equally quirky. The ways that Lucy was different from J.D. were also explored – especially in how she was not as naturally talented as a doctor – making her a good choice to lead Scrubs‘ new cast. Dave Franco was able to bring genuine comedy to the role of Cole, which buoyed season 9 considerably, and Michael Mosley’s Drew was the comically edgy foil to the more upbeat Lucy. The competency of the new cast members meant that the cameo appearances of Scrubs’ original cast actually served to establish a greater transition from season 8 to season 9, and it would have worked if only their different premises were just a little easier to reconcile.

Other Season 9 “Issues” Could Have Been Resolved – But Not Med School

Eliza Coupe as Denise and Kerry Bishé as Lucy in Scrubs season 9

The most common criticisms of Scrubs season 9 were all easily resolved – all, that is, apart from those attributed to its med school premise. The general consensus about Scrubs season 9 is that it failed due to the fact that the original cast was relegated to supporting roles (or didn’t return at all), and that it was an unnecessary continuation of a story that was wrapped up in season 8. However, though it can be argued that Scrubs’ final season ruined J.D.’s perfect ending, it actually set up what could have been an enjoyable continuation of the medical comedy-drama. If Scrubs season 9’s new cast had been given more of a chance to grow and develop, they could have become more well-rounded and interesting characters, but it simply wasn’t meant to be.

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It’s Scrubs‘ med school shift that’s to blame. By taking the edge off of Scrubs‘ original medical drama, season 9 felt just a little too far removed from what made the show work in the first place. Though the ill-fated ninth season was actually able to capture a similar fish-out-of-water vibe to Scrubs‘ perfect comedy pilot, its med school angle made it feel more like a college sitcom than a medical one. This was ultimately what prevented Scrubs season 9 from living up to its predecessor, as all of its other problems could have been resolved with a little time and effort.

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