One of the smartest moves that NBC has made this season [besides greenlighting Heroes] is creating its Thursday night block of sitcoms. This week, they take that move to the next logical level with the return of Scrubs [9 p.m./8 Central]- one of the most audacious sitcoms of our time. Slotted between The Office [8:30/7:30C] and 30 Rock 9:30/8:30C], the medical sitcom provides a contrast of the underplayed lunacy of the former and the highly referential leanings of the latter – and makes a fine addition to an evening that also includes the karmic romp that is My Name Is Earl [8/7C]…
Scrubs kicks off its new season with My Mirror Image – an episode in which various members of the hospital staff find themselves dealing with key issues: J.D. [Zach Braff] is paralyzed by the thought that he's going to be a father; Dr. Cox [John C. McGinley] begins to worry about how his anger management [or lack of same] might be affecting his son], and The Janitor [Neil Flynn] begins to think that his obsession with needling J.D. might be preventing him from achieving other dreamt-about goals.
Meanwhile, Turk [Donald Faison] and Carla [Judy Reyes] are preparing for the arrival of their first baby and Elliot [Sarah Chalke] is all angsty because she's the only one not having a baby.
As each character tries to deal with his issues, he encounters a hospital patient in whom he sees something familiar. For The Janitor, it's a man who let his obsession with a specific degree distract him from what was going on around him – and from even thinking about his dreams; for Dr. Cox, it's a patient whose inability to manage his anger has put him in the hospital with ulcers [but not before it cost him his job and his family], and J.D. has a patient whose breast cancer has migrated to her spine.
At the same time as Scrubs provides a healthy does of its laugh-out-loud lunacy [check out the flagpole gag!], it also balances it with an equally healthy dose of reality. It is, in fact, this balance that keeps Scrubs from running off the rails. The show's writers are always aware that the best comedy is grounded in reality and that the farther out you take the humor, the more reality you need to ground it.
My Name Is Earl opens the evening with Born a Gamblin' Man. When Earl [Jason Lee] delivers 276 Earl-made bologna sandwiches for Kenny [to make up stealing his lunch that many times when they were in school], he arrives as Kenny's boyfriend moves out. The problem? It seems that ever since Brokeback Mountain, all the men in Kenny's life want "real" men – and he entreats Earl to teach him how to be manly. The B and C arcs have Randy [Ethan Suplee] preparing to ask Catalina [Nadine Velasquez] out, while Joy Jaime Pressly] prepares for her trial by dealing with her anger management issues.
Needless to say, Earl's lessons have a detrimental effect on both him and Kenny – gambling problems! One of the funniest bits centers on Joy's anger management course – which is held at a kind of one-stop-anonymous group [dealing with alcoholics, problem gamblers, and even hypochondriacs…]. It's one of Earl's best eps of the season.
In The Convict, Michael [Steve Carell] tries to be supportive when he learns that someone in the office – he automatically assumes it's someone from the Stamford branch – is an ex-convict. Fans of The Office won't be terribly surprised by what happens next, but as an occasional viewer, I found this episode to be a bit on the embarrassing side. The show has definitely been funnier…
Poor Liz Lemon [Tina Fey], of 30 Rock. As her show disintegrates around her, she finds herself reconnecting with Dennis [Dean winters] and taking him back solely because he asked. Simultaneously, she's fighting Jack's [Alex Baldwin] efforts to mentor her, maintaining she's doing just fine without him.
On the set, things aren't going well because Tracy Morgan [Tracy Morgan] has seen himself referred to as normal in a gossip rag and has turned up with a face-covering tattoo. Also, Jenna [Jane Krakowski] is suffering the aftereffects of a particularly nasty episode of botox treatment, and Josh is leery after receiving a message that Liz Taylor is going to be sending him something [after he's done a less than flattering impression of her on the show…].
I still haven't warmed to Krakowski as Jenn, I though Rachel Dratch was much better [her cameo, this week, is pretty cool, though…]. In this episode, though, Krakowski does a terrific job as the botox-frozen show host. As usual, Fey and Baldwin are excellent and Morgan pokes fun at the whole "street cred" thing with unexpected panache.
My Name Is Earl – Grade: A-
The Office – Grade: C
Scrubs – Grade: A
30 Rock – Grade: B-