Over the past couple days, actors Donald Faison and Zach Braff have been campaigning for Obama here in Vegas. While I’m not a fan of their political stance, I freaking love Scrubs and have been re-watching the show for what must now be about the ninety-billionth time.
It got me thinking about a discussion Evan and I had a while back, in which we concluded after some debate that Scrubs is the best show of all time.
Ok, that’s not going to mean anything to you if you haven’t actually seen Scrubs. If you haven’t, go watch it now.
Now think about it- has there been a bad episode of Scrubs? Has there ever been an even sub-par episode of Scrubs?
There really hasn’t. Not every episode is fun to watch (it’s a hospital- you can’t expect them not to deal with mortality and whatnot)- some episodes are downright depressing and tragic. Even so, there show never fails to have some substance to it and (and this is the big thing) never really diminishes in quality despite having been on air for eight seasons (nobody counts the ninth as cannon).
See, what makes Scrubs so consistently good isn’t that it’s funny- it is funny, but not every episode, and not every joke in the funny episodes will have you on the floor.
It’s that it’s consistent all the way through. The characters develop, certainly, but they never really shift dramatically or break away from who they were a season ago. JD is always JD, Turk is always Turk, and so on. The wacky, exaggerated universe of the show never strays too much into total realism or too far off into surrealism. In short, and episode seen in the last season of Scrubs is about the same (extremely high) quality that the initial episodes are.
Now I know you’re all saying, “But Gordon, you ruggedly handsome bastion of logic and truth, surely consistency isn’t all there is to it!”, and yes, it’s not just consistency that makes a show good. Comedies need to be funny, dramas need to be agonizing, and so on- nevertheless, these things are dwarfed when it comes to consistency- let me give you an example of this done wrong.
Community. I remember seeing ads for it in my first year of college and thinking “Neat- a show about college. Something I and my demographic can all relate to and get a kick out of. This looks like it’s gonna be good”.
And it was.
Really good. In fact, the first season of Community is probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in the couple decades I’ve been alive. But what proceeded the glorious first season was one of the fastest and ugliest burnouts in television history.
You remember how Abed was socially-challenged but ultimately human in his attempts to relate to people and make is father (also played by an Indian actor) proud? Remember how Jeff wanted to get his degree and regain control over his life? Remember how Troy was trying to deal with the loss of his status? How Annie was trying to reinvent herself?
Yeah, all of that went down the toilet in the subsequent season. The motivations that gave the episodes conflict and helped progress the characters and the story as a whole were more or less dropped, and the little quirks that made the characters funny and interested got so blown up that they became the only aspect of the characters. Abed went from movie-geek to schizoid mess, Jeff became charming (and nothing else), Troy became just Abed’s buddy, and Annie was just the sweet naive straight-man (more or less) to the rest of the group. On top of becoming gross caricatures of their former selves, the show stopped dealing with college (which you might recall as being the reason so many people started watching the first place) and became centered entirely on the clownish escapades of the group. Granted, every once in a while you got good episodes, but never on the same level as the first season. Every time I sat down to watch Community the smile faded from my face and I could react in no other way but this:
“But Gordon, you roguish fountain of delight, isn’t this more a warning against being madcap than straying from the characters and story?”
I’d have to concede that, if it weren’t for such shows as South Park and American Dad. Both of these shows have been from their inception pretty surreal, nonsensical, and all-around crazy. Yet both shows have maintained that same level of craziness and remain (more or less) as popular now as when they started.
Again, an excellent example of how shows drifting away from their original material kills them would perhaps the most iconic animated show of all time: The Simpsons.
My old roommate never saw the early Simpsons, and is to this day convinced that the show is side-splitting in its hilarity. And he’s probably right- I stopped watching the Simpsons after my first year of college- I got tired of having my heart broken.
Perhaps it’s best encapsulated in this quote by Lisa Simpson back in Season 2:
I heard you last night, Bart. You prayed for this. Now your prayers have been answered. I’m no theologian. I don’t know who or what God is exactly. All I know is he’s a force more powerful than Mom and Dad put together and you owe him big.
Would you ever hear that from Lisa in one of the later seasons? You would not. Why? Because Lisa has moved from being a brilliantly smart little girl to a pointy-haired midget channeling the whiny liberal indignation of Bill Maher.
Is there anything wrong with Lisa as she is today? Not really, no. If that’s who her character is, then that’s who her character is- only the hitch here is that’s not who Lisa started off as. Had Lisa started off as the yellow counterpart of Brian Griffin, then I wouldn’t have any problem. Had Homer started off as a food-crazed buffoon or Marge as a simple housewife, I’d probably still watch the show. Again, it’s the gradual change from one thing to another that’s responsible for people drifting away from the series. It’s not that shows go stale (not that staleness can’t be a problem- just look at the Gilligan’s Island episode where they’re almost rescued), it’s that they change too much.
And hey, with our ever-shortening attention spans and our rapidly changing culture, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.