Scrubs Ep. 8.14: ‘My Soul On Fire, Pt. 1’ / Better Off Ted Ep. 1.4: ‘Racial Sensitivity’ Reviews

Posted on April 9, 2009



TVSummary: Absurdist humor at its finest.
Rating: 8/10

Review Trailer
The quick skinny on the episode.

Checking into Sacred Heart Hospital is often a wild ride into leftfield, a perfect example of such is this episode that finds the Scrubs crew going to the Janitor’s and Lady’s impromptu wedding in the Bahamas. Initially set up as a scam to get wedding presents, the getaway offers the bunch glimpses into the currents states of their romantic relationships. A theme that is shared, in a fashion, on Better Off Ted between Ted and Linda as Linda dates her ex Don in retaliation against Ted rejecting her. This set in a hilarious backdrop of race relations that could only occur at Veridian Dynamics, highlighted by a superb performance by Malcolm Barrett.

Feature-Length Review after the jump.

Scrubs and Me
Background on my relationship with the show for this first review only.

Unlike many of the shows I watch, I actually began with Scrubs in its beginning. I’m not sure why I tuned it to it originally. It seemed odd for NBC to have another hospital-based show on Thursdays, despite the fact that it was a comedy. It was the perfect antithesis to ER, though. It’s admittedly gotten more bizarre in the years that have followed, but the show was fairly kooky from the get-go. It did and has continued to hit my brain, my heart and my funny bone in surgically precise fashion.

Now, as what happens with most comedies I watch, I’ve tended to drop Scrubs here and there only to pick it up again later. It certainly didn’t help that NBC shifted it all over the map, eventually giving the show up to ABC for what is likely its final season. Through reruns and syndication, I’ve managed to catch up on most of the episodes and storylines. I’ve been happy to find the show again this season and surprised at just how spry – if wholly silly – the show is 8 years into its run.

Better Off Ted and Me
Background on my relationship with the show for this first review only.

The show just started. I’ve been watching it. The end.

Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.
Feature-Length Review
The in-depth review.

Comedy is hard to review, especially sitcoms. It often is a case of “you had to be there” and the effect and/or response to comedy is so individual. Absurdist comedy is even harder to review. I am a huge fan of absurdist comedy, usually because it comes from such an honest place as well as such a brainy place. It’s much more interesting than scatological humor (“dick and fart jokes”), which seems to make up the majority of what passes for comedy these days. But absurdist comedy has to be in the right format. Just look at the commercials on TV today that are weird strictly for being weird. They are trying to pull off an absurdist thing and the bite size just fails miserably. A well-seasoned sitcom, though, and it’s mother’s milk.

‘My Soul On Fire’ gives us a hilarious episode of Scrubs that isn’t as touching as we often get but just as insightful, if perhaps more to the characters than the audience. The set-up is that ol’ TV chestnut of sending everyone off to a beach vacation, something the show acknowledges in terrific fashion with J.D. buying necklaces for he and Turk that are replicas of the idol that terrorized the Bradys on their Hawaiian vacation. (Scrubs still does their pop culture asides infinitely better than Family Guy ever will, thank you, Mr. Barry Williams.) I think I cleared my nose out every time J.D. and Turk made the ominous music riff that accompanied the bad events caused by the idol on The Brady Bunch.

The J.D.-Turk bromance was on full display this episode, something that has been a bit lacking in the last few weeks if only because budget cuts have restricted the number of cast that can appear in each episode. It’s both delightful and uncomfortable to see how much weirder J.D. has gotten about their relationship, and Zack Braff nails the timing and delivery of that perfectly. Donald Faison is no slouch – I love how much he’s grown as an actor since the Clueless days – and the interplay between he and Braff makes the “Jurk” one of the funniest pairings on TV. When they did the upstairs-downstairs bumps, I was falling off of my chair.

My crush on Sarah Chalke continues even as Elliot has become much more shrill as the years have gone on. The woman’s comedic chops are as finely toned as her abs and her lead in the J.D.-Elliot relationship lets Braff create some wonderful tiny responses. I find it both weird and yet right that the two have gotten together and are in a full-fledged relationship again. They do actually work well together, even as both are dysfunctional beyond belief in romance. J.D. was right to put Elliot’s demands of explaining in what fashion he loves her in their place. Of course, that sets her off and we’ll have to see how that’s resolved. In the meantime, J.D.’s attempts to tell her how he loves her in awkward moments were chucklesome.

We didn’t get a lot of Turk and Carla in this episode as much as discussion on Turk and Carla. This represented the more “serious” portion of the show, the dealing with a specific topic. This time it’s mother-child separation anxiety and the effects that has on a marriage. Turk wants to get it on with his wife but her concern is elsewhere. This allowed for some truly funny, if obvious, moments when Carla was coming down the beach in her “mom” outfit and the foul moment when she starts chewing on her toenail. “I’ll push through that,” Turk says.

One of the pure joys of Scrubs is the supporting cast that makes up the hospital staff around the main cast. Everyone lives in their parts and really sells the “reality” of the world of the show. From the meeting of the Brain Trust and Donnie’s inclusion, expulsion and re-inclusion in the group to The Todd’s swimsuit run down the beach (thankfully they didn’t drop below the waist on the shot) to Ted’s skin soaking up the sunscreen, this episode nailed the off-kilter moments these characters bring to the show. I loved how Bob Kelso also made his way to the retreat.

This episode reminded me just why the show has always been one of my favorite comedies of all time. It was also the perfect set-up to a complete hour of funny quirkiness followed up by its lead-out cousin.

As omnipresent as the medical setting is for TV shows, so goes the workplace comedy. It takes a rare show to really shed a newish light on the premise and draw really hearty laughs. Better Off Ted is such a show and it’s continued to hit it out of the park with each episode. I’m still not entirely sold on breaking the fourth wall for the narration but they used it to good effect in ‘Racial Sensitivity’.

Dealing with racial sociopolitical issues isn’t that groundbreaking anymore. That’s not to say it’s staid nor an unnecessary topic. If anything, this episode showed you could still comment on the topic with smarts and with a wonderful tongue stuck firmly in cheek. The idea to create a motion sensor system throughout the building that is racially blind to the point of not seeing black people is inventive and biting. The corporate higher-ups responses to the problems this system creates were laugh out loud funny and surprisingly jaw dropping in the case of the “For Blacks” manual water fountain.

Malcolm Barrett’s Lem should be called Gem. His delivery and commitment to the wallflowerish scientist is spot-on and plays well off of Jonathan Slavin’s Phil. That we’ve seen his ire in the previous episodes with Phil only to cave when confronting the bosses helps sell the exasperation of the situation and the inanity in which the suits deal with it. His spewing of “My white guy sucks” was probably the best line of a well-written episode and his double-take with Jay Harrington’s Ted at the aforementioned water fountain was priceless. Lem was the highlight of this episode.

The company hiring underqualified, low paying white workers to shadow the black workers was absurd and yet not outside the realm of possibility. It was a cunning jab and a nice return to smart thinking in TV comedy. I love how this was turned around to show the bosses how ridiculous a plan it was in the first place. Portia de Rossi’s Veronica being the stony face to present all of the changes to the office and then to suggest this resolution was a funny turn.

The episode also gives us the continuing main arc of the series, so far: the unrequited romance of Ted and Andrea Anders’ Linda. After Ted (rightfully) jilted Linda, she rebounded with her ex Don, if only to rub it in Ted’s face. I have to say, as a plot device to keep the leads from consumating a romance, Ted’s reasoning is both refreshing and true-to-life. He doesn’t want to get close to someone he likes – and he really likes Linda – who runs the risk of abandoning him and his daughter like his ex-wife did. This is a very honest concern of single parents and I find it an informed and plausible roadblock for the standard sitcom trope. Though I think he should be adult enough to discuss that with her, I understand how that would ruin the dramatic tension of the situation.

Instead, Ted decides not to tell her why he doesn’t want to go forward with a relationship so as not to hurt her. Of course, she’s hurt and Linda throws Don in Ted’s face as a result. Only, Ted likes Don. They make a racquetball playdate and, during the course of discussion, Ted can see how good of a guy Don is. Linda, of course, hates this. I love the way Anders’ plays her exasperation and her craziness on this show. I liked her on Joey but I wasn’t that big on her character, so I was somewhat indifferent to her. I also wasn’t a huge fan of her character on The Class, so I wasn’t sure what to make of her on this show. I like Linda and I love her interplay with Ted. “That chick gets weirder everyday,” Veronica says. She does and I’m getting a kick out of it. I hope they keep the Ted-Linda tete-a-tete going for a long while. (Just have enough smarts to recognize when it’s no longer fresh.)

Better Off Ted is a marvelous comedy and I hope it’s getting the audience it deserves. Each episode tops the last and this was no exception. As Gem, er, Lem says, “Go Veridian!”

Posted in: Comedy, Television