"Scrubs" was initially scheduled to return at midseason last year, but various pratfalls on NBC's fall 2006 schedule moved the premiere date up to late fall. Consequently the early episodes of last season felt a little unfinished.
By the end of the season, though, the show seemed find its footing. Episodes like the two-part arc that saw the death of Aloma Wright's Nurse Roberts, the musical and the the season-closing arc regained the funny/wistful balance that has been a hallmark of "Scrubs'" best work.
As the series begins its seventh and final season (at 9:30 p.m. ET Thursday), it feels like that mojo is still there. Several laugh-out-load moments are capped with a gut-punch of a realization that sets up a season of angst for J.D. (Zach Braff).
We pick up pretty much where we left off at the end of last season, with J.D. and Elliot (Sarah Chalke) pondering the ramifications of their almost-kiss at the end of last season. It leads J.D. to a resolution to stop sabotaging his relationships -- especially his current one with Kim (the returning and very game Elizabeth Banks), the mother of his soon-to-be-born baby -- and Elliot to something more drastic.
It wouldn't be fair to reveal just what she does, but it does result in Elliot being called "pigwhore" for much of the episode.
The moments involving Elliot and J.D. pack a fairly strong emotional punch, but the episode -- written by long-time scribes Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan -- undercuts several of those moments, whether it's J.D. seeing Snoop Dogg Resident (excuse me -- he's Snoop Dogg Attending) finally profess his love for a co-worker or Turk asking Elliot whether he can still get Mars bars. In fact, there's a whole sequence with Turk considering what type of candy bar he wants for his semiannual treat that's a scream.
The episode also features one of the series' better daydream sequences in recent times, as Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) hands out the inaugural Sacred Heart Who Care-sies Awards ("The weird thing," daydreaming J.D. notes, "is we all wanted to win"). Long-time fans will also smile at the continuation of long-running bits involving Snoop Dogg Attending and Dr. Beardface, and the flights of fancy stay just grounded enough to remain on the right side of overly cute.
All that works great, but I'm less certain about J.D.'s closing voice-over, which is about as far from comedy as you can get. "Scrubs" has pulled off dramatic stories in the past, but none of those -- even the ones dealing with death -- have been quite as melancholy as this; I can't see a lot of laughs, even rueful ones, coming from the situation as it's currently presented.
"Scrubs" has never been afraid of change, though -- one of its strengths over the years has been the way the show has allowed its characters to grow into their lives. So it's likely that something will happen to pull J.D. out of his funk. And, since this is another thing "Scrubs" has historically been good at, when he does it likely will not feel like a cheap writer's contrivance but an act grounded in recognizable behavior.
The show has given me enough reason to believe in it over the past six years, and I'm plenty willing to stick around to see what happens.