‘Scrubs’ learns to play ‘House’

“Medicine is, well, it’s a dead career.” That’s Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), offering a cold jolt of good sense to a class of incoming medical students early in this week’s season premiere of “Scrubs.”

He continues: “Thanks to insurance companies and malpractice lawyers, you have absolutely no hope of finding a rewarding or satisfying profession in this once noble field.”

And then, for the final punch, something even more reasonable: “You are all murderers and assassins that have been sent here to try to kill my patients.”

What a relief, then, that so little medicine is practiced on “Scrubs,” which is essentially lighthearted sitcom as science fiction, a show in which doctors are rarely asked to heal, even though they mostly appear in scrubs.

But this season, in the show’s ninth and second on ABC -- it begins Tuesday night with successive episodes -- it’s flirting with a touch of reinvention. First there’s the shift of locale, from the old Sacred Heart, a teaching hospital, to the new Sacred Heart, a medical school, though much of the key cast is intact (if only appearing sporadically this season).

The school environment offers up fresh blood in the form of a new class of students, including blossoming nerd Lucy (Kerry Bishe), surly and remote Drew (Michael Mosley) and Cole (Dave Franco), an oleaginous son of privilege. Leading the new charges, Dr. Cox is merciless, attempting to reduce Lucy to tears and informing students he’ll be referring to them by their numerical rank. Drew, he decides, is No.1 and is forced to wear a sign on his chest indicating such.

In other words, “Scrubs” has been watching “House” and is better for it. New candidates helped revitalize that show two years ago, a neat trick that preserves the familiar pecking order while allowing for new plot shades. ( “Grey’s Anatomy” has done this too, with less success -- new kids, same problems.)

None have the immediate charm of Aziz Ansari’s Ed Dhandapani, one of last season’s new faces, but they’re able foils, especially Drew, who quickly finds his doppelgänger in Dr. Mahoney (Eliza Coupe), one of last year’s interns, who has a similarly brusque manner. “If you’re going to kill yourself,” she tells the new students, “do it off campus, because it is a buttload of paperwork.”

Two seasons ago, “Scrubs” was at an impasse -- unwelcome at NBC and uncertain of its narrative fate. After the switch to ABC, the show shook things up slightly, lightening some of the central energy from around J.D. ( Zach Braff). But for better and worse, J.D. is this show’s glue, the naïf who undoes everyone else’s knowingness. Everyone but Turk (Donald Faison), his best friend, at least -- their friendship is intact and goofy. (As is the touchy race humor it engenders, or at least allows for: “It’s like being held by a big piece of caramel,” J.D. tells a burly black security guard who’s just caught him jumping out of a tree.)

But without J.D., Dr. Cox’s vein-popping rage would go unchecked, and the dry, depressed wit of Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) would have no foil.

J.D. calls his mode of pedagogy “teachertainment” -- while sitting in the aforementioned tree. His girlfriend, Dr. Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), is pregnant with their child this season, a plot line that will also likely highlight J.D.'s infant-like nature. While everyone around him thinks Sacred Heart is burning, J.D. isn’t fiddling, per se, but his obliviousness is the only beacon of light left.