Scrubs is a wacky silly show that dares not to have a laugh track. Sometimes it’s hilarious:
“Hey, how come Frankfurt and Hamburg have nothing to do with frankfurters and hamburgers?”
“How come your Lake Titicaca is not filled with boobs and poop?”
And sometimes it’s brilliant on gender, like when Elliot and Turk are arguing over which it’s harder to be in medicine: a woman or black. A black woman doctor walks by, and they both give uncomfortable gestures or verbalizations of solidarity. She is unimpressed. That’s a great point to make.
But there’s something about gender on this show that just doesn’t work. I had almost decided to let that go – maybe I was being too petty – and not write this article when I caught an episode which concluded with a voiceover that said (paraphrasing): “There will always be a battle for power between the sexes. Sometimes the man just has to give in. And even thought it’s a cliche, sometimes he just has to be there for him.”
Ah… that’s the kernel of essentialism that’s getting in the way of this show being great when it comes to gender. It may feature Jordan – a nasty woman with a voracious appetite for sex who is actually right when she tells nice people what they’re really all about under their little kindly facades (yes!). It may show Elliot struggling realistically with being a doctor, being a female doctor, being a woman, and being the child of the crazy parents who had her (she’s very interesting to me). But it misses greatness because the writers believe the battle of the sexes is unavoidable and therefore there is no point struggling for equality. All women can hope for is that men will be a little bit nicer to them.
All pregnant women are CRAZY, but fortunately men are willing to endure. Whew, thanks, men! We’ll be sure to have your babies more often! On Scrubs, all pregnant women become erratic, neurotic and demanding. While this is an obnoxious stereotype about pregnant women, that’s not even my main beef. The real point of this trope is to show how selfless and enduring the fathers of the babies are by pitting them again these insane harpies whom they must not kill. Like the pregnancy isn’t as much their responsibility as it is the woman’s.
The writers probably think they’re showing young men how to suck it up and take responsibility when they conceive a child, which I’d be all for. But then comes an episode in which J.D. and a woman he’s dated once conceive. She doesn’t get crazed and hormonal. She just lies and tells J.D. she had a miscarriage. Then he meets her again and finds she’s still very pregnant. He’s hurt, but of course he forgives her because, according to another character, that’s what a man has to do in this situation – forge a relationship with a woman who told him a hurtful lie. It’s framed in patronizing talk about how she probably told this lie because pregnancy is scary, as if one shouldn’t hold a pregnant woman accountable for her actions.
Speaking as someone who once was a child, can I say two wrongs don’t make a right and I have profound concerns about these two as parents? This is a complex situation in which I personally felt it was okay for J.D. not to forgive her, and also okay for these two people who barely know one another not to compound one “whoops” with a big deliberate disaster. But Scrubs pushed me – via other characters – to see this as a noble and heroic sacrifice on J.D.’s part. And to see the woman as dependent on J.D.’s good will.
There’s nothing noble about taking responsibility for your own baby. It’s the bare minimum a human being should do. But taking responsibility doesn’t have to mean forging a relationship with the mother. Sometimes that’s the worst possible solution, and I resent Scrubs for perpetuating the idea that kids are better off with parents who hate and hurt each other than they’d be with one parent alone.
When Elliot finally found her spine, she expressed it by joining the Spice Girls. One day, Elliot suddenly learned that the trick to confidence is having some. To show the world the new Elliot, she… got herself new sexy hair, new skanky clothes and learned to do heroin-chic makeup. Because the screenwriters clearly got the 90’s memo about feminism now taking the form of cute white girls trying to look like prostitutes. Or else they have a series bible which says, “Any chance we get to put Sarah Chalke in a sex costume must be taken.”
There are a million new looks she could have gone for. This smacks too much of men thinking, “You know when women are really powerful? When they look all sexy and I want to screw them, but I can’t unless they let me. Wow, that’s power!” You know what I think is powerful? Just seeing Elliot walk in and tell the specialist what everyone else was afraid to tell him.
J.D.’s uber-hot girlfriends. Oh, my god, J.D. is semi-cute at best but he’s dated a string of women who completely conform to the criteria in this post. In fact, the only particularly good-looking man on the whole show is Donald Faison, yet every single female member of the cast except for Nurse Roberts conforms to that same criteria. I actually find it distracting that the men look like a bunch of co-workers you could find almost anywhere, but the women look like starlets. And the idea that all these modelesque women would go for J.D. is a tired ol’ sitcom trope. Honestly, guys, that trope must be in tears, begging you to put it to bed with an incontinence diaper and leave it to die in peace already. Have some mercy.
Women have the most insane ideas about relationships, and expect men to read their minds! Oh, those crazy women! Carla – whom I want to like and often do because she’s a great nurse and does a lot of saying what needs to be said – is the show’s main embodiment of that famous alleged female tendency to want unpredictable stuff and expect their male partners to figure it out and deliver it without prompting.
This is another tired sitcom trope which puts an ugly PR spin on an ugly reality, which is: some men just don’t listen to their female partners. Those partners could write their men a 130-page report called “Exactly What I Want From You In 25 Clear, Concise Steps a Monkey Could Follow” and it wouldn’t help because the men aren’t paying attention. Then at some point, one of these women finally gets her point across to her male partner – probably by use of a SCUD missile or something similarly unsubtle – and the man is astounded. Not only is she wielding obsolete Cold War weapons, she’s claiming he should have magically known this thing she’s never, ever even hinted about before. Gasp! He goes off to his job writing TV or editing a newspaper or writing laws for his entire nation and tells his buddies about it. Naturally, because like attracts like, all his buddies relay similar stories and the recorded cultural reality becomes: women are minefields of unexpressed desires and ideas through which you’re expected to somehow navigate successfully, you poor, poor man.
Because women don’t have similar access to sculpt culture, out view (that he was fantasizing about the neighbor’s teenage daughter again when we told him clearly it was our birthday next week and just this once we’d like, you know, a card or some freakin’ thing) is lost in the wind. We all know it and talk amongst ourselves about it, but it doesn’t make it into sitcoms and it sure isn’t in anybody’s head when they’re reading pseudo-science that assures us women and men are naturally, irreparably different, so don’t worry about inequality – it’s built into the system.
These issues don’t stop me from enjoying Scrubs. Shows that are almost great at women characters – like Stargate and the collective works of Joss Whedon – reveal more about the stumbling blocks than shows that just plain suck.