Taking Off
Taking Off is a series of columns looking at the oft forgotten beginnings of some of your favorite TV shows from recent years. Some shows got better after their lift off and some got worse after years on the air. But they all share a beginning. Pilots sell the show not just to network executives but to audiences. Characters and themes often show where the program wants to go, but rarely is the path so clear cut. So
let's look back this week at"¦

SCRUBS-"My First Day"

Original Airdate, October 2, 2001

"I don't know jack." - JD

The wacky sitcom, Scrubs has just been cancelled officially. Though many of the show's hardcore fans felt that it had truly ended with "My Finale", it continued another season as Scrubs: The New Class-or something like that. I never cared to watch this new incarnation. I was finished when series hero, JD, walked out Sacred Heart Hospital for the last time (or what should have been the last time).

But to appreciate how much Scrubs had changed, one needs to go all the way back to October of 2001. The series opener, "My First Day", starts with an alarm going off and a young medical intern, JD, has the first day jitters. JD's problem is something a lot of people can relate to, except for the fact he can kill someone. The central conflict of the pilot is fits perfectly as most "first day at the hospital/office/firehouse/spaceship etc." episodes go. It allows for the protagonist to meet all the new crazy characters and introduce the audience to this strange new environment that we can also learn to get comfortable with.

First we meet JD's best friend, Turk who is a surgical intern and thanks to JD's narration (which works excellently at dolling out exposition like nobody's business) we learn that there is a line drawn in the sand between surgeons and medical folk like JD. The difference between the jock surgeons and the nerdy medical docs is constantly revisited throughout the show. We then meet Elliot who is, to anyone who's watched a sitcom before, clearly set-up to be the love interest to JD. They have a bit of a rivalry and the two appear in the first of a series-long string of JD fantasies. Next comes Carla who in a quick, seemingly throw-away line says to JD upon first meeting him while wheeling in a patient, "Carla will take care of you." He has no idea, and neither does the audience really know how true the statement rings for the rest of the series.

In addition to Carla's intro, the first appearance of Dr. Cox is a surprisingly finished product in terms of character. John C McGinley's performance as Dr. Cox in episode one is spot on in tone and the cadence he reads his lines are absolutely the same as the last episode of the show. He's no nonsense and to the viewer-the bad guy. Well at first he's the bad guy to JD. He's tough on him and basically tells him to face his fear of messing up otherwise he has no business being in the hospital. JD is turned off by Cox's approach and much prefers Dr. Kelso who is introduced as a safety net. Like Carla's line, JD delivers a single, sarcastic line that sums up one of the major plot devices of the show. When he is being berated by Dr. Cox, JD says, "You've been like a father to me." He has no idea. Watching this as someone who had seen the entire series already knows how true his statement is. He just doesn't know it and neither did I in 2001.

Dropping these little clues of themes and character traits in the pilot leaves little nuggets of information in the back of the viewer's mind that pay off later by helping to establish an emotional connection to these fictional characters. This is the success of any pilot. Being able to lay the groundwork to what viewers should expect week to week while subliminally setting them up to fall deeper into the show's universe. A good pilot sticks the penny in the door, if you will. Casually mention something, and feel the implications throughout the rest of the run of the show.

The tone of the pilot was wacky, yet dark and subdued. While JD was kind of wacky in his fantasies he was in a serious place. The show maintained this certainly for all of the first season and most of the run up until around the halfway point (around season 5 or 6). The show became a bit more candy-colored and the characters a bit more broad. The pilot also offered the first of many fantastic musical choices which the show became famous for. In this case, David Gray's "Please Forgive Me" acts as background music to a hectic first night on call.

"My First Day" offers a great jumping off point thematically for Scrubs. The fear that he knows nothing after years of Med School, weighs on JD. But we learn it weighs on everyone at the beginning, even the faux confident, Turk and Elliot. Clueless and scared, JD and the gang head toward an uncertain future in a line of work that must often be beyond stressful.

But we see JD grow like we would go on to do just about every week of the show. Dr. Cox proves he's the real good guy forcing JD to overcome his fear and the young doc leaves the hospital a better person for it. The pilot for Scrubs is really top notch in that we sympathize with the main character but are eager to see how he grows as a doctor and a person. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Scrubs went off the tracks (ELIZABETH BANKS) but any show that goes on for so long falls into the dreaded "We're having a baby" or "We're getting married" territory. Scrubs' sins can often be pointed at keeping the series on for too long, but even though there were wacky road trips and new, stupid characters (KEITH) it was fun to see the doctor who didn't know jack grow into a good doctor and a better person.

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