Poorly aging TV shows
By Eric Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
Scrubs was one of my favourite shows growing up. There was something infinitely loveable about the annoying narrative prowess displayed by J.D. (Zach Braff) as that merry band of stereotyped misfits navigated the real and not-so-real issues of hospital life. Whether it was Carla (Judy Reyes) trying to convince Turk (Donald Faison) she was Dominican, the Janitor (Neil Flynn) looking to prank J.D., or Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) begrudgingly showing a human side, Scrubs amused and entertained.
Unfortunately for Scrubs, the show has proved not to be like wine—and if it is, it’s an already-opened bottle that’s on the decline. It hasn’t aged well. Homophobic jokes abound and sexism is rampant. I took in a few clips and episodes the other day and couldn’t stop an occasional involuntary half-cringe. Not quite tantamount to a balloon marked “childhood innocence” popping, but certainly an eye-opener.
And inasmuch as it’s not that much of a surprise to see older shows fail to meet today’s standards for political correctness, it needs to be noted that Scrubs isn’t that old. The show ran eight seasons and finished in 2009. How is it that not even a decade ago, a program could get away with a male character walking into a room, briefly interacting with another man, and then commenting to a woman, “Oh yeah, great vagina”?
In one of those, just-how-self-aware-are-they-being moments, the show once had a flashback during a sexual harassment seminar about how some people were from another era, and hence, couldn’t adjust. It managed to illustrate how casual ass slaps were unacceptable while blatantly ignoring the obvious objectifying words and actions so cavalierly employed for the duration of the program.
But this piece isn’t really about Scrubs or the fact that Braff has failed to produce anything truly timeless in his career, it’s about how we’ll perceive all of these once-enjoyable works as the years march on. Yes, they generally have some shortcomings in the PC department, but are we to punish such productions for something they had no control over: what was socially accepted at the time? Or are they given byes despite the fact that public perception typically starts shifting before such programs reach their end?
Moving beyond that, does it really matter whether we give these modern-day relics a pass or fail? One is highly unlikely to be watching a TV show for any reason other than enjoyment, so it stands to reason that if the material is offensive, it simply won’t be seen. The flipside of the coin is that eventually everything has historical value and can be viewed in a different, if not softer, light. They take on the title of “classics.” Take Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain or pretty much any Disney movie—more racist references in there than yawns during a second viewing of Garden State. We freely accept the dated undertones because the work has become a time capsule—a snapshot of the past.
This isn’t to say that I’m putting the fine folks at Sacred Heart and Huckleberry Finn on the same level, but it is food for thought. Are Scrubs and similar shows merely too recent to appreciate yet? Or is there more that separates the classics from other works than just time?