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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Scrubs' takes a turn for the better with musical

"Scrubs" cast members in tonight's musical episode surround guest star Stephanie D'Abruzzo on a gurney. (CHRIS HASTON/NBC)

One of the sideways jokes on "Scrubs" has always been the man crush between Turk and J.D. The two doctors are both straight, but they've been having a raging heteromance for six seasons now, displaying all the intimacy, possessiveness, and nutty joy of lovers. Not only are they frat-house bozos, they're beaus, too.

So it is truly satisfying in tonight's extraordinary musical episode of "Scrubs," at 9 on Channel 7, when the platonic pair erupt into an ultracheesy ballad called "Guy Love." The song, and the entire episode, is a perfect showcase for the brilliance of "Scrubs," a sitcom that lives in the sweet spot where irony meets sincerity. In "Guy Love," Turk and J.D. goof on their matching bracelets, but, you know, they're also tender. In the next scene, they walk the hospital halls with an arm around the other's neck.

And "Guy Love" is but one of the pleasures of tonight's half-hour, which is among the best song-and-dance episodes of a TV show I've seen, rating close to the unforgettable "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" musical. With its expressionistic love of wild fantasy sequences, "Scrubs" seems to have been built by creator Bill Lawrence to accommodate such bursts into song. And the songs, with influences ranging from "Les Miserables" and "Grease" to Gilbert & Sullivan, fit effortlessly into the wacky environment of "Scrubs." They were written and composed by Debra Fordham, a "Scrubs" supervising producer, and two of the show's musical consultants, all in collaboration with the Tony-winning creators of "Avenue Q."

Frankly, they had me at "Everything Comes Down to Poo," an early number about the diagnostic value of bowel movements that actually includes the couplet: "All across the nation / We trust in defecation." The plot of the episode finds a woman (played by Stephanie D'Abruzzo, an original lead in "Avenue Q ") at Sacred Heart because she can only hear singing, not talking. Naturally, the ever-crusty Dr. Cox thinks she's"cuckoo-pants," which gives actor John C. McGinley an opportunity to digress into one of his breathless tirades -- in song. But her poo, along with an MRI, of course, indicates that something more urgent is wrong.

It's no surprise that, as Turk, Donald Faison can handle a musical number like a pro. When "Scrubs" has briefly popped into song or choreography over the years, Faison has often been at the forefront, exuberant as always. That he has never been honored with a supporting actor Emmy nomination is just too irritating and unfair. He masterfully evokes the show's juvenile sweetness and its poignancy all at once.

But it is surprising to find the rest of the "Scrubs" cast singing and dancing without looking awkward, particularly Judy Reyes, who plays Carla. One of the story lines this season has involved Carla's postpartum depression (which, of course, occasioned a Tom Cruise joke last week), and tonight Reyes nicely transforms some of that pain and confusion into "We're Gonna Miss You, Carla." And Reyes is also effective in a fun song called "For the Last Time I'm Dominican," in which she explodes at the clueless Turk when he calls her Puerto Rican. Zach Braff can sing, too, and his sometimes overdone boyishness and mugging as J.D. blends nicely with the intentional silliness of some of the lyrics.

"Scrubs" has not been having a strong season, which is especially unfortunate since NBC has placed it in a promising new Thursday sitcom lineup, after "The Office" and before "30 Rock." Such slumps are common for shows after their early seasons -- they're still popular enough to survive, but past their creative peaks. I'm hoping that tonight's episode inspires a new string of goodies, one that will help the "Scrubs" naysayers understand the show's magic. At its best, as in tonight's musical, this sitcom can swing with an unusual grace between surreal antics and bittersweet life lessons.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

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