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TELEVISION REVIEW

‘Scrubs’ toys with reinvention

J.D. (Zach Braff) and Elliott (Sarah Chalke) are expecting a child on “Scrubs.’’ J.D. (Zach Braff) and Elliott (Sarah Chalke) are expecting a child on “Scrubs.’’ (Richard Cartwright/Abc)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / December 1, 2009

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The “Scrubs’’ reboot, complete with an altered cast and concept, was supposed to be awful. The ABC sitcom, returning tonight at 9 on Channel 5, seemed destined to arrive looking like a shadow of a replica of its former self. In sharp decline already for three or four seasons, “Scrubs’’ 2.0 would have to be a depleted thing, a sponge used once too often.

But new characters and a change of scenery have revived the show to some degree. Returning longtime stars Zach Braff as J.D. and Donald Faison as Turk appear to be enjoying the new setup, while they continue their bromantic escapades with each other to strains of their song “Guy Love.’’ Now teachers at the hospital’s medical school, J.D., Turk, and Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) toy with their students as they reveal their unusual approaches to education. J.D. is fixated on being liked, practicing “teacher-tainment’’ by holding a class while sitting in a tree. His big fantasy is to be called “Dr. D’’ by students in the school quad - despite the fact that, as one student points out, there is no quad. As cruel as ever, Cox rules by fear, telling the newbies, “You are all murderers and assassins that have been sent here to try to kill my patients.’’

The newcomers include Lucy (Kerry Bishe), an innocent beauty who’s always looking for approval, particularly from Cox, who loathes her. The vain Cole (Dave Franco) is the son of one of the school’s big donors, a fact that he uses to manipulate the teachers. He is spoiled, and his mother is so devoted to his happiness that she serves as his “wingmom’’ at bars when he’s trying to pick up women. The most interesting newbie is Drew (Michael Mosley), a return-to-med-school hunk who keeps his feelings under lock and key. In one of the show’s many allusions to the parallels between Cox and Dr. House, Cox has assigned the newcomers numbers just as House did, and Drew is Cox’s “Number 1.’’ Cox plans to bully the guy into shape.

A few other members of the original cast appear in cameos, including Sarah Chalke as Elliott, who is pregnant with her and J.D.’s first child. But the janitor and Carla aren’t around - or at least not in tonight’s two episodes. Instead of the janitor, there is a security duo zooming around the campus offering some trademark “Scrubs’’ absurdity.

Warning: I’m not saying the show has recaptured its early glory. Not by a long shot. In its prime, unlike any other sitcom on TV, “Scrubs’’ offered a window into a young doctor’s twisted imagination - his Freudian longings, his boyish impulses, his paranoia and self-consciousness, his romantic neediness. It was an expertly edited, surrealistic journey that made you laugh before it broke your heart. At this point, “Scrubs’’ has turned its original style into a formula; the fantasy sequences are more predictable, the earnest denouements are automatic. It’s a good formula, but one that’s no longer vibrant.

I still think “Scrubs’’ should have stood behind last season’s series finale and gone off the air. But given that the show is back for a ninth go-round, things could be a whole lot worse.

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

SCRUBS

Starring: Zach Braff, John C. McGinley, Eliza Coupe, Kerry Bishe, Michael Mosley, Dave Franco, Donald Faison

On: ABC, Channel 5

Time: Tonight, 9-9:30; 9:30-10

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