To be upfront at the start, this is going to be a First World Problem lamentation. But it’s been on my mind a lot lately and two factors – the sitcom Scrubs and a recent conversation with Jeff – have led me to finally write this post. So here it is folks, we live in an age where (for those of us with the means and possibility of access) we have thousands of shows and thousands of movies available to be streamed whenever our little hearts’ desire…and I’m kind of exhausted by it all. I am. More and more I find myself missing the “old days,” when a TV show was on once a week and you either saw it, caught it in reruns, or it was forever lost to you. Sure, I missed a lot. But what I caught I caught because I loved it.
Recently I’ve started rewatching Scrubs for the…who even knows anymore? The zillionth time? For those unfamiliar with the show, Scrubs ran for seven seasons on NBC (from October 2001 to May 2008) and then finished up its final two seasons on ABC (from January 2009 until March 2010). It’s…how do you even describe the most perfect show ever? Narrated from the perspective of Dr. John J.D. Dorian (Zach Braff), it chronicles the exploits of the medical staff at Sacred Heart Hospital. It’s this brilliant blend of wacky comedy, surrealist moments, and surprisingly real emotion. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, certain episodes always make me cry. I don’t want to exaggerate (which I do at times) so, to be conservative, I can safely say I’ve watched this entire series – from premiere to finale – at least ten times. That’s not including all the times I’ve watched random episodes either. Needless to say, I have a relationship with this show.
When I sat down to throw the first disc of the first season of Scrubs into the ol’ Blu-ray player again the other day, as soon as Lazlo Bane’s “Superman” (the show’s theme song) began playing over the DVD menu, it felt like coming home. Given the amount of time I’ve spent with J.D., Elliot (Sarah Chalke), Turk (Donald Faison), Carla (Judy Reyes), Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins), the Janitor (Neil Flynn), Jordan (Christa Miller), Ted (Sam Lloyd), Laverne (Aloma Wright), the Todd (Robert Maschio), and Doug (Johnny Kastl) over the years, returning to this show always feels like putting on a favorite t-shirt, crawling under a favorite blanket, or sitting down with an old friend and magically picking up as though no time has past.
As I entered the halls of Sacred Heart again, I realized I had far more interest in watching these stories again than I had in continuing anything I was currently watching on Netflix. (Note: I gave up cable years ago and presently have Netflix, Amazon Prime, and that CBS All Access thingie (for Big Brother) but I don’t have Hulu and I ditched my Showtime subscription once Penny Dreadful was done.) Talking with Jeff yesterday, he began saying a lot of what I’ve been feeling of late too.
Jeff told me he was watching The Big Bang Theory when his wife asked him why he keeps watching it when he’s already seen all of the shows several times. He told her, “Until I stop laughing, I’m not going to stop watching it.” BOOM. YES. That’s truth. And it’s part of why I continually return to Scrubs. Despite watching it for sixteen years I’ve yet to stop laughing or crying or being affected by what I see.
Scrubs finds itself in a small but elite group of shows, shows I made the conscious decision to invest in the DVD sets of (back when you had to do that to easily relive it). Scrubs is my all-time favorite but it’s joined on the DVD shelf by The King Of Queens, The Office, Seinfeld, and The Gilmore Girls. Those five shows, over my life, made the cut. I loved them enough to want to watch them again and again back before it was an easy thing to do, via streaming services.
Part of what bonds me so tightly to Scrubs is finding it at the right time in my life. I was in college and, while still a few years younger than J.D., Turk, Elliot, and Carla when their adventure begins in season one, a lot of that show resonated. Now that I find myself a few years older than they were when the show ended, I still find the same resonance. I appreciate what I took from the show then and how it speaks to me now. I began watching Scrubs during a time – my early and mid-twenties – when a lot of important growth and self-definition happens.
But it wasn’t just the timing of when I found the show that’s caused this bond. It’s also the time I’ve spent with the show, watching and rewatching all of these episodes. In an age before just about everything was available for streaming whenever we wanted, wherever we wanted, on whatever device we wanted for one low price a month (or several, depending on how many services you subscribe to), that was an intentional move I had to make. I made the conscious choice to get these DVDs in lieu of other things – whether I paid full price, sale-hunted, or requested/suggested them as gifts. I invited them into my life. And, before everything was available to stream whenever we wanted, wherever we wanted, on whatever device we wanted, this meant if I wanted to watch TV when there was “nothing on” these were the shows I’d watch.
Because I loved them so much, I watched them a lot. Now I feel the opposite problem exists. It’s not a matter of what shows I’ll rewatch or how I’ll go about rewatching them. Rather, it’s what show do I want to watch. There’s just SO MUCH out there to choose from.
I was marveling yesterday, as I FINALLY finished the second season of Jessica Jones, with as much content as is available on Netflix alone I could conceivable never rewatch anything ever again in my entire life and always have access to something new. The amount of new content grows exponentially with each service you add too. As a result, everyone can find something they love to watch but there’s also no remotely homogenous TV culture. I have almost zero ability to be conversationally aware of what my students are watching – let alone family and friends – because there are so many choices across so many platforms that even when people happen to be watching the same thing they’re all at different places in the series. The simple act of talking about TV has radially changed over the last ten years. There is so much content out there I honestly feel exhausted thinking about it. CollegeHumor gets it:
Jeff voiced a similar sentiment when we talked yesterday, saying, “It’s oppressing to start a new series.” YES! That was the moment I realized I had to sit down and really write this because that was the perfect word. There’s so much. I was excited to dive into the Marvel shows when I finally caved and got Netflix. But Jessica Jones dropped its second season on March 8, 2018. I finished it yesterday. I got a little bored in the middle and it started to feel like homework so I basically stopped. Luke Cage – which was, by far, my favorite of the Marvel shows – dropped its second season on June 22nd and I have yet to begin it. Don’t even get me started on Iron Fist season two. And I feel like I need to watch them all before Daredevil comes back with its third season on October 19th. Oy.
Say what you want about the “old ways” of doing TV but there was something special about weekly new episodes, at a set night and time. Sure, you might tune in for a new show but for it to become a part of your week, to take up a specific moment of your already all too finite existence and to do so on a regular weekly basis, it had to be good. It had to earn that time slot. Now TV isn’t just fighting for a chunk of my time between 8:00pm and midnight every day. It’s fighting for any time it can get all day long, along with reading, writing, grading, lesson planning, going to the movies, and time spent with loved ones. No matter how I try, I can’t seem to find a way to effectively stream a show.
I mean I STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED STRANGER THINGS 2. There’s just always something else that wins my time.
I grant part of this is simply a by-product of my age. Old dogs, new tricks you know. But Scrubs, The Office, and the others only had to compete for an half hour or an hour each week and, upon winning that loyalty, they – along with The King Of Queens, Seinfeld, and The Gilmore Girls – managed to earn the right to be watched whenever I wanted to because I got the DVDs. They weren’t something new fighting for a piece of my precious free time. Rather they were something I already loved and knew was deserving of that time. And I just can’t figure out how to do this with streaming services.
When I sit down to watch TV, do I watch something new (Stranger Things 2 or Black Mirror or Luke Cage)? Do I rewatch something I’ve seen (Daredevil Season One or The Defenders or Master Of None)? Do I rewatch something old/classic I loved in my youth (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or The REAL Ghostbusters)? Do I watch movies or shows or documentaries?? And WHEN do I watch them?!? I know this sounds insane – I probably literally sound insane right now. But when the TV shows fighting for my attention were on from 8:00 to midnight every night, they competed with homework and reading and other things that could fill that time but could also fill other time and, if they were good enough, they won the day. But now that all new shows can be watched ANYTIME they are always competing with EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE. As a result, I feel overwhelmed and uninterested in a lot of the new content out there. It feels like too much work for too little a reward because I can never be “caught up” or “in the know” anyway. The best I can hope for is someone who happens to be watching the same thing I am at the same time and to be in reasonably the same place in the series.
Admittedly, it’s not all bad. I found and fell in love with Doctor Who last year, as I spent September 2017 through May 2018 watching the entire modern run of the show. Given how expensive the DVDs are, that’s not something I’d’ve been able to find without Amazon. For me though, the Doctor has proved an exception. I got so hooked because it was too good to ignore. I’ve been dying to try Jack Ryan or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel but it still feels like a chore to figure out when to watch it and how to fit the entire season (let alone all the seasons to come) into my life.
Now I’m not saying I’m going to stop streaming any TV shows or I’m going to give up Netflix or Amazon or anything crazy and extreme like that. I’m just saying, if you ask me about a new show I’m probably not going to have seen it. I may see it…eventually. But as opposed to trying to navigate a thousand options on dozens of services, I think I’m just going to sit down with Scrubs for the umpteenth time. And when I finish there, maybe I’ll head back to Scranton, PA to see what’s shakin’ at Dunder Mifflin. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam, Kelly, Creed, Toby, Meredith, Angela, Kevin, Oscar, Phyllis, Stanley, Andy, and Erin.
Given what prompted this reflection – my rewatching Scrubs and talking with Jeff – I feel the only fitting place to end is with a story. Jeff (who it’s worth noting, knows and love Scrubs every bit as much as I do (and is the person I call immediately when I can’t remember the answer to any piece of Scrubs trivia) once called and left the entirety of J.D. and Turk’s “Guy Love” duet on my voicemail, expertly singing both parts. In a tribute to our bromance, he recreated this most epic of tributes to the most epic bromance of all time. While I no longer have the recording of Jeff singing this to me (sadly), J.D. and Turk’s original will do just fine. Enjoy!