Scrubs vs. Grey’s Anatomy vs. House
ith respect to Bill Simmons, to whom this column is seriously indebted, we here at Stylus have started Vs. to bring you a series of battles between two similar items on the themes of music, movies, and television, breaking their merits down point by point and seeing which emerges victorious. Agree or disagree with the conclusions? You know the drill. But understand that our methods of empirical data analysis are in fact flawless and therefore should not be disputed.
The Match-Up: It seems like people just can’t seem to get enough of hospital dramas these days. All right, maybe that’s not completely true, since apparently 3 lbs couldn’t make it a month on CBS. Still, between these three shows, you gotta wonder what it is about watching people practice medicine that makes for such good primetime viewing. Having the balance of life and death at your fingertips is probably a good start, especially when you can tie the ailments the patients are having into the personal problems of the doctors treating them (as all three of these shows are incredibly guilty of doing). Plus, if all else fails, hospitals always have plenty of inexplicably unoccupied rooms where two characters can sneak away to have sex in.
In any event, despite sharing general format and structure, the three shows are different enough to justify their independent existences. “House,” currently airing on FOX, is more of a character study, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” is basically a soap opera, and NBC’s “Scrubs” is essentially a coming of age story.
Why They Deserve to Be Compared: Because they’re all about medicine and drama and stuff. Also, I’ve found out that despite my TV watching schedule being fairly active, I generally only have room in my life for one of these shows—I watched “House” for its first two years, then when I started getting sick of it, I plowed through my roommate’s first season DVD set of “Grey’s” (just a few days before the second season was released). Then, when I realized that 3rd season “Grey’s” wasn’t really doing it for me either, here comes FOX with an hour of “Scrubs” reruns airing from 12:00-1:00 every night. And now with “Grey’s” and “Scrubs” currently competing for the same time slot, the ante has clearly been upped.
(Side Note: You may ask why I have chosen not to include medical perennial E.R. in this cagematch, the reasons for this are threefold:
1. The show’s been on for far longer than any of those mentioned here.
2. I don’t know a single person who watches it.
3. I’ve never seen an episode in my life.
So, apologies to you E.R. devotees out there, but today is not its day.)
We start out the match with one of the biggest slam dunks in the competition. Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo), titular protagonist of “Grey’s Anatomy,” is a near-definitive example of the television staple of a show focusing on its least interesting character in order to provide an everyman/woman type for audience identification purposes, and to make all the other characters look more interesting by comparison. “Scrubs” is less guilty of this, with the fantasy-prone manchild doctor J.D. clearly the part Zach Braff was born to play—occasionally too sensitive and infantile, but generally a compelling and often hilarious character.
However, both of these, as well as just about every character currently on primetime with the possible exception of Jack Bauer, are utterly dwarfed by Dr. Gregory House. The pill-popping, misanthropic, narcissistic and brilliant Dr. House is obviously one of the great TV characters of the decade, and is played to acidic, sneering perfection by Hugh Laurie. Just about every line out of the man’s mouth is a classic, and watching him, you get the feeling you’d watch his character working in just about any profession—super-brilliant plumber, super-brilliant shoemaker, hell, super-brilliant McDonalds Drive-Thru clerk (“Talk into the microphone, you idiot.”)
This one is a little tougher, as all have their pros and cons. “Grey’s” features outside music more prominently than the other two shows, with contemporary would-be-hits soundtracking about half of any given episode, but the selections are extremely hit or miss and often err on the sappy side. “Scrubs” has the best use of past hits (J.D. singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Turk auditioning for the hospital’s air-band by lip synching to Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison” are two memorable standouts), but the use of contemporary music tends to dwell (somewhat appropriately, I suppose) on the kind of wimpy acoustic rock that J.D. loves, including the awful Joshua Radin, who Braff is friends with in real life. “House” has by far the best theme of the three (Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”) but aside from House rocking out to “Baba O’Riley” in a season one episode, features very little prominent music of note, mostly letting the Thomas Newman score do the soundtracking.
Ultimately, I have to give this one to “Grey’s” for sheer impact. Like few since “General Hospital,” “Grey’s” can actually influence what people listen to outside of the show. At one point this year, three songs in the top ten of the pop charts—Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” The Fray’s “How to Save a Life,” and Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”—all had gotten a push from “Grey’s” before they had gotten popular. It’s possible the first two might’ve gotten popular anyway, but who would’ve guessed this time last year that Snow Patrol would have a bigger hit than Coldplay ever has (not to mention a better one)? For that alone, “Grey’s” earns a win here.
Winner: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Watching “Grey’s Anatomy” on DVD, I kept hoping to find that there was an option somewhere on the DVD to turn Ellen Pompeo’s voiceover off. Thankfully appearing only in the beginning and end of each episode, Pompeo’s second-year-drama-student-read narration made me want to reach for the fast forward button every time; preachy, pointless, and extremely annoying. Braff’s “Scrubs” narration isn’t much better, seemingly finishing each time with the same irritating “Maybe we all need a / I guess everyone has a [activity/person/state of mind/food], whether it’s [blah blah blah] (cut to shot of [so and so] needing/having [blah blah blah]), or [x and x] (cut to shot of [that dude] needing/having [x and x])….” conclusion. “House,” however, features no narration, proving that when it comes to medical drama voiceovers, less is more, and none is most of all.
Each of our wily protagonists needs someone to shut them down when they get too wily, so each show has provided us with an Asshole Authority Figure (or AAF for short) to let these loose cannons know what’s up. Dr. Lisa Cuddy (played by TV mainstay Lisa Edelstein) is the weakest of the three, simply because she very often seems like the victim of the domineering House, and because the extent of her assholery usually just amounts to “No, House, you can’t perform [crazy medical procedure that has a 1/10000000 chance of working] just because you have a hunch!” or “No, House, you can’t put the kid into a medically induced coma just because you want to buy time!” or something equivalent. Good character, mediocre AAF.
Dr. Miranda Bailey of “Grey’s Anatomy,” referred to by her interns as The Nazi (‘coz she’s, y’know, mean), is a much better AAF, the kind of stern, no-nonsense, ice cold glare teacher or lunch aide you would pray you didn’t get assigned to in elementary school. With all the drama and precociousness going on in the hospital for the first two seasons, Miranda Bailey is exactly what the show needed. Still, recently Bailey’s gone a little soft, since she became a mother and begged for Izzy Stevens to be let back into the program after performing a breach of hospital policy so egregious that you get the feeling like no hospital in the real world would ever possibly lift a finger to help her again.
Neither would really ever stand a chance against “Scrubs”’s Dr. Percival Cox anyway. By far the show’s strongest character (amidst stiff competition), Dr. Cox is the role John C. McGinley’s entire career of playing less noteworthy AAFs in movies like Platoon, Point Break, Se7en, and Office Space has been leading up to. Whether gleefully demeaning J.D. and Elliot, sparring with his equally cynical and hateful girlfriend/wife Jordan or warring against his own AAF, Dr. Bob Kelso, Cox owns just about every scene he’s in. The fact that McGinley has yet to even be nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe shows why those ceremonies are as revered and respected as they are.
Another tough one. Luckily “House” bows out of this quite one easily, since aside from underling Allison Cameron’s unrequited crush on House (which the show forgets about for long spats of time anyway), friend Wilson’s cavalcade of marital issues, and House’s second season run-in with ex Sela Ward (who he spent the entire last half of the season convincing to leave her husband, only to tell her that actually, maybe she should stick with him after all once she finally relented), romance isn’t high on “House”’s list of priorities.
This one is down to “Scrubs” and “Grey’s,” and it’s a squeaker. “Scrubs” has some of the most legitimately touching romance subplots on modern TV—between J.D. and Elliot’s once-a-season hookups (the first of which provided the show with very possibly its all-time finest episode), Carla and Turk’s series-long saga, and Cox and Jordan’s hot-and-cold anti-romance, the show’s in no short supply. However, “Grey’s” was built for the romantic subplot, and the sheer number might just give them the edge here—there’s Meredith and Shepard, Shepard and Addison, Addison and Sloan, Sloan and Callie, Callie and George, George and Olivia, Olivia and Alex, Alex and Izzy, Izzy and Denny—an incomplete list, and those are just the on-and-offs.
However, if “Grey’s” really deserves this category, it’s for the first-second season arc of perhaps the one semi-unrequited romance on the show, with George Bailey’s infatuation with roommate Meredith. After spending all the first season and most of the second season pining for her, George finally made his play, and it looked like George and Meredith were actually going to get it on. But in a move that must’ve broken the heart of every male watching the show (all two dozen of them), Meredith couldn’t stop crying during their tryst, and George was back to square one. Shortly afterwards, George evidently got over Meredith, started seeing Callie, cut his shaggy hair, and generally transitioned from loveable sadsack to annoying wimp. But for at least a season or so, he was TV’s Lloyd Dobler.
Winner: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Ouch. For all of each of these shows’ strengths, there’s one big drawback keeping them more or less permanently earthbound. The general story arc of each “Scrubs” episode is more or less the same—one of the characters does something to piss off one of the other characters, there’s conflict, each side does something stupid, they make up at the end (or at least show signs that they eventually will make up). “Grey’s” is little better, as whatever distinctiveness is displayed be the episodes is always leadened by that fucking voiceover (“we all try to do [blank], but usually we can’t, OR MAYBE SOMETIMES WE CAN”).
And “House” is perhaps worst of all—you could set your watch to the show’s inevitable plot twists, the preliminary diagnosis, followed by the revelation that the diagnosis was inaccurate, followed by the second diagnosis and the revelation that that diagnosis was inaccurate, and finally, when possibilities seem exhausted, House has a conversation or is put in a situation that brings some obscure detail to his attention which leads him to make the final unlikely but ultimately correct diagnosis.
On this one, everyone’s a loser.
Winner: No One
Bringing the funny is a priority to some degree of all three shows, though as with Best Romantic Subplot, we can more or less bring this down to two right away with the elimination of the occasionally chuckle-worthy but rarely LOL-worthy “Grey’s Anatomy.” “House,” though more easily classified as a drama, is often outright hysterical, and if they had changed a couple things about the character from the outset (get rid of the limp and tragic romantic history, maybe tone down the bitterness a little bit), “House” could’ve easily been spun as a lighthearted comedy, though the show is probably better off as is.
Still, “Scrubs” takes this in a heartbeat, if only for this exchange (approximated from memory):
Carla: By the way, where’d you learn to fight like that?Winner: "Scrubs"
Elliot: Oh, well, when you grow up in an orchard, you pretty much have to.
Elliot: Apple thieves.
With all the personal life stuff, you can forget sometimes that these shows are actually supposed to be at least partially about sick people. “Scrubs” is especially guilty of this—the patients are more or less only there to react to the doctor’s, or to die/almost die to put things in perspective. There could be an entire episode without any actual patient treatment and you probably wouldn’t even notice. “Grey’s” is a little bit better—unlike “Scrubs,” they mention and show actual medical procedures, and occasionally try to clue in the non-med students in the audience to what’s going on.
“House” is the only one of these shows where the characters’ inter-workings doesn’t completely overshadow the medical processes, however. The parade of obscure (and for all I know, possibly fictional) diseases the show trots out on a weekly basis may or may not be practical in the medicine universe, but they actually feel like an integral part of the show, and not just an excuse for characters to find connections to their own personal dramas. Plus, you get those cool shots where they actually go inside the person’s body to see the disease in effect. Now that’s drama.
A great TV show should make you feel like you’re part of a family, and for that, a solid ensemble is fairly necessary. “House” has strong supporting characters in Cuddy, Wilson, Foreman, Cameron, and Chase, but this is still (quite literally) House’s show first and foremost. “Scrubs” and “Grey’s,” however, feature two of the best ensemble casts on TV today—“Grey’s” even plays up the family aspect whenever possible, with characters having Thanksgiving together, going on camping trips together, and even bonding to protect their own when necessary. “Scrubs” isn’t quite so communal, with several of the characters constantly warring against each other just for the hell of it, and others only allowing affection to be displayed under the rarest of circumstances.
I’d give this one to “Scrubs” anyway, though, because the characters are just so much better. Give me J.D. and Elliot over Meredith and McDreamy any day, Turk and Carla over Burke and Christina, Kelso over Weber, and Janitor over just about everyone. With characters as great as those on “Scrubs,” their moments of hate and anger is just as compelling as their moments of affection anyway.
Lastly, it seemed only fair to get an actual med student’s opinion, as they are far more qualified to judge here than I am.
[MSF]: if i could only watch one forever i would chose Grey's anatomy b/c it has a story line
[MSF]: but i think scrubs is my favorite
[MSF]: because it's funny
FINAL SCORE: “Scrubs” 4 - “House” 3 - “Grey’s Anatomy” 2