Scrubs Season 1 Episode 18 Review: “My Tuscaloosa Heart”


Scrubs is often a show about failure – in fact, it’s primarily about failure, both personal and professional. For all the healing that’s done across the show’s nine seasons (physical and emotional), there’s still plenty of damage and baggage: moments where our characters come up short in their lives. Yes, this is natural for most single-camera comedies to be a little more negative than the dopamined reality of sitcoms, but Scrubs can be a very dark show when it wants to be.

Like its predecessor, “My Tuscaloosa Heart” is mostly about failure, primarily that of J.D., whose neglect of another once again causes him a great deal  of internal strife. Rather than Josh the med student, J.D.’s frustration in “Tuscaloosa Heart” is directed at a terribly rude patient, one even Carla’s willing to openly dismiss. When he dies (of terminal cancer; once again, J.D. isn’t directly responsible), J.D. goes through a similar process to that of “My Student”; he feels bad, he talks to his friends about it, and, eventually, he begins to feel better after sheepishly seeking out reinforcement from his peers, even though they don’t provide it.

Though it’s a repeating story, it serves as a nice framework for Cox undermining his relationship with Kristen in one of his more frustrating turns of character. He blows off Kristen’s romantic plans to help Carla move a dresser – arguably the most out-of-character thing he ever does – and then has a (regularly scheduled) round of angry sex with his ex-wife, which he then spills to his current girlfriend. It’s not exactly a terrible idea to expose Cox’s loneliness (which is where the episode ends up), but “Tuscaloosa” goes so far out of its way to strip Cox of his logic that it nearly turns him into a parody, something furthered by the massive yellow rain coat he wears during his exchange with J.D. about how easy it is to “treat the nice ones nice.”

What’s even more frustrating is what this episode explores is important – in fact, it’s something that would become a major focal point of the last few episodes of this season, and much of Season 2. Cox’s inability to control his emotions leads him to be a number of honorable things: passionate, determined, legendarily witty. However, it’s also his greatest fault, leading him to drink heavily, have a cynical world view, and a predilection for screwing up his own life in one way or another. Screwing up his relationship with Kristen because he’s a babbling idiot may serve to further his self-destructive lack of control – but it can only do so by stripping away fundamental traits of Perry Cox, which reveals it as pure plot machination rather than actual character development (or in this case, regression).

Oddly, it’s Turk and Elliot that deliver the most satisfying story of “Tuscaloosa Heart.” Their dynamic remains awkward at this point, the redeeming factors coming from Elliot’s iconic “I told you so” dance, and Kelso’s performance of the titular song, which he wrote decades ago about Bunny, his pet name for Enid. It works on two levels: it sheds some of the negativity hampering J.D. and Cox’s storylines, and gives depth to Kelso’s character in fun ways. This is truly Kelso not giving a damn what anyone thinks, refusing to indulge Elliot with tales of how he romanced his now-evil wife (“I died on the toilet in 1977… or did I?”) or feeling the need to purport his musical skills around the office. What Kelso has over J.D. and Cox is his ability to compartmentalize his life; this of course would begin to fragment in later seasons of the show, but how “Tuscaloosa Heart” conveys this subtle difference between its three focal characters helps bring unity to an episode otherwise fragmented in various areas of Sacred Heart.

Cox’s story is a tough pill to swallow. While it’s always fun to watch Scrubs explore Cox and Jordan’s toxic co-dependence, how it comes in the way of his character development and relationship with Kristen is frustrating. Pair a poor Dr. Cox story with essentially a repeat J.D. story, and you’d appear to have the recipe for a disappointing episode. However, the Turk/Elliot plot (a most unlikely redeemer) swoops in to save the day, redeeming “My Tuscaloosa Heart” with a simple folk melody, and a wonderful closing scene with Ken Jenkins strumming the guitar and singing about his love – who then calls him and screams at him for forgetting something at the store, as Scrubs-ian an ending as it could’ve had.

Other thoughts/observations:

– Hey Number Two!

– There’s the whole issue of Turk not wanting Carla to fully move in… and then it’s dropped for the rest of the episode.

High Five Count: One Non-Todder when both J.D.’s share a high five.

– “Any last words?” “I’m … ah-kay? Wait – let me get a do-over!”

– “Gotta be boobs somewhere” is a great non-sequitur for everyday life.

-“Are you that lonely?” Hate how the episode got there, but I love that moment.

[Photo via NBC]

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