Why I Hate Scrubs

Recently Cat borrowed Dead Like Me, an engaging little show about people who catch-and-release the souls of the recently deceased. They free the soul from the body, allowing it to pass into the afterlife.

The characters are all modestly characteristic, and have a great little ensemble atmosphere going. The stories are simple, but again, interesting. The premise of death as a way of exploring life is also fairly interesting.

Despite I found myself watching it for about 20 minutes, then feeling vaguely annoyed and wandering off to do something else, and it took me quite a while to identify why. I liked the characters. The stories were okay. The setting and premise weren’t shit. And then I realized that it was the voice-over that was killing the show for me.

All this time, I’ve hated voice-overs? I really think I’d have noticed it. And in fact, just a brief re-wind on this blog finds counter-evidence, where I praise the voice-over from The Spirit as creating atmosphere, though falling short of its ideal. And then I think about other movies and TV shows where the voice-over has really brought something key to the movie.

Imagine watching American Psycho without the voice-over cues. It might make sense, but Bateman would lose his peculiarly weird pathos. And a movie like Fight Club virtually contains the plot in the voice-over; take that away and the real dramatic interest is at best implied. Perhaps the most compelling voice-overs for me personally were Hawkeye’s letters to his father in M*A*S*H – they provided a great insight into the character, a more direct insight than his actions alone.

Recalling these, and other, examples, I realized that structurally, the voice-over in Dead Like Me was superfluous – it didn’t really add value. At best it was a re-hash of what had clearly been shown on the screen; it wasn’t even a framing device for that action the way Hawkeye’s was.

But was the irritation simply due to its superfluity? I applied some attention to the actual content, and began to realize where I’d heard that kind of language before: Scrubs. The voice-over sought to transcend its material: to expand it from a sequence of incidents into a grand statement about the fundamentals of human life.

In other words, it’s purpose is meta-textual: to force the transformation of the show from a diversion into a philosophical statement. And frankly, it and Scrubs just do not have the philosophical or creative chops to make that leap into real profound exploration of human issues.

They are basically too shallow, too glib, and too short-sighted. Now, these are not qualities I object to. Despite my best efforts at intellectual snobbery, I laugh at Friends and Two and a Half Men – but these shows aren’t pretending to be more than they are. And I think Scrubs at least, definitely was. It was dressing itself up, and that was just not tolerable.

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5 Responses to Why I Hate Scrubs

  1. nishatalitha says:

    I found it frustrating (and I didn’t make it past the end of the first or second episode) because seeking redemption and having a coming-of-age in our world, using resources that the living need, when you’re dead seems to be me to be pointless and wrong.

    Now, if they’d set it in another world, where everyone was dead and the role of the Reaper was to help them realise it (you can keep the ensemble cast and the simple, but interesting, stories), and a way they realise they need to move on again is to recreate the death until it takes or something like that – help them to move on anyway – and being a Reaper was part of that whole process for the point of view characters, I would not have had that issue with it.

    Of course, I would have probably thought it pretentious and overdone, but that’s neither here nor there.

    Also, I didn’t like

  2. buzzandhum says:

    good post. You also summarised exactly why the first theatrical release of Bladerunner is far inferior to any of the later versions.

    • mattcowens says:

      I sometimes wonder how much I’d like the non-voiceover version(s) of Bladerunner if I hadn’t seen the voiceover version first. It’s a great film but I think my understanding of it was greatly enhanced by having a lot of stuff explained through the voiceover the first time I saw it…

      • mashugenah says:

        I’ve never seen the voice-over version, so can’t comment in too much detail. Watching the “Director’s Cut” for the first time as a 13 year old I was able to follow it without too many difficulties, but I think re-watching it later it made a lot more sense in detail. Really, it was Paul’s 25th birthday before I felt confident I’d gotten the nuances. 🙂

  3. wyldcard says:

    Interesting analysis. I’ve been writing some scripts lately and been contemplating the use of voice over…

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