TV Never Sleeps

“My Big Mouth” Is An Early Low Point for Scrubs’ Second Season

Even in its younger years, Scrubs‘ ultimate strength as an ensemble comedy was its fearlessness in putting different characters together for stories; Sacred Heart is a large community, but never one that feels too big and sprawling for its own good. Because of that, there aren’t a lot of stories that feel forced, or unnatural during Scrubs‘ prime years: when they do, it’s usually a case of bad plot design, rather than awkward chemistry or unbelievable dynamics between characters. Scrubs spends a lot of time fortifying relationships between its characters, and “My Big Mouth” benefits greatly from it: save from a really strong Elliot/Cox story in the background, this is one of season two’s lesser entries.

The biggest problem with “My Big Mouth” is the parade of sexist tropes disguised as stories: every single plot – even Elliot’s, the good one – can be boiled down to some measure of “well, bitches be crazy!”. Unlike most episodes, that strive to make meaningful connections between each story, the three plots of “My Big Mouth” are about a ‘crazy’ female nurse and a pair of female residents: one unhealthily neurotic, and another extremely unpleasant. And only one of these stories is really about the woman in question: Elliot at least benefits from her story focusing on something deeper with her character, specifically her well-developed sense of inadequacy passed down to her through her wasp-y lineage.

My Big Mouth

“My Big Mouth”, however, decides to make Carla the focus of the episode, unraveling her character for the purpose of… showing that JD doesn’t understand boundaries in relationships? When JD realizes Carla has a family she never talks about, he convinces her to open up to him about her personal life, unfortunately represented in a fantasy sequence where she rips off her skull and burns JD down to his bones with her “crazy” thoughts, a sequence that raised my eyebrows to the “What the Actual Fuck” position.

To the episode’s credit, it doesn’t continuously treat the contained chaos of Carla’s psyche as some kind of sick joke: but her story really begins and ends with that image, tainting a story about’s JD’s self centered approach to friendship (which has enough problems of its own, with him repeatedly making inappropriate comments about a married woman), and rendering whatever development the episode tries to make with Carla’s character and their relationship null and void. It’s telling when she finally opens up to JD about her life – for real this time – at the end of the episode, the audio fades out just as she begins talking about her brother’s martial problems, and her family as a whole. There are moments in the series where Scrubs tries to reach a deeper understanding of Carla through her family, but this is not one of those times – and that it’s ultimately in service of a bad central conceit further dampens any effect “My Big Mouth” can have on its characters, and more importantly, the audience.

The biggest problem with “My Big Mouth” is the parade of sexist tropes disguised as stories: every single plot – even Elliot’s, the good one – can be boiled down to some measure of “well, bitches be crazy!”.

Turk’s beef with #1 surgical resident Bonnie isn’t nearly as egregiously written as Carla’s, but Bonnie’s shrill, superficially arrogant persona still sticks out like a sore thumb, another female cast off as a single-dimensional entity for the sake of an unsatisfying plot about Turk realizing Dr. Kelso is an old-school misogynist. The flippant disregard for Kelso’s behavior is off putting, but it’s not enough to entirely cripple the whole idea of Turk getting his ass handed to him by a female; in fact, Turk’s casual disrespect for the women he shares surgical rooms with is something Scrubs would occasionally revisit throughout the series. However, it’s Bonnie’s empty presence that sinks this story: she’s nothing but a throwaway antagonist for Turk’s laughably simple realization about sexism in his work place, even if the episode ultimately doesn’t forgive Turk for dismissing his role in Bonnie’s exclusion as a colleague.

My Big Mouth

If anything, “My Big Mouth” offers Bonnie a chance to rebuke Turk’s attempts to placate her frustration; Scrubs definitely demonstrates in this episode it isn’t quite equipped to handle the deeper, systemic issues at play in Sacred Heart, and I respect it for recognizing its limits. The missed opportunity to offer Bonnie some more texture as a character is much harder to reconcile, though: not only would it have offered Turk some real conflict to work through, putting his ego in check and making him recognize that he isn’t the only minority in the surgical ward, but it would challenge Turk’s inherent sense of superiority with something more than a cardboard cutout of a complex, difficult human being. Bonnie is more paper than bone, and boy does it not mix well with the unfortunate, shallow depiction of Carla.

Thankfully, “My Big Mouth” is not a complete wash: there’s a legitimately good story to be found between Cox and Elliot, as she struggles to get Cox to pay attention to her in ways that don’t involve giving patients terrible news. Save for a moment where Elliot misguidedly tries to pin Cox’s disdain on her being a women, Cox’s entire reason for pushing Elliot to her emotional limits is for much more specific, meaningful reason; Elliot needs to define herself, not let the people around her shape who she is, and where her career goes. She can’t count on other people at the hospital to guide her to professional, or personal, satisfaction: just as Cox is her boss, the other people in Sacred Heart, even her friends, are fellow employees, people to work with, not to satisfy or appease.

My Big Mouth

Of course, “My Big Mouth” does’t dip into how Cox’s extreme application of this idea affects his life, but in the moment, it serves an important lesson to Elliot, and serves as a quiet bonding moment between two major characters who don’t often have a direct relationship with each other. It’s there where “My Big Mouth” is briefly able to gain some sort of traction, a moment where the pathos of “tests of character, fortitude, and friendship” feel grounded in something important, not a series of scenes that not only fail to offer emotional stakes, but fall short on narrative alone.

A great Elliot/Cox story serves a larger benefit than salvaging a remarkably middling episode of Scrubs, however: it taps into the deep web of connections between the ensemble of characters on the show, forging another link in the strong foundation the series would go on to use to great effect in later episodes, and seasons. In “My Big Mouth”, however, it is but one strong, melodic voice against a dull chorus of dissonant shrieks, an early bump in the road for Scrubs and its growth early in its sophomore season.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

-Kelso gets the comeuppance he deserves: Todd ends up his partner to his trip to Mexico, which means it’s time for some of El Todd’s Famous Guac.

-given that JD is generally a bit of an asshole, it’s fun to see Janitor and Troy belittle him for demeaning their jobs at the hospital.

-“Don’t say bi-yatch… you can’t pull it off.”

-“That makes me feel so mop.”

-the patient of the week story works almost as a metaphor for the episode: Carla and JD’s patient can’t stop eating meat, no matter how poorly and expensive it goes every time. Fitting given how this episode can’t stop making the same terrible points about women, and getting the same empty results every time.

-at one point, JD leaves the lunch line without paying for his meal, notes his accidental theft, and then… nothing happens? Not like Scrubs to not follow up on a dangling thread like that.

-there is a surgical resident named VJ, and I really wish there was more to learn about this strange enigma of a man.

-can’t say enough how fucking creepy JD is towards Lauren in this episode. It’s so weird.

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