By Gillian Flynn
Updated May 28, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Scrubs: Paul Drinkwater

Reasons to love Scrubs: It dares to deploy not one but two fantasy sequences involving doctors playing banjos! And it isn’t afraid to cast Scott Foley as a hunky SeaWorld scientist with a thing for one of his coworkers: ”a harp seal who’s smart, funny, and totally gets me.” Silly, weird, occasionally sweet, and always very, very funny, ”Scrubs,” which just wrapped its third season, is one of the best comedies on TV. If you haven’t been watching, treat yourself to reruns this summer.

Don’t, however, consider this NBC underperformer — which suffered a year of shameful scheduling malpractice, including preemptions and a time-slot swap — as a ”Friends” replacement. ”Scrubs”’ humor is odder and much less cozy: Young doc J.D. (Zach Braff), for instance, is prone to gloriously random head flashes. In the middle of confronting his ex, the guy pauses to recall how he coerced her into faking a golf-club-to-the-groin bit for ”America’s Funniest Home Videos.” (He also loves pirates.)

Admittedly, some of ”Scrubs”’ junior season was nervous-making. A wedding plotline for Turk (Donald Faison) and Carla (Judy Reyes) seemed liable to spiral into Bridezilla gimmickry. Instead it yielded some great zingers sprinkled throughout the year — the comedic equivalent of dashes of salt. Also a surprise boon was the heavy load of guest stars, which ”Scrubs” deploys far more smartly than ”Will & Grace”: Foley as the charming wedge between J.D. and Elliot (Sarah Chalke), Michael J. Fox as a surgeon with OCD, and Tara Reid, playing J.D.’s smokin’, boozin’ sex. Er, ex. Reid’s jab at her skanky persona played like a self-deprecating ”SNL” skit. One that’s funny. But it was Brendan Fraser who had the most memorable turn, as the ailing former in-law of Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley, whose presence is like a good whiff of ammonia).

Fraser’s final episode, which turned stark in one beautiful, sad second, was one of the show’s best.

The worst? J.D. finally lands Elliot and then promptly, mystifyingly, boots her — this hard-earned relationship deserved to be teased for more than one episode. On the bright side, Braff and Chalke’s sunny rapport can certainly sustain a fourth season. (Hey, Ross and Rachel went a decade.)

Finally, let’s talk Braff — the best reason to watch ”Scrubs.” He joyfully channels the warm, self-conscious prissiness and elbows-and-eyebrows energy of John Ritter. And if you don’t love Braff, love the fact that in a single episode, ”Scrubs” can reference washboard jam sessions, candy bracelets…and a rhyme scheme linking ”bowel” with Andie MacDowell movies. Come on, it’s summer. Feel the love.