By Gillian Flynn
Updated January 10, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Scrubs: Justin Lubin

Scrubs is the trickiest comedy on TV. It manages to be whimsical but not cutesy, and it delves into the surreal without resorting to randomness. A likable, daffy, buoyant series that would be a big annoying mess if it weren’t done just right, Scrubs is the very definition of nimble.

The fifth season of this Emmy-nominated hospital comedy sees inner-monologuing resident J.D. (Zach Braff) finally becoming a full-fledged doctor; newlyweds Turk (Donald Faison) and Carla (Judy Reyes) pondering parenthood; and neurotic doc Elliot (Sarah Chalke) trapped in a free-clinic job. But the show’s formula is very much the same — and that’s a good thing. Scrubs still deploys complex fantasy sequences, from a massive kung-fu battle in the parking lot to J.D.’s delighted acquisition of a pair of ”chest hands.” It still features the plotting Janitor (Neil Flynn), who’s out to destroy J.D. at every pass; there’s also J.D.’s egotistic mentor, Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), who mocks him with put-downs so elaborate they’re almost rococo. Scrubs is a verbose show, packed with puns and wordplay — the writers must have well-thumbed dictionaries — and it boasts some wonderfully silly dialogue. When Carla asks macho Turk how he’d react if their future son wanted to take dance lessons rather than play sports with his buddies, Turk responds: ”He can dance if he wants to…he can leave his friends behind,” and then launches into a full-on ode to Men Without Hats’ ”The Safety Dance.”

With their occasionally exasperated marital banter, Carla and Turk are one of TV’s best couples: Her no-nonsense manner gives a necessary dose of sanity to this often nonsensical show, and the two alternately dote on and deceive each other, but without the rancor so many TV spouses have these days. I say ”one of TV’s best couples,” because the best may be Turk and J.D., supertight buddies whose mutual friend crush has been burnished into one of Scrubs‘ funniest ongoing story lines. This year, J.D. is living away from Turk for the first time since college (he was rooming with the newlyweds even postnuptials), and the series makes sly use of J.D.’s jealousy of the woman who supplanted him in Turk’s universe; there’s a great scene in which Turk and J.D. talk to each other telepathically in front of Carla, to J.D.’s glee. Never has male bonding been so…adorable.

All of Scrubs‘ weirdness works because the actors are so game. I confess to having been worried about the state of the show in the wake of Braff’s burgeoning post-Garden State movie career. Pulling off J.D. — a prim, neurotic, boyish, sweet goofball who fears ponds because they’re ”infamous for serpents” — takes both confidence and humility. Would Braff be so game after a year of critical kudos and Mandy Moore-dating? Yup. With pursed lips, cocked eyebrows, and a coffeepot handle circling his wrist (you’ll see), Braff is as bouncy as ever, and he leads a cast that’s equally energetic. The series may not always break new ground, but it remains pure fun just the same.