Yet another casualty of that damn writer’s strike, season seven of TV’s most anarchic, offbeat and wildly inventive sitcom was really hacked off at the knees after just eleven episodes. Series creator Bill Lawrence bravely resisted pressure from NBC to wrap the show up then and there will some half-assed forced finale, which saw the network then threaten to dump season eight (this season) straight to DVD. Several cheese and cracker platters later a deal was struck to see the show out on sister network ABC with a new format of back-to-back episodes each week.

After this long recycling what is essentially the same premise each season (overworked, overwhelmed people find ways to come together), the show really has no right to still be this funny, and it’s a testament to the quality of the ensemble that it maintains its appeal. The unique blend of surrealism and slapstick, the marrying of gut-wrenching laughter with tender moments of melancholy, still make this one of the smartest shows around.

Still there is something of an air of complacency about this final season so far. The departure of Courtney Cox’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as the new chief of medicine means we’re currently treading water waiting for a story arc to kick in. Zach Braff, sporting a rather ridiculous beard, made no secret of his desire to move on from the show back in 2007 and now looks like he’s counting the days.

But the best of Scrubs always was tinged with sadness and while this show is monstrously funny it still demonstrates a deft hand at pathos. With Scrubs the pleasure is in the measure. The saner world is more affecting, but the zany craziness that sets it apart from everything else is more fun. It flies high with its wackiness but it never lets you forget that life is also serious and not without pain, and the ludicrous comedy, outlandish fantasy set pieces, and side-splitting rants can without warning be brought crashing down to Earth by very real human tragedy.

Right now everyone just seems a little too comfortable and the season is missing the overriding drive previously provided by an impending birth or a wedding. The arrival of J.D’s son looked set to kickstart a whole new direction for this veteran comic leviathan ripe with fresh material, but that storyline now seems to be MIA. Yes, Elizabeth Banks became a big movie star over the strike and is now a cut above network television. But does that mean we have to lose the baby too?

J.D’s on-again, off-again romance with Eliot has been the subject of much in-joke referencing to Ross and Rachel, but now it just looks like a well drawn comparison and will likely be just as underwhelming when it’s finally resolved. Still, the long standing support cast consistently elevate the troughs; Ted still tickles as the sad-sack, The Todd is still hilariously perverse, Dr. Cox’s angry man routine is worth watching the show for on its own, and Neil Flynn’s janitor quietly steals every scene with his creepy, stream of consiousness babble.

We’re not expecting Shakespeare, but after eight years the show really should be moving toward something memorable. A small injection of jeopordy will shake loose the cobwebs and kick this gentle stroll up a few gears to an all-out race to the finish for what must surely go down as one of the most consistently funny shows of all time.

Scrubs – Season Eight
Starring: Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Sarah Chalke, John C. McGinley, Judy Reyes, Ken Jenkins, Neil Flynn
Creator: Bill Lawrence

Network: NBC