Spending long periods of time in an enclosed space, with no contact with the outside world, can do things to a person.
Just ask Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence and star Zach Braff, who have been toiling away at their show - shot at a deserted hospital in the San Fernando Valley - for half a season now, with no one having seen their work.
"I think as actors, we were a little bit extra-wacky and silly, and I think the scripts were a little more surreal and crazy," Braff says.
Viewers will finally get to see the extra-wacky fruits of their labor when Scrubs begins its fifth season on NBC tonight at 9. The late start stems from the fact that the network opted for only four comedies on its fall schedule, with My Name Is Earl and The Office filling the 9 p.m. Tuesday hour that was Scrubs' primary home the past couple of seasons.
Lawrence says not being on the air at the start of the season "was initially tough," but the cast and crew were buoyed by the show's first-ever Emmy nomination for outstanding comedy series, along with Braff's first acting nod. "That was like a vote of confidence from our peers - enough to make us kind of excited to dive back into the show," he says.
NBC's scheduling decision also led the cast and crew to realize that, 90-plus episodes into its life, the show's ratings (OK, but not stellar) are what they are, and they could focus solely on making good shows.
"The fifth season isn't a year that's about building an enormous fan base," Braff says. "It's about going, 'OK - these are our hard-core fans, let's make shows for them. Let's really point it at the people who love our show.' I feel like this season, more than any, is really aimed at doing all the things we know that people who really love this show love about it."
So, for instance, the 100th episode (airing Jan. 24), directed by Braff, will feature an extended homage to The Wizard of Oz: "Turk [Donald Faison] is looking for a heart for a transplant," he explains, "Elliot [Sarah Chalke] needs brains because she has to give a talk she's afraid to give, Carla [Judy Reyes] needs courage because she's afraid to have kids, and I'm stuck in the hospital and just want to go home."
Viewers will also get to see a fantasy sequence involving Braff's J.D., who ponders whether the aftermath of a casual sexual encounter has been awkward since time immemorial. Cut to Braff dressed as a caveman, explaining, "Look, I haven't had fire for weeks, my little sister just got carried off by a giant bird. I've got a lot of things on my plate right now."
Additionally, completing a "trade" that began more than eight months ago with Braff appearing on Arrested Development, Jason Bateman is set to guest-star on an episode of Scrubs this season.
Along with a handful of ornery ostriches.
Bateman's appearance on the NBC show has been in the works for some time. Lawrence is an avowed Arrested Development fan, and Bateman is friendly with several Scrubs writers. Schedule conflicts, however, meant that he wasn't able to do a guest spot last season.
In the episode, J.D. is miffed that a patient (Bateman) whom he worked hard to treat didn't offer so much as a thank you. J.D. and Turk decide to track him down and extract a word of gratitude from him.
"So we go by his house, and he has a sign on his gate that says, 'Beware of birds.' And when we go into his gated property, we see about 10 ostriches," Braff says, laughing. "He's got 10 domestic ostriches, and they surround us. One of them puts his hoof, or whatever you call it, on the gate and locks it. And they surround us and beat the [stuffing] out of us."
An airdate for the episode hasn't been scheduled.
Since Scrubs' last airing on NBC, the first two seasons of the show have been released on DVD to good sales and strong reviews from critics and fans. That gives Lawrence some hope that the show's absence has made fans' hearts grow fonder.
"If there is any angle to that, it would be not only that [sales were good] but also that we picked up some new fans by people that responded to the DVDs," Lawrence says. "It's happened in TV before, so I'm hoping for the best."
Rick Porter writes for Zap2it.com.