There’s a blueprint for “will they, won’t they” relationships on network television (especially “hangout” comedies): spend the first season flirting, the second season dating, the third season breaking up, then “getting back out there” for an indefinite amount of time until ratings start to flounder terminally. From Cheers to Friends to New Girl (so far), this has been the romantic blueprint. In that sense, the construction of “My Bed Banter and Beyond” is almost a commentary on this lengthy structure, condensing J.D. and Elliot’s relationship into a single episode, watching it play out against the very slowed-down framing device of their first 24 hours together (all spent in bed, having sex and eating a pizza). And it’s also one of the best shows Scrubs ever produced, a “supersized” episode that uses its length and inverted timeline to draw out poignant truths about the differences between being in a relationship and being in love.
Looking at the show as a whole, it’s easy to say the emotional impact of “My Bed Banter and Beyond” is neutered somewhat by the show’s insistence on returning to J.D. and Elliot’s relationship throughout the series. However, the first season of a network comedy exists almost in a vacuum, a collection of episodes produced without knowing if there’s going to be a long-term future for the show. Most freshman comedies with serialized stories are written with two arcs: one that carries them from episode one to thirteen, then another that carries through the back nine should they get picked up for a full order. There are no concerns for the future, because there’s no time to have (or worry about having) hope: that context is important, because without it, “My Bed Banter and Beyond” doesn’t work quite the same.
As a self-contained love story, however, “My Bed Banter and Beyond” is as poetic as any, using the pizza as a metaphor for the two-week relationship J.D. and Elliot are in after their first night together, each slice counting down the moments until their budding love turns toxic and falls apart. It captures two stories in unbelievably nuanced light: two people who work together trying to date, and more importantly, two close friends falling in love with each other. Knowing someone makes it much easier to fall for them; it happens so much quicker and swifter, because there’s no expository period where two people are just projecting images of themselves on the other person. Those awkward introductory phases are gone: for better or worse, J.D. and Elliot know each other’s flaws and idiosyncrasies, and it both helps inform how quickly their relationship moves from honeymoon to adjustment phase.
When you know someone for awhile, be it platonic or romantic, their quirks become highlighted – and knowing what to expect from someone can be a disappointment in itself, turning the little things we love as friends into frustrating aspects of a partner, captured beautifully with the little laugh J.D. “gives” to Elliot that she ends up despising. Initially, their knowledge of each other seems to make it more likely they’d work as a couple together, but as “My Bed Banter” continues, it forces the two of them to contemplate why this inherent knowledge actually works against them, J.D. applying Elliot’s neurotic tendencies to everything she does, while Elliot realizes J.D.’s affability with everyone comes with its own costs.
Sometimes, it’s better to be surprised (Turk’s frustrations with suddenly falling in love a few episodes back) than to know what’s coming; or in Cox’s case, that can turn out bad, too. “My Bed Banter” offers two fantastic counterpoints with Carla/Turk and Cox, the failure of the latter informing the budding success of the former. Couples need to push each other, yes, but they also need to be able to work with each other’s flaws, accept them rather than be drowned in them. It’s not a major theme here, but Turk accepting Carla’s need to control the world around her is a major theme in later seasons, a frustration he needs to reconcile, and does. Here, “My Bed Banter” offers why Cox wasn’t able to make his relationship work with Jordan. We often forget that loving someone intensely doesn’t always make us happy. Happiness comes from within, and without some satisfaction of self, we have no chance of being able to wholeheartedly accept someone else. Cox couldn’t do it, just like J.D. and Elliot can’t do it – Carla and Turk can, offering “My Bed Banter” a beacon of hope in an otherwise difficult, evocative story about what makes relationships work, balancing that with the counterpoint of how those same assets can be ticking time bombs.
Spread out over two weeks (and one night), “My Bed Banter” takes advantage of its length to dig deeper into the psychology of its main characters, using the ever-popular “mockumentary” format of the Kelso-mandated interviews to shed some light on the emotional states of its main characters, a litmus test of sorts for the show’s progress with its Big Picture ideas of season one. Smartly, J.D. and Elliot dating was only but a small cog in that machine. Spread out across a whole season, this story could fall privy to typical sitcom cliches. Stuffed into a single half hour, “My Bed Banter and Beyond” is a surprisingly powerful story about every stage of love, from infatuation to heartbreak, to the lingering dissatisfaction that always remains when reflecting on a failed relationship with someone we truly loved.
– There can’t be anything more awkward than watching Basic Instinct with your grandmother (save for any Lars Von Trier film).
– Continuity break: the janitor is seen messing with Nurse Roberts, the first (and probably only) time he’s seen interacting with anyone else in the first season.
– “Dance for the puppet master!”
– High Five Count: Todd returns for a strong double five, celebrating his plan to ask Elliot out (he fails).
– “All I heard was lesbian.”
– Enid taught art to underprivileged children? Kelso’s interviews are wonderfully evil (“sometimes, she laughs so hard she cries a little”), but that little nugget always sticks out to me as ringing false, especially in later seasons, when Enid basically turns into an annoying, sentient potato.
– Who doesn’t love Newbie Theater? Dr. Cox, who could care less about the “whiny, neurotic, extremely pale sex” J.D. and Elliot are probably having.
– Sex montage!
– The vagina transplant fantasy is so silly, but so essential. “We’re not going to make it in time!”
[Photo via NBC]