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The First-Ever Fictional Doctor Dinner

In an excerpted chapter from ‘Where Do You Think We Are?,’ Shea Serrano’s digital collection of essays about ‘Scrubs,’ he picks the TV and movie MDs who deserve a seat at the table

Arturo Torres

This is an excerpt from Where Do You Think We Are? — Ten Illustrated Essays About ‘Scrubs,’ a collection written by Shea Serrano and illustrated by Arturo Torres. All told, there are 10 essays, 23 pieces of art, and only one reference to Flubber. You can buy the entire project here.

We’re in a ballroom. And it’s a big ballroom; cavernous, even; like what you would find on the second floor of a Marriott in Dallas, Texas. And there are dozens and dozens of circular tables in this ballroom, each surrounded by eight chairs. And everything looks kind of fancy (there are tablecloths on the tables and seat covers on the seats), but also a little bit tacky (they have those knives and forks that look like they’re supposed to be silver or gold but definitely are not silver or gold). And you and I are there because, for reasons that are neither important nor probable, we have been invited to attend The Doctor Dinner, a dinner held annually where every fictional pop culture doctor gathers for an evening to sit and eat and discuss the things that fictional pop culture doctors eat*(1) and discuss*(2).

But here’s the most interesting part: For more reasons that are even less important and less probable, you and I have been chosen to pick the seating arrangements for each of the tables. And, listen: to be honest, you and I are not going to try very hard at this job. In fact, we’re mostly going to let everyone sit wherever they want because we are lazy and generally take a carefree approach to party-planning. The one exception, though, is our table—we care desperately about the makeup of our table. We’re going to treat the responsibility of choosing who sits there with great, great care. Because we want to have the best, most enjoyable, most engaging evening possible.

And, again, ALL of the fictional pop culture doctors are there; every manner; every kind; every version, be they good or evil, silly or serious, lovely or horrible, medical or otherwise. Dr. Stephen Strange from 2016’s Doctor Strange movie? Sure, he’s there. Dr. Richard Kimble from 1993’s The Fugitive? Absolutely. All of the doctors from Grey’s Anatomy? You betcha. Dr. Ryan Stone from 2013’s Gravity? She actually came back from outer space just to attend this dinner, is what I’m told. Dr. Evil, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Dr. Indiana Jones? They’re there too. All of the doctors from The Big Bang Theory, and all of the doctors from Chicago Hope, and all of the doctors from ER, and even Dr. Ross Geller from Friends, and even Dr. Mario from the video game, and even that nameless doctor that Kendrick Lamar mentions in “M.A.A.D City”—they are all there. Every single one of them, even the ones that you’re thinking of that I haven’t mentioned yet, and even the ones you can’t think of.

And, again, there are eight seats per table. And you and I are taking up two of the seats at the table, which means we have six empty spots to fill.

So, who gets one?

1. Mostly regular food, but also probably a plate or two of human flesh for Hannibal Lecter.
2. I don’t know exactly what those things would be, but I assume at some point Jerry from Cheer on Netflix would be brought up.

This is a little sidebar, and none of it will have anything to do with fictional doctors, or even fictional doctor dinners, but: The whole “Who gets a seat at the table?” thing is currently one of my favorite conversation conceits.*(3) I first used it while I was writing about Mean Girls for a book Arturo and I made called Movies (And Other Things). In that chapter, what I did was populate a six-seat cafeteria table with characters from various high school movies. And I’m not going to tell you the entire final roster for that table, but I will tell you that Kathryn from 1999’s Cruel Intentions got one of the seats. And the only reason I want to tell you that is because I’m a tiny bit sad that we’ve made it all the way to 2020 and have not yet had a Sarah Michelle Gellar renaissance.*(4) I mean, she spent six years of her life keeping us safe from vampires. We can’t get her a starring role on one of these Hulu shows or Apple TV+ shows or something? Someone please make a phone call.

3. Calling something “currently one of my favorite conversation conceits” all but assures that in three weeks I will absolutely hate it and think it’s stupid and be mildly embarrassed whenever someone says something to me like, “Hey, remember when you were going through that Who Gets A Seat At The Table phase?” It’s the writing equivalent of when I used to dye the tips of my hair.
4. Gellar played Kathryn in Cruel Intentions.

The First Seat of Six

This is going to sound very dorky, but: What I’m most interested in for our table at The Doctor Dinner is having a conversation that I otherwise could not get somewhere else. That’s really all I want, because that’s really all you need at a dinner for it to be memorable.*(5) That’s why every doctor that I’m picking for the table will be someone who had to go through some truly remarkable and outstanding shit during their fictional doctor career. And we can use Robin Williams here to set that line.

Williams played no fewer than six different doctors during his beautiful, far-too-short career. He was a doctor in 1997’s Good Will Hunting. He was a doctor in 1998’s What Dreams May Come and Patch Adams. He was a doctor in 1990’s Awakenings. He was a doctor in 1995’s Nine Months. And he was a doctor in 1997’s Flubber.

And in five of those movies—Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, Awakenings, Nine Months, and Flubber—he was mostly doing regular doctor-y stuff.*(6) But in What Dreams May Come, he played a doctor named Chris Nielsen who literally (a) died, (b) went to heaven, (c) found out his wife had died by suicide on earth and been banished to hell, (d) traveled to hell to find her, and then (e) risked spending an eternity in hell alongside her just for the chance to try and save her. That’s why that particular doctor character of his gets a seat at the table. Because, I mean, do you want to spend an hour talking to the guy who has been to actual heaven and actual hell, or do you want to spend an hour talking to the guy who put some bouncy stuff on his shoes?

So there’s one seat filled. Go ahead and write down “Robin Williams’s Dr. Chris Nielsen in What May Dreams May Come” on one of them little nameplates.

5. An example: I went to a dinner one time where I knew only two of the eight or nine people who were there. And usually I hate that kind of arrangement because I always end up feeling left out when everyone else starts to make friends with each other and I’m sitting at the end of the table not talking to anyone, just sort of waiting for the bill to come. But one of the guys at the dinner ended up telling a story about how he was at an event one time with Jay-Z and he learned that Jay-Z had an extreme dislike for magicians, and as soon as he started telling that story it instantly became one of the four or five best dinners I’d ever been to in my life.
6. This is the note that my editor sent to me while he was editing this essay: “To play devil’s advocate here: creating a new, magical energy source that looks like Nickelodeon Gak maybe doesn’t qualify as normal doctor stuff.” And to that I say: That sounds literally exactly like what a science doctor would be in charge of doing.

If I can jump back to the Sarah Michelle Gellar thing from earlier real quick: I feel comfortable in saying that SMG belongs in the uppermost tier of actors and filmmakers who go by three names. It’s her, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Earl Jones, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tommy Lee Jones, Jada Pinkett Smith, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Francis Ford Coppola (who I have heard referred to as “the Sarah Michelle Gellar of directors”), Helena Bonham Carter, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Keshia Knight Pulliam. That’s your top level.*(7)

7. Apologies to Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Neil Patrick Harris, Robert Sean Leonard, and Haley Joel Osment. They just missed the cut-off.

The Second, Third, and Fourth Seats

Let’s give a seat to Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle from Dr. Dolittle. He can talk to animals, and that’s important to me because I have long suspected that my dog is racist and I would gladly sacrifice one of my seats at the dinner if it means finally getting a concrete answer on that. (My dog hasn’t really done anything to let me know that he’s a racist, but sometimes he just kind of looks at me in a way that makes me feel like he’s definitely calling me a “wetback” in his head. It’s a vibe I get from him, is all.)*(8)

Let’s also give a seat to Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Dana Scully from X-Files because she’s going to be able to talk about all kinds of crazy shit (aliens; an invisible serial killer; dealing with a cancer diagnosis; genetically enhanced twin clones; haunted dolls; that human-worm thing; more, more, more).

And let’s give a seat to Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future. I don’t think anybody would deny that he’s a bit of a chore to be around—he’s too frenetic, he’s always stumbling around and shit, and also he has a habit of never really answering any questions—but the whole time-travel thing makes it worth it, like how when you were 13 years old you would hang out with the shitty kid on your block because he had some video game system that you didn’t have.

That puts us at four of our six seats filled. And that’s where things start to get dicey because there are about 800 more doctors to choose from and only two seats left.

8. The real test comes after Dr. Dolittle comes over to my house, spends a few minutes with him, and then is like, “Yeah, your dog is super racist.” Because I don’t know if I’d be able to get rid of him. I think I’d end up just sort of living with that aspect in the background of our relationship, like when a grandparent is openly racist and everyone in the family just sort of accepts it because they’re going to be alive for only two or three more years anyway.

Last thing about Sarah Michelle Gellar, I swear: One of my favorite episodes of Scrubs is the one where a woman has a thing happening in her brain that turns everything into a musical. It’s really perfect and wonderful and, on occasion, I find myself pulling up individual clips of it on YouTube. Incidentally, there’s also an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that turns into a musical and Gellar is an absolute delight in it. (A neat coincidence: Both musical episodes aired in Season 6 of their respective shows; Scrubs is Season 6, Episode 6. Buffy is Season 6, Episode 7. An even crazier coincidence: Both episodes have a song called “Guy Love.”)*(9) Were there an essay in this series about cameos we’d like to have seen on Scrubs, I’m certain Sarah Michelle Gellar would have been an early first-rounder.

9. This is a lie.

The Fifth Seat, and the Sixth Seat

I suppose we have to pick at least one of the doctors from Scrubs to sit at our table, what with this essay being part of an entire series of essays about Scrubs. Dr. Cox is too ornery to be any fun here, so he’s out (although I suspect I would greatly enjoy him fussing at Dr. Emmett Brown for skittering around). And Elliot’s a little neurotic, so she’s out too. You can’t invite J.D. because there’s a risk you might get that version of J.D. who would pass out whenever he would poop, and you don’t want to be responsible for that during dinner. The Todd is out because he’s a sex criminal, and Kelso is out because he’s Kelso. So it has to be Turk, right? Or maybe Michael J. Fox’s Dr. Kevin Casey? Or maybe Heather Graham’s Dr. Molly Clock? It’s one of those three, probably. I think I’m voting Turk here. He’s the move to make.

That’s the fifth seat.

For the last one, I know that I don’t want Dr. Moreau from The Island of Dr. Moreau. He’s too creepy (he was that guy who genetically combined humans and animals, which has never been a good idea for anyone except maybe the Wild Kratts). He’s out. And I know I don’t want Dr. Abraham Van Helsing from Dracula because he just seems like a real bummer and also he dresses weird. He’s out too. So is Dr. Quinn from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (too interested in the American frontier) and Jeff Daniels’s Dr. Ross Jennings from Arachnophobia (we share a dislike of spiders, but that’s about it). I don’t want to bring Bruce Willis’s Dr. Malcolm Crowe from The Sixth Sense because I wouldn’t even know what food to order for him because I don’t know what ghosts eat. (Actually, I do know what ghosts eat for dinner. They eat … spook-hetti.)*(10) He’s out as well. We can also throw out any of the doctors from any of the Batman movies, including but not limited to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dr. Victor Fries from Batman & Robin and Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane from Batman Begins. And you can’t invite Liam Neeson’s Dr. Peyton Westlake from Darkman to the dinner because he can be out for only a little while before his face starts to melt off. And you can’t invite Dr. Samuel Loomis from Halloween because that opens the door for a teeny-tiny chance that Michael Myers somehow makes his way to your table in the ballroom.

You know who I think that last seat comes down to? It has to go to either Dr. Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs or Dr. Henry Wu from the Jurassic franchise. That’s the final decision: Do you want to talk to the guy who one time cut the top of a man’s skull off and then fed him his own brains, or do you want to talk to the guy who invented the Indominus Rex? Do you want to talk to the guy who one time convinced someone he was hanging out with to cut off his own face and feed it to a dog, or do you want to talk to the guy who tried to weaponize raptors? Do you want to talk to the guy who survived decades on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, or do you want to talk to the guy who survived decades in the dinosaur genetics industry, which I assume is at least as harrowing as it sounds?

I think I go with Wu here. Serial killers are fascinating, for sure, but Wu is, if you allow for a little bit of leniency, an actual dinosaur god. That’s a little more rare, I think.

Our final table roster: Me, you, Dr. Chris Nielsen from What Dreams May Come, Dr. Dolittle from Dr. Dolittle, Dr. Dana Scully from X-Files, Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future, Dr. Christopher Turk from Scrubs, and Dr. Henry Wu from the Jurassic franchise.

10. My son told me that joke two years ago and I will never forget it and now neither will you.