Sure, NBC’s “Scrubs” features madcap running gags, shamelessly silly cutaway fantasy sequences and a heroic amount of male nudity. And yet the enduring appeal of the medical comedy is arguably how the cast of doctors, nurses and staff at Sacred Heart Hospital truly change and grow season to season, no more so than Dr. Elliot Reid.

“I think (Elliot’s) a lot stronger than she used to be,” says actress Sarah Chalke, alluding to her character’s past chronic lack of self-confidence. “She’s finally found her footing. She has a lot of quirks and idiosyncrasies, but she’s OK with them, and so is everyone else in the hospital. It was the first year that she really grows up.”

For the show’s fifth season, Elliot got and lost a fellowship at another hospital, talked her way back into a position at Sacred Heart, and finally moved on for good from part-time paramour J.D. (Zach Braff) in favor of J.D.’s younger, hotter intern Keith (regular guest star Travis Schuldt).

“That’s why this show is unbelievably fun to work on,” explains Chalke, first known as the “second Becky” on ABC’s “Roseanne,” “because the characters do evolve every year. The second you think you’ve figured your character out, they throw you a curve ball and send you in another direction.”

Part of the show’s appeal for Chalke is that “Scrubs” is unafraid to dive into the knottier truths of working in a hospital. “The show really walks that line between comedy and drama,” she says, “so you get to do both. You’ll have an episode where you’ll lose a patient, and then do a pratfall over a medical cart, knock over bunch of pills and fall on your face.”

Chalke admits it’s been hard “accepting that I’m a little bit more like Elliot than I would like to believe. I’m definitely an insanely klutzy person; I have been my whole life. The wardrobe department gave me a giant art smock as a bib, sort of a gift (that says), ‘You must wear this if you’re going to eat in your wardrobe because we’re running out of clean scrubs.’ “

Chalke has so enjoyed her time on the show that she admits she wouldn’t mind wearing that giant bib for another five years. “Crazy at it sounds, yes. To get to work with that kind of writing with a character they keep interesting feels so rare.”

SOUND BITES

Favorite moment of last season?

The 100th-episode week was one of my favorite moments. It was a week of complete hedonism and celebrating working in one creepy abandoned hospital for that long.

Favorite shows?

Definitely “Arrested Development.” I love “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “The Daily Show” is an everyday must. I’m so addicted this year to “24.” I think it’s so juicy. And “The Sopranos” — I wish Michael Imperioli would come guest star on our show.

Underrated actor?

Neil Flynn (who plays the janitor on “Scrubs”). He is so ridiculously funny. It’s to the point where the writers will write him a line and then just put in brackets “or whatever Neil says.”

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