World-building with clothes: Extras and Scrubs capture the mundane 2000s
When it comes to conversations about TV fashion and good costume design, there are a number of shows that fall under the radar because their wardrobes are so mundane.
Audiences may consider it boring to see characters wearing “normal”, everyday clothing, but these shows can still feature interesting wardrobe items that provide an iconic aesthetic.
Extras (2005-2007) and Scrubs (2001-2010) are perfect examples.
Extras is a BBC sitcom that centres around Andy (Ricky Gervais) and Maggie (Ashley Jensen), two extras navigating various film and TV sets and theatre rehearsals.
Through the show, Andy goes from a nameless extra to the creator of England’s biggest (and, arguably, worst) sitcom. While his fashion sense doesn’t change much, the outfits he wears for his various jobs vary immensely between the two seasons.
Andy and Maggie in their street clothes.
While most movie and TV getups aim to make actors look like ordinary people, the majority of Extras’ costumes intend to paint the characters as people who are also wearing costumes. From Holocaust dramas to fantasy epics, Andy and Maggie go through enough clothes to make a Broadway veteran blush.
Scrubs is an American sitcom set in Sacred Heart Hospital. Among the young doctors undertaking their internships are besties John “JD” Dorian (Zach Braff) and Christopher Turk (Donald Faison), and Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke).
They respond to every medical problem in the book while dealing with issues that stem from their medical careers, like dating working in different departments, and attempting to impress the higher-ups.
Compared to Extras—where scenes outside of work show the jaded Andy wearing lots of dark colours and the more optimistic Maggie wearing a brighter, more eclectic style—Scrubs has even fewer moments when the characters dress casually.
The trio occasionally hang out at home or go to the bar, but the bulk of the first two seasons sees JD, Turk, and Elliot confined to Sacred Heart, where donning their uniform is mandatory.
In a way, fixating on the casual clothes in these shows is like those Twilight/Elena Gilbert Core enthusiasts on TikTok a couple of months ago, welcoming the new school year in America with a more subdued colour palette and late 2000s/early 2010s silhouette. It’s obsessing over the mundane.
These shows are effective time capsules and their costumes represent widespread fashions already worn by the target audience.
JD and Turk at the bar.
There are subtle differences in character styles, such as Maggie’s pink-purple beret (Extras) or Turk’s penchant for sporty casual wear (Scrubs).
Maggie’s beret is particularly special because it’s symbolic of something rarely seen on TV: characters actually reusing their clothes.
Too often, someone wears a great ensemble once and then discards it completely, repeating this cycle for the remainder of the series.
Every once in a while, a series like Mad Men (2007-2015) shows characters wearing the same items again, like Betty Draper’s blue swing coat.
Extras stands out in this regard by not pretending its characters have three walk-in wardrobes worth of fashionable items at home.
These are average people who aren’t in tune with all the latest trends, and they’re not so young anymore that they’ll be trying out super low-rise jeans anytime soon. The characters have casual, unglamorous outfits outside of work, but everything they wear when they’re on the clock is more striking.
JD (Braff), Turk (Faison) and Elliot (Chalke).
Scrubs establishes the different colours of the medical doctors (blue) and surgeons (green) while the nurses wear a variety of colours.
The characters in Extras get to have fun with plenty of film, TV and theatre costumes, while the Scrubs cast most often wear their work uniforms.
These ensembles contribute to the world-building, automatically communicating what the characters do for a living and establishing the situation at hand.
Extras is one of those shows you can binge over a weekend, including its feature-length Christmas special.
The episodes differ in quality depending on who’s guest-starring, but the strongest ones (such as Kate Winslet) are definitely worth exploring.
As for Scrubs, the two seasons discussed above are just the beginning. Although the ninth (and final) season is infamously bad, it’s a ton of fun to revisit its first eight.
Overall, these shows aren’t going to be used for fashion inspiration anytime soon, but the characters’ work clothes function as effective worldbuilding for the working environments of both sitcoms.