Here it is, Season 8 of "Scrubs" — the one that never was supposed to happen. Like "Diff'rent Strokes" more than 20 years ago, the sitcom has defected from NBC to ABC for what is presumed to be its final season. Or maybe not.

One never knows what the show's irrepressible creator/ executive producer/showrunner Bill Lawrence might have up his sleeve, and he has pulled off quite a feat in landing this 18-episode stay of execution. It's terrific to see the return of a half-hour this charmingly performed and superbly written, particularly when we're suffering such a primetime network comedy shortage.

The show hits the ground in midseason form after eight months and one change of venue, integrating a new crop of interns with seamless aplomb and again demonstrating how to fuse dramatic elements into a sitcom without breaking a sweat.

The show rolls onto ABC with a two-episode premiere assault that impressively showcases its range, which has been a "Scrubs" strength from the get-go. First up is a segment that introduces the heartless and unethical Dr. Maddox, played by new recurring player Courteney Cox, who turns in sharply over-the-top work. She's surrounded by the usual cast of returning players led by the underrated Zach Braff along with Sarah Chalke, Donald Faison, the incomparable John C. McGinley and Judy Reyes — long one of TV's most talented and colorful casts.

What remains great about "Scrubs" is its politically incorrect tone, so smooth that the offending line is already in the rear-view mirror before you have a chance to work up any outrage. Although universal health care might be a political pipe dream in the U.S., laughter remains a medicine we not only all can afford but also desperately need. And "Scrubs" continues to supply plenty of that without demanding so much as a co-pay. (partialdiff)