Critics, websites, and fans all agree that we live in the Golden Age of Television. It’s hard to argue; with critically acclaimed shows coming out seemingly every month on regular cable, and with streaming services increasingly offering their own excellent content like Stranger Things, Castlevania, Dark, and The Man in the High Castle, there’s never been a better time to indulge in some light episode binging.
Scrubs: All the Right Ingredients
There were plenty of really great TV shows before our current glorious period though, and this article is a love letter to my favorite: Scrubs. Bill Lawrence, who cut his teeth in the 90s writing for Friends and Boy Meets World before creating another beloved show, Spin City, saw potential in the inner workings of medical interns learning about life, love, and medicine in a teaching hospital.
All of that sounds very cliché, and any other medical comedy would be. But Scrubs had several undetected strengths:
- Lawrence himself, whose knowledge of pop-culture minutiae would inject quirky flavor into every episode
- A strong cast anchored by pre-Garden State Zach Braff and the priceless John C. McGinley
- A built-in structure for each episode
- A loaded writers’ room full of talented scribes like Angela Nissel, Garrett Donovan, Neil Goldman, and Debra Fordham.
These elements alchemized into a show that lasted nine seasons across multiple networks, received 17 Emmy nominations, and experienced the shift to high-definition prestige viewing (it premiered on October 2, 2001 and ended on March 17, 2010).
The real reason Scrubs is so endearing is its barefaced, unapologetic nerdiness. In any given episode you might see one of the main character JD’s many bizarre, stream of consciousness fantasies/daydreams. JD’s fantasies reference beloved TV treasures like Star Wars, Adam West-era Batman, and Happy Days. Obscure or forgotten celebrities like Jimmie Walker (from Good Times), Fred Berry (Rerun on What’s Happening!), and Maureen McCormick (whom JD can’t think of as anybody but Marcia Brady) pop up in his daydreams.
Shoot, bonafide movie and television stars regularly pop up on Scrubs—Dick Van Dyke as an increasingly outdated old doctor, Heather Graham as a loopy psychologist, John Ritter as JD’s dad, Amy Smart as a dramatic girlfriend, Colin Ferrell as a freewheeling Irishman, Julianna Margulies as a control-freak girlfriend, Brendan Fraser as Dr. Cox’s wife’s brother, Elizabeth Banks as a long-term love interest for JD, Michael J. Fox as an unexpected rival to Dr. Cox, Courtney Cox as a cutthroat chief of medicine, and Keri Russell as a relationship-averse sorority sister all pop up, often for multiple episodes.
Embrace the Music
In addition, the show is shamelessly musical. In an era when shows were becoming increasingly “serious,” the characters on Scrubs continually burst into song. An early episode’s running joke is the irritating catchiness of “A Little Respect” by Erasure, while one of Elliott’s (Sarah Chalke) relationships is ruined by a misunderstanding over her love of U2. JD, Turk (Donald Faison), and Dr. Cox all repeatedly break out into a West Side Story-style chorus, characters form an air-band to perform Journey songs, Colin Hays (lead singer of Men At Work) pops up to serenade JD—the list goes on and on.
If you don’t believe how musical this show is, check out “My Musical.” It’s an absolute delight of an episode—a patient’s brain aneurysm is causing her to hear everybody sing instead of talk. This premise (which is based on possible symptoms of real brain aneurysms) yields musical comedy gold, with the cast going all in on Broadway-style dancing, My Fair Lady-like “talky” songs, and moments of actual pathos. All of the songs are original and written by Broadway glitterati like Robert Lopez (of Frozen fame), Jeff Marx, and Doug Besterman and performed by the actors themselves.
Nerdy and Worthy
If all of these nerdy credentials aren’t enough to convince you to give the show a try, stick around for the emotional impact each episode has. Scrubs fans like to say that few other shows can make you laugh out loud and weep, often multiple times, in the same episode. Scrubs is a member of the TV comedy family capable of mixing pathos with humor, a trait that its network, NBC, seemed to conjure over and over again with its 2000s comedies (The Office, Parks & Rec, and Community, anyone?). Few shows commit to their nerdiness like Scrubs. It deserves your attention, and you won’t be disappointed.