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Top Ten Music Moments on NBCís Scrubs
In the wake of series finales from some of NBCís most successful comedies of the last 15 yearsóSeinfeld, Friends, Frasieróthe network that once dominated the sitcom landscape has been reduced to relying on a painfully unfunny Friends spinoff and the increasingly tiresome Will & Grace as its main draws. Fortunately, one beacon of creative comedic hope remains amidst the wasteland of predictable punchlines and soulless laugh tracks: Scrubs. The showís visual gags, daydream sequences, and curious affinity for former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay, among other things, have made it NBCís top comedy for four years running, even if its ratings donít reflect that.
Scrubs builds on the blueprint laid down by series like ABCís Sports Night in the late 1990s; it delivers the laughs for about 20 of the episodeís 22 minutes before setting the jokes aside to deliver a dramatic, thought-provoking conclusion over its final couple of minutes. Sometimes these conclusions fall flat, but more often than not, they succeed with just the right doses of endearing genuineness and believable melodrama. In other words, it tickles the X chromosomes in all the right places.
As expected, music plays a large role in these dramatic final moments. Like any series, Scrubs has established a certain style of song that shows up frequently in each episodeís final momentsóacoustic guitar chords, swelling choruses and lovestruck lyrics are not uncommon. Zach Braff, who plays likeable doctor John ìJ.D.î Dorian in the series, copped this sound for his Grammy-winning Garden State soundtrack, though admittedly he may have had a hand in the original inclusion of artists like The Shins and Cary Brothers in Scrubs.
As often as Scrubs sticks to its musical formula though, it never hesitates to deviate from expectations when the situation calls for it. Itís a trait that extends to every aspect of the series, and makes it one of the most unique comedies on television today. The following ten moments are a few that combined music with the showís plot and characters most memorably. Melodrama optional.
10. Rhett Miller – “Come Around” (2.18: My T.C.W.)
The final sequence in this episode showcases a common Scrubs tactic: wrapping up each separate storyline in a wordless montage. In this case, after J.D. reprimands Elliot, Turk, Carla, and Dr. Cox for complaining incessantly about their relationship problems while heís unhappily single, each respective couple reconciles as Old 97s frontman Miller plays in the background. The beauty of this montage, which ends with J.D. lamenting, ìNothing sucks more than feeling all alone, no matter how many people are aroundî? You still feel a little sympathy, despite the fact that heíd turned down advances from the episodeís title character, ìTasty Coma Wifeî (Amy Smart), a mere two minutes earlier. Our resilient hero J.D. eventually bounces back, hooking up with her two episodes later at her husbandís funeral.
09. The Coral – “Dreaming of You” (2.10: My Monster)
More than any other song on this list, The Coralís irresistibly catchy single represents a significant change of pace from the Scrubs musical norm. Similarly, the plot turn that the song scores epitomizes the unpredictable nature of the showís storylines. J.D. and Elliot, this seriesí version of, say, Ross and Rachel, had been broken up for nearly a year, following a tryst that lasted all of one episode. But now, suddenly, with few hints and no foreshadowing, the bouncy bass riff and synth line in ìDreaming of Youî sets off their romp around J.D.ís apartment. The lyric ìI still need you, but I donít want you nowî never seemed less clichÈd.
08. Journey – “Don’t Stop Believin'” (3.02: My Journey)
A callback to the episodeís introduction, in which J.D. professed his love for the 80s arena-rock group by lending his falsetto to ìDonít Stop Believinîís opening lines, the track interjects itself into the narrative in the final minutes. Scrubs has made this a habit over its four seasons; in many cases, the lyrics of the chosen song describes the situation as effectively as a dialogue could. While Journey doesnít nail this plot spot-on, they do well enough. ìJust a small town girl / Liviní in a lonely world / She took the midnight train going anywhereî plays while a lovelorn Elliot rides a train to see potential boyfriend Sean (Scott Foley); the next shot cuts to show an equally lonely Sean while the next couplet (ìJust a small town boyÖî) starts up. The self-aware music selection is greatóthe episodeís exaggeratedly theatrical ending as the songís chorus swells is even better.
07. Nil Lara ñ ìFighting For My Loveî (1.14: My Drug Buddy)
The first brief Elliott/J.D. tryst I alluded to earlier took off in the final minute of this episode, to the tune of ìFighting For My Love.î After teasing at chemistry between the two characters during the showís inaugural three or four weeks, the show had relegated them to the friend zone, seemingly indefinitely, before the sudden hookup went down in this episode. It was a welcome change from the awkward exchanges, heavy-handed foreshadowing, and the sense of inevitability that usually surrounds TV romances. Even though this one also seemed inevitable, it still caught you off-guard. ìFighting For My Love,î a typically Scrubs upbeat acoustic number provides the perfect soundtrack to the moment.
06. The Polyphonic Spree – “Section 9 (Light of Day / Reach for the Sun)” (3.19: My Choosiest Choice of All)
Not knowing beforehand that The Polyphonic Spree would appear in this episode, I didnít pay much attention when one patient constantly expressed the desire to play with his band before they toured Europe. However, when Dr. Cox attempted to impress a fellow doctorósurprising the patient by bringing his bandmates into his hospital room to play an impromptu setóthe band slowly streamed in, one by one, all decked out in identical white robes, and it clicked for me. The final minutes of the episode feature a montage that combines performance shots of the band with the final advances of the plot, effectively weaving ìLight of Day / Reach for the Sunî in and out of the diegesis. I normally donít like The Polyphonic Spree, but they work perfectly here.
05. Finger Eleven – “One Thing” (3.20: My Fault)
As overplayed as it was on radio airwaves, this Finger Eleven ballad still sounds good to me, and the final three and a half minutes of ìMy Faultî let it play in almost its entirety. In one of the most brilliantly written sequence of Scrubsí four seasons, conflicts resolve in both touching and dramatic ways, from Carla and Turk reconciling their wedding issues to Elliot deciding at the last minute to ditch her plan to move in with Sean in favour of J.D. It culminates in this final exchange, right before the episode finishes:
J.D. (narrating): I think that the problem with most people who want what they canít have is that when they actually get the thing they covet, they donít want it anymore. But not this guy.
Elliot: ìWell Dr. Dorian, you have me. You finally have me.î
(ìOne Thingî cuts out abruptly)
J.D. (narrating): Oh my God, I donít want her!
Hey, itís a comedy that, in the end, places comedy first rather than pandering to audiences who revel in the romantic conventions of so-called sitcoms. What a novel concept.
04. Colin Hay – “Beautiful World” (1.24: My Last Day)
Iím wary of my praise for Scrubsí unconventional methods coming off a little too excessive, but bear with me as I toe that line between admiration and obsession again. In ìMy Last Day,î the first seasonís finale, the writers didnít just drop one bombóthey dropped every bomb. Initially, Colin Hayís lyricsóparticularly the constant ìMy my my, itís a beautiful worldî refrainócomplement what appears to be an aw-shucks happy ending to the season. However, thatís before the track cuts out for a minute and an antagonized Jordan takes Dr. Coxís earlier advice to ìstir it upî by informing every main character of secrets and conflicts that had been stewing for most of the season. As soon as she concludes, Hayís voice re-enters over acoustic chords, singing, ìStill this emptiness persists / Perhaps this is as good as it gets.î Once again, itís the off-screen vocalist thatís dictating the plot, as each on-screen character, one by one, wordlessly departs the scene. The final chords of ìBeautiful Worldî reverberate with a combination of playful self-reflexivity and nostalgia for five minutes earlier, when things were far less complicated.
03. John Cale – “Hallelujah” (1.04: My Old Lady)
Using ìHallelujahî to score a crucial moment is nothing new to the television world. Virtually every show from The West Wing to The O.C. has used it at some point, and Scrubs was no exception, whipping it out in only its fourth episode. However, they do get some credit for using John Caleís rendition rather than the Jeff Buckley version thatís suffered from a bit of overexposure. Technicalities aside, what we have here is a genuine goosebump-eliciting moment. The premise: J.D. introduces the episode by pointing out thatóexcepting the maternity ward and emergency roomóone out of every three hospital patients dies before leaving. In a subsequent three-way split-screen, J.D., Elliot, and Turk introduce themselves to their new patients, setting up the payoff of seeing which will have their patient die on them by showís end. The twist: Some days, the odds are worse. The sparse piano notes of ìHallelujahî play morosely in the background as each doctor has to apologize to their patientís respective families. Iíve never watched a single episode of E.R., but I imagine this must capture what its best moments were like.
02. Josh Radin “Winter” / “Closer” (3.14: My Screwup / 4.19: My Best Laid Plans)
Another Zach Braff favourite, Josh Radin has contributed his whispered vocals and acoustic guitar plucking to two of the most memorable episodes of the series. ìWinterî and ìCloserî sound so similaróeven down to their titlesóthat I had to include them as one entry here. The former track plays a critical role in ìMy Screwup,î an episode unanimously considered one of the showís best. In a twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan film, the showís writers mislead viewers for the episodeís entire second half, providing a jarring impact while maintaining its humour most of the way. ìMy Best Laid Plans,î meanwhile, offers a similarly downbeat ending, as J.D. breaks up with his girlfriend and Turk and Carlaís marriage appears on the verge of collapse. In both instances, Radinís inconspicuous delivery and deceptively simple melodies make for poignant moments without being obtrusive. His approach isnít spectacular, but itís definitely memorable.
01. Jill Tracy and Cast – “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin” (2.13: My Philosophy)
Perhaps the definitive love-it-or-hate-it sequence over the duration of Scrubsí four seasons, the final few minutes of ìMy Philosophyî represent the time when I felt most strongly that I was watching a show unlike any other Iíd ever seen. Following up on an early conversation with J.D. in which she expresses hope that death is like a ìbig Broadway musicalî in which ìyou go out with a real flourish,î one patientís death inspires one of J.D.ís recurrent imagination sequences. In this one, death really is like a big Broadway musical, and its cast isÖ well, the cast of Scrubs. Six of the showís main players, along with the late patient (played by Jill Tracy), take a turn at singing a few lines from Colin Hayís ìWaiting for my Real Life to Begin.î There even achieve a few moments of legitimately impressive harmony. Itís slightly surreal and surprisingly endearingótwo traits that play a large factor in many of Scrubsí best moments, musical or otherwise.