Top Ten Music Moments on NBC’s Scrubs
n the wake of series finales from some of NBC’s most successful comedies of the last 15 years—Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier—the 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 show’s visual gags, daydream sequences, and curious affinity for former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay, among other things, have made it NBC’s top comedy for four years running, even if its ratings don’t reflect that.
Scrubs builds on the blueprint laid down by series like ABC’s Sports Night in the late 1990s; it delivers the laughs for about 20 of the episode’s 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 episode’s final moments—acoustic guitar chords, swelling choruses and lovestruck lyrics are not uncommon. Zach Braff, who plays likeable doctor John “J.D.” 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. It’s 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 show’s 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 he’s 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, “Nothing sucks more than feeling all alone, no matter how many people are around”? You still feel a little sympathy, despite the fact that he’d turned down advances from the episode’s title character, “Tasty Coma Wife” (Amy Smart), a mere two minutes earlier. Our resilient hero J.D. eventually bounces back, hooking up with her two episodes later at her husband’s funeral.
09. The Coral - "Dreaming of You" (2.10: My Monster)
More than any other song on this list, The Coral’s 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 show’s storylines. J.D. and Elliot, this series’ 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 “Dreaming of You” sets off their romp around J.D.’s apartment. The lyric “I still need you, but I don’t want you now” never seemed less clichéd.
08. Journey - "Don't Stop Believin'" (3.02: My Journey)
A callback to the episode’s introduction, in which J.D. professed his love for the 80s arena-rock group by lending his falsetto to “Don’t Stop Believin”’s 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 doesn’t nail this plot spot-on, they do well enough. “Just a small town girl / Livin’ in a lonely world / She took the midnight train going anywhere” 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 (“Just a small town boy…”) starts up. The self-aware music selection is great—the episode’s exaggeratedly theatrical ending as the song’s chorus swells is even better.
07. Nil Lara – “Fighting For My Love” (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 “Fighting For My Love.” After teasing at chemistry between the two characters during the show’s 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. “Fighting For My Love,” 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 didn’t 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 doctor—surprising the patient by bringing his bandmates into his hospital room to play an impromptu set—the 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 “Light of Day / Reach for the Sun” in and out of the diegesis. I normally don’t 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 “My Fault” let it play in almost its entirety. In one of the most brilliantly written sequence of Scrubs’ 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 can’t have is that when they actually get the thing they covet, they don’t want it anymore. But not this guy.
Elliot: “Well Dr. Dorian, you have me. You finally have me.”
(“One Thing” cuts out abruptly)
J.D. (narrating): Oh my God, I don’t want her!
Hey, it’s 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)
I’m wary of my praise for Scrubs’ unconventional methods coming off a little too excessive, but bear with me as I toe that line between admiration and obsession again. In “My Last Day,” the first season’s finale, the writers didn’t just drop one bomb—they dropped every bomb. Initially, Colin Hay’s lyrics—particularly the constant “My my my, it’s a beautiful world” refrain—complement what appears to be an aw-shucks happy ending to the season. However, that’s before the track cuts out for a minute and an antagonized Jordan takes Dr. Cox’s earlier advice to “stir it up” by informing every main character of secrets and conflicts that had been stewing for most of the season. As soon as she concludes, Hay’s voice re-enters over acoustic chords, singing, “Still this emptiness persists / Perhaps this is as good as it gets.” Once again, it’s the off-screen vocalist that’s dictating the plot, as each on-screen character, one by one, wordlessly departs the scene. The final chords of “Beautiful World” 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 “Hallelujah” 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 Cale’s rendition rather than the Jeff Buckley version that’s 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 that—excepting the maternity ward and emergency room—one 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 show’s end. The twist: Some days, the odds are worse. The sparse piano notes of “Hallelujah” play morosely in the background as each doctor has to apologize to their patient’s respective families. I’ve 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. “Winter” and “Closer” sound so similar—even down to their titles—that I had to include them as one entry here. The former track plays a critical role in “My Screwup,” an episode unanimously considered one of the show’s best. In a twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan film, the show’s writers mislead viewers for the episode’s entire second half, providing a jarring impact while maintaining its humour most of the way. “My Best Laid Plans,” meanwhile, offers a similarly downbeat ending, as J.D. breaks up with his girlfriend and Turk and Carla’s marriage appears on the verge of collapse. In both instances, Radin’s inconspicuous delivery and deceptively simple melodies make for poignant moments without being obtrusive. His approach isn’t spectacular, but it’s 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 Scrubs’ four seasons, the final few minutes of “My Philosophy” represent the time when I felt most strongly that I was watching a show unlike any other I’d ever seen. Following up on an early conversation with J.D. in which she expresses hope that death is like a “big Broadway musical” in which “you go out with a real flourish,” one patient’s death inspires one of J.D.’s recurrent imagination sequences. In this one, death really is like a big Broadway musical, and its cast is… well, the cast of Scrubs. Six of the show’s main players, along with the late patient (played by Jill Tracy), take a turn at singing a few lines from Colin Hay’s “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin.” There even achieve a few moments of legitimately impressive harmony. It’s slightly surreal and surprisingly endearing—two traits that play a large factor in many of Scrubs’ best moments, musical or otherwise.
By: Luke Adams
Published on: 2005-05-13
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