It’s easy for a television show to make an audience laugh; that’s been demonstrated innumerable times, as we’ve seen some pretty horrible sitcoms maintain long television runs due to their ability to generate cheap laughs (we’re looking at you, Two and a Half Men). However, it’s far more difficult for a television show (and specifically a sitcom) to make audiences laugh while also making them care, intimately so, about the characters they see on screen. It’s in this way that Scrubs, the medical sitcom that ran from 2001 to 2009 (not including the abhorred attempted spinoff that tacked on to the end of the series), separates itself from much of the trash that currently populates the television airwaves. Scrubs, which did a wonderful job of crafting lovable characters in a genuinely challenging profession and giving them real, human conflicts to overcome, also gave viewers some hilarious jokes to sink their teeth into. Today, we’re looking at the 10 greatest episodes of Scrubs that’ll having you laughing and caring in equal measure.
10. “My Jiggly Ball” (Season 5, Episode 4)
The central protagonist of Scrubs, Dr. John Dorian (known most often as J.D.) is undoubtedly a character filled with flaws, foibles and idiosyncrasies; these are what make him a relatable and human character, despite the fact that he’s odd, insecure and increasingly self-destructive (but you know, in a funny way). It’s his pride that takes center stage in the classic Scrubs episode “My Jiggly Ball,” where he refuses to admit his lack of knowledge regarding a fictional game, Jiggly Ball. Taunted mercilessly by the Janitor, J.D. goes on a quest to discover the rules of Jiggly Ball so as to appear educated on the intricacies of the hospital’s recreational activities. But misfortune befalls him when he discovers the Janitor made up the game to prove just how proud J.D. really is.
9. “My Own American Girl” (Season 3, Episode 1)
While J.D. (Zach Braff) functions as the main character of Scrubs, there are occasionally episodes which center around the other characters in the show, whether they are secondary, tertiary, etc. While these episodes can occasionally be tedious (there’s a stretch in season six where Carla’s post-partum depression takes center stage, and it is far from the show’s strongest run), occasionally they surprise as some of the stronger episodes the series has seen. The season three premiere, titled “My Own American Girl,” is one such episode, as it deals with the increasing maturity of Elliot Reid (as played by Sarah Chalke), the blonde and occasionally ditzy doctor who finally gets fed up with people treating her like a child, resulting in a pretty swell montage set to Tom Petty’s “American Girl” (hence, the episode’s title). It’s a defining moment in the character’s arc, and it helps to transform the character from overwhelmed doormat into a strong, attractive and empowered doctor (who still occasionally struggles with awkwardness and clumsiness).
8. “My Fallen Idol” (Season 5, Episode 21)
The relationship between J.D. and his reluctant mentor, Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), is one of the best things about Scrubs. While it’s apparent that the mentor loathes the mentee in this situation, it also becomes clear that Cox is mostly bluster and bravado, and relies heavily on the approval of his understudy to build up his ego. In “My Fallen Idol,” the audience is treated to an examination of the relationship between the two characters after Dr. Cox accidentally causes the death of three patients (their donated organs are contaminated with rabies, and the episode was based on a real medical case where this occurred).
7. “My Heavy Meddle” (Season 1, Episode 16)
Only Scrubs could turn the tunes of infamous hair metal rockers Poison into the central mechanism of an episode, and the sixteenth episode of the show’s first season, “My Heavy Meddle,” does just that. In the episode, a coma patient’s last wish is to be played Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” once per day, much to the chagrin of testy hospital manager Dr. Bob Kelso. When Nurse Carla focuses on making sure the wishes of the comatose individual are met, she runs head-on into the immovable object that is Bob Kelso, and it makes for one heck of a collision. A hilarious episode early in the show’s tenure, “My Heavy Meddle” also sees J.D. coming to terms with the death of one of his mentors.
6. “My Best Laid Plans” (Season 4, Episode 19)
One thing that’s gone unmentioned in all this praise for Scrubs is the show’s absolutely stellar soundtrack. Many of the songs were hand-picked by Braff to coincide with moments on the show, and with his excellent taste in music verified (he won an Academy Award for the Garden State soundtrack, which he also selected), it’s little wonder that the show has one of the best soundtracks we’ve ever seen in a sitcom. We only mention all of this because the show’s nineteenth episode in the fourth season, “My Best Laid Plans,” makes excellent use of its soundtrack, emphasizing much of what occurs at the episode’s climatic montage. It’s a really great mix, and it speaks to the overall talent involved in making a show like this so incredibly affective.
5. “My Cake” (Season 4, Episode 6)
In a television series where death is a common occurrence (these folks do work at a hospital, after all), it can seem a little routine after a while; funny doctor treats patient with rare disease, rare disease turns out to be incurable, funny doctor helps patient deal with impending death. End scene. After a while, you get used to it. But that’s why “My Cake” is such a revelatory episode of Scrubs, since it forces the show’s protagonist, J.D., to deal with a death outside the hospital, that of his own father (played in an earlier episode by the late John Ritter, whom “My Cake” is dedicated to). After being told of his father’s death by his brother, the immature and poorly adjusted Dan Dorian (played delightfully by Tom Cavanagh), J.D. must cope with the realities of death in both his personal and professional life, making for an engaging episode of television that asks important questions, then tries to make you laugh at the answers.
4. “My Way Home” (Season 5, Episode 7)
“My Way Home,” the 100th episode of Scrubs, is a special one. A direct homage to The Wizard of Oz, the episode makes repeated references and allusions to the classic film and is one of the most acclaimed episodes in the series history, winning a Peabody Award for “fearlessly smashing traditional comic formulas, all the while respecting the deepest emotional and moral issues of its life-and-death setting.” Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like what we’ve been saying about the show, doesn’t it? “My Way Home,” which was directed by series star Braff, sees hospital members trying to gather the necessary brains, courage and heart to get by in the day to day world of medicine, and its litany of Wizard of Oz references only add to the historic nature of this much-celebrated episode that even features an acapella rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
3. “My Finale” (Season 8, Episode 18)
There were some rough patches in Scrubs‘ history, especially when factoring in the Writer’s Guild of America strike that severely hindered the production and quality of the show’s sixth and seventh seasons. That said, most agree that the show finished on an unusually strong note, with the show’s final episodes, “My Finale,” earning a place among the best series finales of all time. A two-part episode that runs 42 minutes rather than 21, “My Finale” sees the return of some of Scrubs‘ most famous guest stars and deceased characters, doctors and patients who had since passed through the doors of Sacred Heart Hospital not to be seen again until this fated episode. “My Finale,” cements the future of the J.D./Elliot relationship by exploring the reality of J.D.’s fantasies (which make up a significant portion of the show’s appeal, as he’s often daydreaming) in relation to his future; why can’t they come true, he asks, and in light of the show’s beautiful ending (which sees the couple’s future projected on a screen outside the hospital doors), the audience will find themselves asking that as well.
2. “My Lunch” (Season 5, Episode 20)
Consistently ranked among the best episodes of Scrubs, “My Lunch” sees the return of guest star Nicole Sullivan as a troubled patient looking for someone to reach out to; however, with both Dr. Cox and J.D. busy at the hospital, her cries for help fall on deaf ears until it’s too late. An incredibly serious episode of Scrubs that still manages to work in some quality laughs, “My Lunch” is somewhat of a two-part episode (along with the aforementioned “My Fallen Idol”) that deals with the fallout of the decisions made in Sacred Heart in regards to Sullivan’s character, and it’s a tough pill to swallow when complications result in the deaths of three more patients. Featuring some of the best acting in the series, courtesy of John C. McGinley, “My Lunch” earns the number two spot on this list.
1. “My Screw Up” (Season 3, Episode 14)
As we said in our introduction, there isn’t really a sitcom we can remember that deals with issues like mortality and our relationship to it with as much tact as Scrubs, and never has that been more evident than in one of the show’s most acclaimed episodes, “My Screw Up.” The fourteenth episode of the third season, “My Screw Up” sees the return of Ben (as played by Brendon Fraser in a delightfully kooky guest appearance), Dr. Cox’s brother-in-law and best friend, as attempts are made to investigate the potential return of his cancer. The episode, which takes a tremendously sad turn at its climax, is a truly heartbreaking experience that features top-notch acting from series regulars Zach Braff and John C. McGinley, and also demonstrates how a show intended to function primarily as a comedy can address real issues and add a real sense of affect, disrupting the “sitcom” formula we’ve all become intimately familiar with. “My Screw Up “is often cited as the best episode of Scrubs, and with good reason; it distills the best of what the series has to offer into a funny, sad and enlightening episode of television.