Although no longer on our screens, Scrubs was one of America’s most resonant and irresistible programmes – delicately balancing cringe-inducing comedy with painful pathos, the long-running American sitcom achieved this through a stellar soundtrack. The songs chosen always helped elevate the storyline’s emotional arc, whether it be one of Turk’s zaniest moments or a trademark JD self-battle. Scrubs, which starred Zach Braff as JD, ran for nine seasons and contained a fair few slices of incidental music, including lawyer Ted’s band The Worthless Peons (as well as his real-life group, The Blanks) and an episode devoted to songs, ‘My Musical’.
Trying to condense Scrubs’ phenomenal list of songs is difficult, but here are ten that really got to the essence of what the story was suggesting, and embellished it as a result. You might want to grab a hanky now, things could get emotional…
10). Modest Mouse, ‘Missed the Boat’ (‘My Waste of Time’, Season Seven)
Scrubs was starting to wilt around this period, particularly with Braff becoming more of a transient figure and the lack of cohesive storylines. However, My Waste of Time makes the most of this state of flux – Dr Cox is beginning to revel in his new role as Chief of Medicine (although the previous incumbent, Dr Kelso, is still lingering around), while JD and Elliot try to rekindle their past relationship, and find that they have drifted apart. Giving these storylines of change a great soundtrack comes in the shape of Portland rockers Modest Mouse – ‘Missed the Boat’ is bouyed by the chiming arpeggios of Johnny Marr as it glides along on nimble, echo-laden fretwork.
9). Toad the Wet Sprocket, ‘Something’s Always Wrong’ (‘My Big Brother’, Season Two)
There are a slew of groups that were used frequently throughout Scrubs‘ run, and one of those was earnest, acoustic-addled indie stars Toad the Wet Sprocket. In ‘My Big Brother’, JD has to try and accept his older brother, a typical figure of envy and resonance for the young doctor, is not the success that he thought he’d grow to be. As he drives off, he remembers how things used to be – where JD was the idealistic, hopeful youngster and his bro was the breadwinner – with Toad’s contemplative, chugging lament ‘Something’s Always Wrong’ hammering the issue home.
8). Barenaked Ladies, ‘If I Had A $1,000,000’ (‘My Fruit Cups’, Season Two)
Similarly to TOAD, Barenaked Ladies enjoyed a regular slot soundtracking Scrubs, and when listening to the Canadian band’s brand of music, it’s no surprise – chief songwriters Ed Robertson and Steven Page had a gift for combining seemingly goofy subject matters with heartfelt urgency. On the surface, ‘If I Had A Million Dollars’ is a deceptively throwaway slice of immature ambition, but within its lofty ambitions is a track of yearning wistfulness. This episode also brilliantly used Nelly’s ‘Ride Wit Me’…lest we forget.
7). Joseph Arthur, ‘In the Sun’ (‘My New God’, Season Five)
In the early noughties, Joseph Arthur was almost inescapable. The songsmith’s breathy, yet grizzled, vocal delivery meshed wonderfully with his numerous guitar techniques, not least on the delicate lament ‘In the Sun’. The often-covered track soundtracked Dr Cox’s son Jack’s baptism, in which all the anger and resentment the regulars had been feeling gets washed away at the sight of a new life being ingrained into society.
6). Cheap Trick, ‘I Want You To Want Me’ (‘My First Day’, Season One)
Scrubs wasted no time in choosing the perfect musical accompyment – an episode which contains a clip of David Gray may sound slightly sobering, but its inclusion on the pilot episode helped provide subtle sustenance to a pivotal scene. In one of JD’s many amusing daydreams, he races with fellow intern Elliot to the tune of power-pop behemoths Cheap Trick, who featured again later on in the series with their arms-aloft anthem ‘Surrender’.
5). Citizen Cope, ‘Sideways’ (‘My Jiggly Ball’, Season Five)
The show often incorporated some previously unknown tracks into the mix, with brilliant effect. ‘Sideways’ was a sighing, forlorn ballad that gave one of the show’s most devastating storylines real conviction – Kelso leaves every shift with a smile and a whistle, seemingly unfazed by the fatalities and futility of hospital life. However, when a patient passes away after not having the required insurance for a vital operation, Kelso’s decision visibly hangs heavy on his shoulders; the smile is gone, but the music is proof enough.
4). The Coral, ‘Dreaming of You’ (‘My Monster’, Season Two)
This horn-flecked anthem from the Wirral soundtracked one of the show’s saucier scenes – with Elliot shacking up at JD and Turk’s flat, the sexual tensions were always going to run riot, and eventually they give in to their passions to the sound of one of the noughties’ finest anthems. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.
3). Fountains of Wayne, ‘Hey Julie’ (‘My Half-Acre’, Season Five)
There was a lot more to Fountains of Wayne than ‘Stacy’s Mom’, although that song served up the antihesis of what they represented – white-collar living, suburban frustration and a wry sense of humour, all backed up by beefy guitars and heavy harmonies. ‘Hey Julie’ is slightly more folk-infused, a scorched acoustic hymn about the drudgery of 9-5 clock punching, wherein the protagonist thanks the titular Julie for being around.
2). Joshua Radin, ‘Winter’ (‘My Screw Up’, Season Three)
Trying to decide Scrubs’ saddest episode, or scene, can cause a conversation that goes long into the night. However, the ones that involve the usually taciturn Dr Cox can hit the right pangs. When he loses his best friend Ben, Cox is at a struggle to believe it, and is convinced he is attending his son’s birthday party. In actuality, it eventually comes to light that it’s Ben’s funeral. As he slowly forgives JD and allows the tears to finally be expelled, Joshua Radin’s Elliott Smith-style slice of delicate folk highlights the downbeat nature.
1). Erasure, ‘A Little Respect’ (‘My Best Friend’s Mistake’, Season One)
Not many episodes centred around a song itself, but on ‘My Best Friend’s Mistake’ there are thirty minutes devoted to Andy Bell’s ’80s staple (sorry, Wheatus fans). The song becomes a running thread throughout the episode, and even the surly Janitor allows himself a line or two while doing some undesirable toilet maintenance. The message is clear, though – no matter what position of authority you find yourself in, you deserve the respect of others, preferably with the beats of an ’80s ballad.