As it approaches 20 years since its 2001 debut, Scrubs has quietly become one of the most celebrated and beloved sitcoms of the century. While it doesn’t get as much attention as The Office or 30 Rock, and while it doesn’t have the cult following of Community, and while it’s not as known for its sense of optimism as Parks and Recreation, Scrubs in a lot of ways helped pave the way for the success of those single-camera comedies and others in the 2000s.
While Scrubs may not have been quite as popular as The Office, while it may not have had as much heart as Parks and Rec, and while it may not have been as irreverent as Community, the Bill Lawrence series successfully managed to triangulate the sensibilities of all three. It was a brilliantly funny show popular enough to run for nine seasons, but it also had a huge heart and some of the best sitcom gags of all time. Scrubs was a remarkable celebration of friendship, of mentors, and of medical workers. But like the HBO drama Six Feet Under, the series also spoke frequently on the subject of death in sometimes heartfelt and other times devastating ways.
Plus, Scrubs featured the Turk dance.
Currently, Scrubs‘ stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison are rewatching all the episodes for their podcast Fake Doctors, Real Friends, produced by iHeartRadio, and it is a legitimately fantastic podcast and a fun trip down memory lane that reveals Braff and Faison to be very similar to their Scrubs character counterparts in the best possible way. (Our Brian Grubb recently spoke with Braff and Faison about the podcast.) It’s worth revisiting all nine seasons of the series (even that final season, which is much better than it gets credit for), but these 15 episodes are not just the best of Scrubs, but the iconic Scrubs episodes that every superfan should know.
15. My Last Chance (Season 4, Episode 8)
The Story: J.D. makes-out with Molly at her going-away party. He then gets approval from Elliot to sleep with Molly before she moves away. Dr. Cox has to complete community service in an ambulance with a paramedic who talks endlessly.
Why It’s On the List At the end of Heather Graham’s arc on Scrubs, J.D. is granted permission from Elliot (who slept with J.D.’s brother, after J.D. dumped her) to sleep with Dr. Molly Clock, but the Janitor hilariously drives him out into the middle of nowhere and abandons him (“It’s been four years! How did you not see this coming?”). It’s a race to get to Molly before the end of the night, only for J.D. to realize that Eliot snookered him. Dr. Cox, meanwhile, is partnered with an EMT driver played by Molly Shannon, who drives him absolutely insane but he digs deep and finds a soft spot for her when he finds out that her son died when he was 10. It’s one of those really fantastically written episodes that ends with a hilarious storyline to offset the more heartfelt one, because the best Scrubs episodes also leave us with a bittersweet emotional high.
14. My Half Acre (Season 5, Episode 9)
The Story: When a potential new girlfriend enters J.D.’s life, Elliot offers J.D. relationship advice and tries to help break his bad habit of ruining romantic moments by uttering really inappropriate things. Meanwhile, Jordan and Carla each have problems with Dr. Cox, and Turk joins the hospital airband.
Why It’s on the List: It’s the Turk dance episode, people. What else do you need? If there was nothing else in the entire episode, the Turk dance would get it into the top 15. But it also features Mandy Moore as a hilariously, ridiculously klutzy love interest, plus Dr. Cox finds out how to save the life of a Jehovah’s Witness without a blood transfusion. Oh, and it ends with a brilliant air-band rendition of Boston’s “More than a Feeling” that I still watch at least twice a year if I need a pick-me up.
13. My Occurrence (Season 1, Episode 22)
The Story: When Jordan’s Brother, Ben, comes in for a medical exam, Dr. Cox reveals his more compassionate side and J.D. must reluctantly deliver the bad news about Ben’s health.
Why It’s On The List: The first of three appearances of Brendan Fraser’s character, Ben (all three episodes are represented on this list). Ben is Jordan’s brother and her ex-husband Dr. Cox’s best friend. Dr. Cox has always been a tyrannical hard-ass, but it’s Ben that occasionally brings out Dr. Cox’s softer, more compassionate side. Scrubs is never more affecting than when Dr. Cox drops the veneer, and we see that for the first time here when J.D. delivers the news to Ben that he has leukemia.
12. My No Good Reason (Season 6, Episode 14)
The Story: Laverne and Dr. Cox get into a debate about Laverne’s Christian belief that everything happens for a reason.
Why It’s on the List: There is a very unfortunate subplot in this episode about Turk’s nanny that does not hold up well at all in 2020. However, in the other storyline, Dr. Cox and Nurse Roberts argue about whether there is a reason for things happening, and it looks like Laverne will win the argument when they discover a tumor in an eight-year-old who is otherwise senselessly stabbed. However, Dr. Cox ultimately seems to win the argument in the worst possible way when Laverne dies in a car accident, delivering one of the biggest gut punches in the sitcom’s history.
11. My Long Goodbye (Season 6, Episode 15)
The Story: Laverne was in a car accident and is in a coma. Everyone has a hard time dealing with it. Jordan is having her baby, but Dr. Cox doesn’t want everybody knowing about it. J.D is the only one who knows about the birth and is obsessed with becoming the baby’s godfather.
Why It’s on the List: In eight seasons of Scrubs (plus that other season), Laverne is the only series regular who is ever killed off the series (nevermind that her “twin” returns). It’s a heartbreaking follow-up to “No Good Reason,” where Sacred Heart says goodbye to Laverne one by one, while Laverne — in a coma — continues to hang on until Carla can finally say goodbye. Meanwhile, Dr. Cox and Jordan have a daughter, but Dr. Cox doesn’t want it to overshadow Laverne’s death or vice versa, so he keeps it from everyone else except J.D., who eventually convinces Jordan to name him the baby’s Godfather. Again, this episode does what Scrubs does best, which is to mix the sweet with the sorrowful.
10. My Cake (Season 4, Episode 6)
The Story: J.D.’s brother Dan comes back to tell J.D. their father died.
Why It’s On The List: After J.D.’s father dies, Dr. Cox can’t bring himself to comfort him, and his misguided attempts to do so only make it worse until he joins forces with J.D.’s brother Dan, another emotionally crippled narcissist. The two manage to have the necessary conversation with J.D. about his father’s passing by wearing sports jerseys and watching football. Elsewhere, Turk is diagnosed with Type II Diabetes but can’t bring himself to tell Carla, even though Carla knew all along. The episode’s real comedy, however, comes from The Janitor gaslighting Dr. Kelso in order to convince him that he has Alzheimer’s until it spectacularly backfires. It’s not completely apparent until the last two minutes, but it’s a remarkable episode, and one that is dedicated to John Ritter, who played J.D.’s father and passed in real life. It’s also one of those episodes that really highlights the importance of Neil Flynn’s Janitor character to the series.
9. My Catalyst (Season 3, Episode 12)
The Story: Dr. Kevin Casey the medical attendant and surgeon comes to the hospital to impress them with his extraordinary medical skills, and his severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Why It’s On the List: In the first of his two episodes, Michael J. Fox guest stars as Dr. Casey, a brilliant doctor (and former classmate of Dr. Cox) with OCD. Dr. Cox develops an intense case of professional jealousy, especially as J.D. looks up to Dr. Casey as his mentor, until Dr. Cox realizes that being the best doctor in the hospital comes with its own heartbreaking downsides. It’s a terrific episode that emphasizes the importance of work/life balance, but it also features a truly remarkable performance from Michael J. Fox, which ultimately put him on the path of a series of Emmy-nominated guest turns in other series.
8. My Hero (Season 1, Episode 23)
The Story: Ben’s diagnosis sends shock waves throughout the staff at Sacred Heart. Surprisingly Cox is the man keeping everyone afloat.
Why It’s On the List: Part 2 of the first Ben episode with Brendan Fraser, “My Hero,” is the episode that really elevates Dr. Cox into a full-fledged character on Scrubs instead of a ranting, abusive antagonist. Here. J.D.’s hero, Dr. Cox, shows his vulnerable side when he’s too scared to be there for Ben. “The day we admit we’re not heroic is the day we’re the most heroic of all,” J.D. says of Dr. Cox. It is also, I believe, the first time that Ted introduces his A cappella group, a recurring mainstay on the series.
7. My Musical (Season 6, Episode 6)
The Story: A patient hears singing from everyone, turning Sacred Heart into a musical extravaganza. Meanwhile, Elliot determines whether or not J.D. should move in with her, and Carla determines whether or not to go back to work.
Why It’s on the List: Creator Bill Lawrence and Zach Braff are huge fans of musicals. Midway through the sixth season, it was probably difficult to keep a show like Scrubs creatively juiced, but they came up with a terrific musical episode that brilliantly pays homage to a number of other musicals. The songs include one about fecal samples, “Everything Comes Down to Poo”; a song about Carla’s conflicting feelings about staying home after having a baby, “It’s Going to be a Long, Long Year,”; and, of course, “Guy Love,” about the heterosexual bromance between Turk and J.D. This episode really illustrated the range of talent on the show.
6. My Way Home (Season 5, Episode 7)
The Story: As a tribute to “The Wizard of Oz,” the four companions go on a similar journey.
Why It’s On the List: A brilliant Wizard of Oz homage begins with J.D. — who Dr. Cox calls Dorothy — listening to Toto ‘s “Africa,” on his day off, but when he’s called back into the hospital, he is thwarted from returning home by Carla’s lack of courage over having children, Turk’s inability to talk a family out of letting their son pass away so that they can have his heart, and Elliot’s need for brains to teach a class. The whole episode is stacked with clever Oz references, the back half is shot in something akin to “technicolor,” and somehow, Ted’s A capella group’s performance of “Maniac” from Flashdance may still be the best part of a phenomenally fun, funny, and heartfelt episode. It’s a little corny, but it is a terrific 22 minutes.
5. My Old Lady (Season 1, Episode 4)
The Story: The whole crew learn their share about death when JD takes care of an old woman ready to die, Elliot and Carla watch over a woman who can’t speak English, and Turk becomes too close with a patient.
Why It’s On the List: The series’ fourth episode ever features guest star Kathryn Joosten, the late actress probably best known for playing Mrs. Vanlandingham in West Wing, and her character in this episode meets the same fate. This episode is where Scrubs really started to gel — and where Carla and Elliot first bonded — and where the series’ trademark whiplash poignancy began to take shape. It also highlighted that the series’ true villain wasn’t Dr. Kelso, it was death, the one character everyone on Scrubs could rally together against. What may be best remembered, however, was how a patient helped J.D. cope with her death, a poignant reversal of roles.
4. My Lunch (Season 5, Episode 20)
The Story: The Sacred Heart Staff, under the leadership of Dr. Cox, works to keep three patients who need transplants alive. Meanwhile, J.D. runs into ex-patient Jill Tracy, who he finds extremely annoying, and Carla and Elliot pry into Todd’s personal life, but Turk warns them to leave it alone.
Why It’s on the List: This is one of those episodes that starts out as a funny episode about an annoying former patient and The Todd’s sexual orientation, but then takes a hard turn after the annoying former patient presumably kills herself. Her organs are harvested for the three transplant patients, but because she actually had rabies, all three organ recipients die and Dr. Cox spirals in the absolute most devastating episode of the series. It’s a tour de force performance from John C. McGinley, who did a lot of dramatic heavy lifting in the series. Through nine seasons, it’s this one he’ll probably best be remembered for.
3. My Fallen Idol (Season 5, Episode 21)
The Story: Carla persuades all her coworkers to rally around a despondent Dr. Cox, after three of his patients die because of his mistake. Everyone participates except J.D., who thinks his selfish reaction crossed the line.
Why It’s on the List: After the devastating events of the previous episode, the typically unflappable Dr. Cox spirals into a rage depression. Consigned to his couch, no one can bring Dr. Cox out of his funk, and J.D. won’t show up for his mentor because he lost respect for him for showing up to work drunk. It’s another turning point in the series, where J.D. realizes that his mentor is not invincible, but he also helps Dr. Cox see his failure from another perspective: “I’m proud of you,” J.D. tells him, “because after 20 years, you still get broken up when you lose patients.” This is the second part to “My Lunch,” but it’s also the spiritual counterpart to “My Hero.”
2. My Finale (Season 8, Episodes 18, 19)
The Story: J.D. continues his last day at Sacred Heart, and tries to hold out hope for a great sendoff.
Why It’s on the List: It’s J.D.’s last day at Sacred Heart, and the end of Scrubs 1.0. The first episode is total build up — no one, in particular Dr. Cox will give J.D. what he wants, which is a big, emotional send-off. He doesn’t get it until the second episode, where he gets a goodbye from everyone else. We also finally find out The Janitor’s name, sort of (it’s Tony, not Glen Matthews, as he tells J.D.). Ultimately, it’s a low-key but very sweet send-off for J.D. that also previews his future with Elliot, their kids, and their lifelong relationships together. It’s a terrific episode and a better overall episode than the 15th episode that season, “My Soul On Fire,” but I still like to consider this clip from that episode to be the real series finale (notwithstanding season 9).
1. My Screw-Up (Season 3, Episode 14)
The Story: It’s Jack’s first birthday, so Jordan’s siblings Dani and Ben are in town. Dr. Cox tells J.D. to leave a patient for half an hour and check up on Ben’s leukemia, but when a patient dies, Dr. Cox blames J.D. and takes over his patients. Carla and Turk argue about Turk getting rid of his mole and Carla taking Turk’s last name.
Why It’s On The List: Scrubs pulls off a remarkable and heartbreaking M. Night Shyamalan twist in “My Screw Up,” which sees Dr. Cox so heavily in denial that his best friend, Ben, is dead of leukemia that his guilt-ridden brain invents a birthday party for his son to emotionally protect himself from the truth of Ben’s funeral. I’m not sure I have ever seen a half-hour comedy either before or since this capable of bringing viewers to tears. For 20 minutes, “My Screw-Up” is a hilarious episode — Turk has his mole/tickle button removed — but the final 30 seconds and the Joshua Radin song are absolutely devastating. It’s not just the best Scrubs episode, but one of the absolute best sitcom episodes of the 21st century, one capable of sticking with its viewer for days afterward.