There has been a lot of talk about the brilliant sitcom Scrubs of late. A classic scene from the series went viral again in March because of how deftly it illustrates the necessity of social distancing. Soon thereafter, Zach Braff and Donald Faison started their Scrubs rewatch podcast, and it could not have come at a more perfect time. For longtime Scrubs fans, it’s like spending an hour with J.D. and Turk, who are best friends in real life as they were on the show, and it shows in the podcast. The twice-a-week episodes have been one of the few highlights of the pandemic.
I was also really looking forward to the the first appearance of John C. McGinley on the podcast. McGinley, of course, played Dr. Cox, the gruff doctor and mentor to J.D. Despite his penchant for ranting monologues and brutal insults, Dr. Cox not-so-secretly had a huge heart beneath his defensive posturing. How did McGinley manage to get that across in each episode, even as he was delivering irate monologues at the expense of Hugh Jackman?
As it turns out, McGinley — who often had to deliver lengthy, two-page, single-space monologues — kept composition notebooks, which he used to memorize his lines by writing down those monologues. In each of the composition notebooks, McGinley also wrote a clear mission statement: “Find a place below the text in every episode where you can say ‘I love you’ to Max.”
Max is McGinley’s son, who was born with Down’s Syndrome a couple of years before Scrubs premiered. “I decided underneath it all, so it’s not too drippy, that in every episode there had to be one spot where I, John (not Dr. Cox) got to say ‘I love you’ to Max.”
By way of example, Dr. Cox offers up an exchange he was with Carla on the seventh episode of the series, “My Super Ego.” “In this episode,” he says, “it’s right where I’m talking to Judy [Reyes], and I say, ‘Just because a guy has problems doesn’t mean he doesn’t need,’ and then there’s this long pause and it’s because I kept getting an apple in my throat, and then I said, ‘you.’ [The scene] reminded me that I took everything so goddamn seriously, this mission statement I wrote to Max. And it informs everything that Cox does [over the course of Scrubs].”
“I always consider the camera an x-ray machine,” McGinley continued. “It can see through an actor’s bullsh*t… so when an actor actually brings a mission statement that demands he find a place somewhere just underneath the text to say I love you to a kid who was just born with challenges, that pops. The camera goes, ‘It’s his truth!'”
And that is why John C. McGinley was so very good at playing the hard-ass with the heart of gold: Because he took a moment in every single episode to express his affection to his son.