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The Untold Truth Of Scrubs

Few sitcoms have managed to perfectly balance humor and serious storytelling the way "Scrubs" did. Told through the perspective of young medical intern John "JD" Dorian (Zach Braff) and set in the Sacramento teaching hospital Sacred Heart, the single-camera medical comedy explores the experience of everyday life for folks working in a hospital. At times goofy, absurd, and even surreal, the show — which aired from 2001 to 2010 — also offers a surprisingly realistic glimpse into hospital life. Quirky details like JD and Turk's dog Rowdy and the occasionally abusive Janitor play perfectly against more emotional storylines like the heartstring-pulling "My Old Lady," which includes what is arguably one of television's best-ever uses of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (covered by John Cale). And of all the bromances to ever grace the small screen, few are more endearing than the love between besties JD and Turk. In honor of one of the best sitcoms ever made, we're taking a look at the untold truth of "Scrubs."

The best moments in the show were improvised

From "The Golden Girls" to "The Good Place," it takes a great writing team to pull off a successful comedy series. The writers on "Scrubs" were so thorough, in fact, that they interviewed real doctors to get medically accurate inspiration for their scripts, though they still used creative license to take some unrealistic liberties (via Slate). But sometimes, the spontaneous comedy that happens when funny actors riff off of a good central piece of writing can yield some of the most side-splitting moments. That's why some of the best and most innovative sitcoms encourage improv. Some shows, like "Reno 9-1-1" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," rely heavily on improvisation, while others only occasionally spark up some unplanned comedy magic. Some cast members just can't help themselves, like Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, who drove their production team batty by constantly going off-script while rehearsing "Bosom Buddies," according to Hanks in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel.

Like Hanks and Scolari, the cast of "Scrubs" always had a blast together, and some of their best moments were completely improvised. In a BuzzFeed Q&A, Zach Braff said there were about "nine zillion" improvised moments that made the final cut. As Braff put it, improvisation was supported on set, and the cast had so much fun together that great improvised moments came naturally. Most of the Janitor's (Neil Flynn's) lines were crafted on the fly, for example (via Reddit). And the running "Eagle!" gag? Totally unplanned — but more on that later (via EW). 

Dr. Cox rubs his nose for a reason

One way actors create interesting characters is by adding unique mannerisms and other idiosyncrasies. Cosmo Kramer, Jerry Seinfeld's neighbor on "Seinfeld," famously slides into Jerry's apartment when he stops by; the 11th Doctor on "Doctor Who" tends to flail his arms about when he speaks; and Buster on "Arrested Development" can't help but touch or rub his ears when he gets agitated. Watch more than a few episodes of "Scrubs" and you'll start to notice Dr. Perry Cox has a habit of rubbing his nose — a strange and perhaps ill-advised mannerism for someone working in the medical profession.

In a Reddit thread dedicated to analyzing Dr. Cox's nose touch, u/ManicSheep noted that Perry tends to touch his nose when things turn serious and "when he is in 'beast mode.' " As John C. McGinley explained on the Scrubs Season 1 DVD bonus content, the actor adopted the detail as a tribute to Paul Newman, whose character used a nose touch to mean things would be all right in the 1973 film "The Sting."

Sarah Chalke's lab coat got recast after the show ended

There are plenty of perks to an actor's job, from the craft services table to the chance to learn sweet new skills. Sometimes, those perks include taking home a cool prop or a favorite outfit from the show. Reese Witherspoon has held onto an extensive collection of her past outfits from productions like "Legally Blonde" and "Little Fires Everywhere," as seen in her closet makeover on the Netflix series "The Home Edit." In a 2014 episode of the Oprah Winfrey Network's "Where Are They Now?," Ralph Macchio showed off a headband from "The Karate Kid."

In the same spirit, Sarah Chalke told CBS's "The Early Show" that she kept her lab coat from "Scrubs," which came in handy when she got the call to play Stella on "How I Met Your Mother" not long after filming her final scenes as Dr. Elliot Reid. In an interview with IGN, Chalke explained that a pocket protector was used to cover Dr. Reid's name patch on the lab coat, which she referred to as her "blankie from the past eight years."

John C. McGinley frequently reuses a line from Platoon

Long before he appeared as the snarky Dr. Cox on "Scrubs," John C. McGinley became famous for his role as Sgt. O'Neill in Oliver Stone's 1986 film "Platoon." The first in Stone's Vietnam War film trilogy ahead of 1989's "Born on the Fourth of July" and the 1993 film "Heaven & Earth," the critically acclaimed war film was based on Stone's own experiences in Vietnam and took a markedly different tone from John Wayne's far less nuanced "The Green Berets." In the film, McGinley's "Platoon" character frequently directs the phrase "What do you say?" or "What do you say there?" at his fellow soldiers, as when O'Neill pleads with Staff Sergeant Robert Barnes to let him take R&R. In a nod to his work on the film, McGinley adopts the phrase into Dr. Cox's regular repertoire on "Scrubs," as when he razzes Bob Kelso, "What do you say there Bob? How 'bout we do just like you do with Enid. Close our eyes, pretend we're with someone else and be done before Leno starts" (Season 2, Episode 15, "His Story").

John C. McGinley uses girl names IRL with John Cusack

One of the many running gags in "Scrubs" is Dr. Cox's habit of calling JD girl names. As a young, eager-to-please intern, JD is positively desperate to connect with his mentor, and the battle-hardened Dr. Cox is more than happy to openly mock that desperation. The elder doc, whose own full name is Percival Ulysses Cox, makes a sport of lobbing every girl name he can think of at JD, from Stephanie to Spider-Girl, during their time together. John McGinley — who auditioned for his part despite the script calling for a "John McGinley type" to play Dr. Cox — told Huffington Post that the trait was straight out of his personal jokester's playbook. McGinley is neighbors with his "Malibu Mob" buddy and best friend John Cusack, whom he calls a "queen bee" and regularly teases with girl names. After McGinley borrowed the habit while filming the pilot, Bill Lawrence liked it so much that they decided to keep the gag running throughout the show.

The bungee jump scene stunt doubles met on set and got married

A cast and crew can end up spending a lot of long hours working together during production, so it's no wonder close friendships and romances emerge from so many TV and movie sets. In a Bust Magazine interview, Samira Wiley shared how her now-wife Lauren Morelli won Wiley over with her inspired writing for the show. The same happened to Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, who met on the set of his music video "Stereo" and enjoyed instant chemistry, with Teigen telling Cosmopolitan the pair shared In-N-Out burgers and "hooked up" the first night they met. 

Apparently, there was romance on the set of "Scrubs" as well. Season 2 Episode 7 ("My First Step") finds JD admitting to Elliot that he doesn't feel he takes enough risks, which inspires Elliot to take him bungee jumping. In 2012, a fan asked Sarah Chalke if she and Zach Braff did the jump themselves. Chalke tweeted back, "Nope. Our stunt doubles did the jump, was the first day they met, they fell In love and got married #howfrikkincuteisthat."

JD's Eagle took on a life of its own

Of all the adorable JD moments in "Scrubs," a favorite among fans is the young doc's game of Eagle. The first appearance of Eagle is in the Season 1 episode "My Hero," which stars Brendan Fraser as Jordan Sullivan's brother Ben. When the friendly candid photographer shows up at Sacred Heart with a nail through his hand, he wins everyone over before ending up with an unexpected leukemia diagnosis. Despite JD's despondence, Ben puts on a happy front and ends up hoisting the doc across his shoulders and then spinning around.

After protesting at first, JD eventually gives in to the fun of the moment, exclaiming "Faster!" and then letting out a delighted "Eagle!" JD seems to enjoy the fun so much he reprises it several times throughout the series, crying "Eagle" as he jumps into Turk's waiting arms, flings himself from the sofa onto a counter, and hitches a ride on top of Dr. Cox's car roof. As Zach Braff told EW, he was surprised that the line made the final cut since the "dorky" JD would have been reluctant to cut loose, "but then it would get fun for him because he would like to pretend that he was soaring like an eagle."

There's a fan theory that Janitor is really a psychologist

In many ways, the number of fan theories a show racks up is a marker of how strong its central fandom is, and this is certainly true for "Scrubs." With his enigmatic personality and lack of a name, one character who comes up frequently in fan theories is Janitor. Fans have come up with all sorts of clever theories for Janitor, like that perhaps he is actually multiple people who JD perceives as one person or even that he's Greg House's younger brother. By far, one of the more popular fan theories is the one that contends Janitor is actually the hospital shrink. Redditor u/TopScott31 outlined the theory in a lengthy Reddit post, with support for the argument pointing to the suspiciously little janitorial work Janitor seems to get done and the fact that he seems to spend the most time talking to the more "emotionally unstable" Sacred Heart docs.

The Office and Scrubs may exist in the same universe

It's always exciting to learn beloved shows exist in the same universe, whether it's canon or merely teased. While some stories share mythology, like "Battlestar Galactica" and "Caprica" or "The X-Files" and "Millennium," it's also fun when a favorite character pops up in another story, as when Ghostbuster Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) shows up in "Casper" or in the curious case of detective John Munch (Richard Belzer), who appears in "Homicide: Life on the Street," "Law & Order," "The X-Files," "Arrested Development," "The Wire," "American Dad," "Luther," and even "Sesame Street."

Some links imply just enough to let fans' imaginations run wild, like the Breaking Dead fan theory that pins "The Walking Dead" apocalypse on Walter White's blue meth from "Breaking Bad," or when Walter Bishop of "Fringe" wore the 3-D glasses he got from his friend Dr. Jacoby, a reference to "Twin Peaks." As it turns out, "Scrubs" and "The Office" have a similar connection, leaving fans with more than enough evidence to speculate they exist in the same world. Although it's never explicitly stated that the two shows share a universe, Pam and Jim learn that they're going to be parents in Season 5 of "The Office" ("Company Picnic") while in a medical facility that looks a lot like Sacred Heart. That's because both shows were filmed at the now-demolished North Hollywood Medical Center. As Redditor u/Sirsilentbob423 mused, "Who knows, maybe they passed by Turk and JD on the way in doing their rendition of world's most giant doctor. Maybe Jim had a passing moment with Doctor Jan Itor. The possibilities are endless!"

The dubbed versions include some fun language switcharoos

The brainy medical team at Sacred Heart isn't just knowledgeable about medicine; a number of the doctors and nurses on staff are also bilingual or polyglots, a fact that comes up periodically during "Scrubs." Although Turk's high school knowledge of French is pretty dismal ("My Best Moment"), he does learn to speak Spanish after meeting his wife Carla. Dr. Kelso is meant to speak some Vietnamese, even if Vietnamese-speaking viewers beg to differ, and JD apparently knows at least a phrase or two in Turkish ("My Intern's Eyes"). At one point, Janitor and Ted have an exchange in Korean, which is one of several languages Janitor knows, as he also speaks ASL and Spanish. And in addition to fluency in French, Elliot also speaks German.

Fans who watch the series in multiple language dubs may notice the dubs switch the languages around a bit. Carla, who ordinarily speaks Spanish to her mom, switches to Italian in the Spanish dub. And in the German version, Elliot's normally German lines are dubbed in Danish and Bavarian at different points in the series.

The infection episode went viral during the pandemic

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a crazy time. People were struggling to adjust their expectations and adapt to a world where an invisible virus was wreaking havoc on the global community. Many folks had a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that something microscopic could have such an impact. As health and science communicators struggled to emphasize the basics of how viruses spread, fans of "Scrubs" recalled that the show had perfectly explained just how fast — and far — a virus can replicate in Season 5, Episode 12 ("My Cabbage"). The scene begins with a (typically) stern Bob Kelso asking Janitor, "Do you know the number one cause of death in a hospital? Infection. And do you know how quickly infection spreads in a hospital?" The episode moves into a depiction of an infection spreading from a sneezing kid throughout the hospital. Through the clever use of green highlighting to indicate a vector, the episode vividly depicts the path a virus or bacterial infection can take. The episode proved an effective visualization tool and a clip from "My Cabbage" began trending in March 2020, according to CNN.

The title X-ray is backward for a reason

Choosing a career in medicine means committing to both medical school and a residency that can last years. It's incredibly hard work, and it's one of those professions where truly learning the job can take years. For many just getting started in their residencies, the experience can seem daunting if not overwhelming, which is why it's so important to have a good mentor like Dr. Perry Cox on your side.

This theme may have played a role in a long-running title sequence gag. Fans who pay close attention to the "Scrubs" intro may have wondered why the title card, which features an X-ray, shows the human heart on the wrong side of the body. Although one in 10,000 or so folks have a condition called situs inversus in which the position of the heart is reversed, the X-ray on "Scrubs" was not meant to demonstrate this rare anatomical feature. Although Bill Lawrence claimed the error was meant to demonstrate the inexperience of young doctors in his audio commentary for "My First Day," Zach Braff's commentary on "My Last Chance" directly contradicted this. Whether or not the error was initially intended, the production team eventually caught on and turned it into a running gag, eventually reversing it and then reversing it back again for a later season.