Scrub’s establishes several signature elements that are used in the pilot and throughout the series. Signature elements, as I’ll call them, give the pilot and writer a unique aspect that may separate it from other pilots in it’s genre. Scrubs could have been another straightforward medical comedy and still been successful, but Bill Lawrence decided we needed to relate and see it from JD’s perspective with the voice-over of his thoughts and his interpretation of events through fantasy.
“J.D.” to his friends…. J.D. is 25, boyishly handsome, self-deprecatingly funny, likable and would probably be more self-confident if he realized any of that.
25, black, handsome, with the quiet confidence of a man who can’t be flustered.
26, an attractive. extremely driven young woman, so much so that she seems to live at a slightly quicker pace than normal humans. She’s also the type of girl that could make the world stop of she let her hair down. It’s down right now.
Nurse Carla Espinoza
She is Hispanic, thirtyish, painfully frank, and manages to be motherly and sexy at the same time.
Dr. Phil Cox
He is an ATTENDING PHYSICIAN in his late-thirties, and a steamroller of a man.
Chief of Medicine Robert Kelso
56, he is a kind looking man with loads of ‘aw shucks’ charm.
In the screenplay, Dr. Cox’s first name is Phil. Although never said during the pilot, his actual name is revealed in a later episode as Perry not Phil.
The screenplay has two acts and a teaser.
|Scrubs Screenplay Breakdown
A scene of JD using shaving cream as a bra in the mirror is added.
The Title sequence is added.
JD gets ready for work.
JD arrives for work and has no idea what to do.
We are introduced to JD as he gets ready for his first day as a doctor. The teaser shows a glimpse of JD and the type of person he is with the playful opening and how nervous he is for his first day.
End of Teaser:
JD arrives in the Emergency department and has no idea what to do.
In the screenplay, JD turns the alarm clock with his hand.
In the pilot, JD turns the alarm clock with his foot.
The scene of JD talking with the patient Mr. Burki in the elevator is added after Turk tells JD about his awesome day instead of after the scene of JD and Turk helping out a patient.
The scene of JD back in present time with the Nurse in ER after the orientation flashbacks is cut.
JD has his first day of orientation and meets Elliot.
JD has his first day on the job and has no idea what to do.
JD is having a bad first week, Turk is having a great first week.
We are introduced to JD who is just starting his first day as a doctor with his best friend Turk. Just like high school, JD is worried about losing his best friend, becomes interested in a girl and meets his favorite and least favorite authority figure.
Despite being nervous for the job, JD’s problems stem from his coworkers and friends. The only real medical related issue we see is JD having trouble doing all the procedures and having the nurses do it despite showing his knowledge during rounds. The real problems stem from JD’s friendship with Turk, crush on Elliot and search for a mentor figure. All these problems come back to the common issue we all face and that is we don’t know what the future holds and that gives us anxiety. JD doesn’t know if Turk will find new friends or move in with him. He doesn’t know if Elliot likes him. He also doesn’t know which authority figure will really be there to help him when the going gets tough. So although this is a show with a medical setting, the problems still remain relatable to the audience.
End of Act 1:
JD cancels his date with Elliot after confronting her about leaving him hanging during rounds.
In the screenplay, the shot of JD and Turk going to med school is stated just as in medical school.
In the pilot, the shot of JD and Turk going to med school is shown during an autopsy.
In the screenplay, Turk says the actual N-word when talking to JD about rap music.
In the pilot, Turk doesn’t use the word and only says N-word.
In the screenplay, a Pac-man dying sound is heard when Elliot says she is medical to Turk.
In the pilot, the sound is cut.
In the screenplay, Elliot tells JD she thinks Turk is cute. This is used as a buffer between JD and Elliot for a few other scenes throughout the pilot.
In the pilot, Elliot doesn’t mention and shows no attraction to Turk.
In the screenplay, during the fantasy marathon scene, there is a patient with a walker racing as well.
In the pilot, the patient is cut from the scene.
In the screenplay, after JD helps Elliot answer a question during rounds, JD asks her to let her hair down. (This makes more sense if you read the screenplay and saw the description for Elliot, otherwise there is no context.)
In the pilot, JD asks her out instead.
In the screenplay, after Dr. Cox makes fun of JD, the “stiff” he is carrying around says “stop staring at me”.
In the pilot, the “stiff” says “I’m not really dead”.
In the screenplay, after JD meets the janitor, he listens to Elliot’s experience On-call and then asks her out.
In the pilot, the scene is cut to just JD meeting the janitor. Because JD already asked Elliot out, there is no need for the rest of the scene and it was cut.
In the screenplay, after Elliot doesn’t help JD answer a question during rounds, the fantasy scene shows JD getting struck by the truck as a deer in headlights and then cuts to a new scene.
In the pilot, after Elliot doesn’t help JD, after the fantasy scene, JD mocks Elliot before the scene cuts.
In the screenplay, during the scene where JD and Turk are helping a patient, JD reads a manual before complaining about the needle being too big before Turk steps in.
In the pilot, JD doesn’t read the manual, and only complains about the needle being too big before Turk steps in.
In the screenplay, Mr. Burski asks JD what it is like to be a hotshot doctor during the elevator scene.
In the pilot, because this scene is split up, the hot shot dialogue is moved to the scene of JD talking with Mr. Burski before receiving his first code.
A scene of JD puking in a toilet is cut.
The On-call montage is structured:
JD flinches at a spinal tap procedure.
JD talks to a man dressed as a woman. (Added)
JD eats a sleeping patient’s half-eaten burger.
JD tries to place an IV but can’t. The nurse does it for him.
JD stands in the hallway rubbing his temples as everyone goes by him fast signifying time passing. (Added)
JD nods off while doing an abdominal exam. (Cut).
JD is worried about being on-call.
JD is sad after Mr. Burski dies while he’s on call.
JD is comforted and given confidence by Turk, Carla, Dr. Cox and Elliot.
JD’s biggest concern is being on-call because he will be in charge with no one to help. JD makes it through on-call but learns the harsh reality of being a doctor as he finds out he lost Mr. Burski during the night. The worst case scenario for a doctor is losing someone, and JD experiences it as he has to declare Mr. Burski’s official time of death.
However JD is not alone to carry the burden as he soon finds his friends are there to have his back. Turk tells JD he is afraid too and that he wants to move in with him. Elliot gets the autopsy for Mr. Burski after Dr. Kelso threatens to fire JD if he doesn’t. Carla and Dr. Cox help JD with a medical procedure that gives him confidence in his abilities moving forward. So although JD lost a patient, he gained perspective on the hard times doctors will have, but also the camaraderie the medical team experiences when they help and save people.
End of Act 2:
JD runs into the screen door.
In the screenplay, during the fantasy of Todd watching Turk and Carla make out, he is high fiving Turk.
In the pilot, Todd just says “Damn this is hot”.
In the screenplay, after Carla walks out on a naked Turk, Turk asks Carla out and then interacts with JD.
In the pilot, Turk just tells Carla he will call her and the scene cuts before Turk and JD interact.
In the screenplay, JD and Mr. Burski have dialogue before Carla blows up at Elliot.
In the pilot, the scene dialogue is only between Carla and Elliot. JD and Mr. Burski are still in the background during the scene.
In the screenplay, after Carla blows up on Elliot, she repeats “You will not hurt me” weakly before walking away. JD then jokes to Elliot that she is making friends.
In the pilot, Carla ends on a strong note and walks away. JD then pokes fun at Elliot telling her the nurse’s name is Carla.
In the screenplay, a young male patient hears Dr. Cox be mean to JD and tells him he was harsh. Dr. Cox cheers him up by saying the word “Boobies”.
In the pilot, the young male patient is still in the scene, but doesn’t care about the interaction between Dr. Cox and JD.
In the screenplay, Dr. Cox says what is on JD’s mind (as his voice-over says it) before JD can tell Dr. Cox.
In the pilot, the voice-over is not used and Dr. Cox says the same dialogue.
In screenplay, we immediately see JD starting at the clock before being On-call.
In the pilot, an exterior shot of the hospital with the on-screen font “36 Seconds Before Being On Call” is shown.
In the screenplay, after Dr. Kelso asks JD about being excited for On-call, the scene cuts to JD puking in a toilet.
In the pilot, the toilet scene is cut, and JD yells in the voice-over instead.
In the screenplay, after JD pronounces Mr. Burski dead, he says “the hell with everything” in his voice-over. (The hell with everything was a line attributed to Mr. Burksi throughout the screenplay, but since his screen time and character attributes were diminished, the line didn’t make sense anymore.)
In the pilot, JD says “I just wanted to help people” instead.
In the screenplay, before JD talks with Turk, he deals with a pizza delivery boy who ran into the screen door and is having memory problems as he asks what happened repeatedly.
In the pilot, this entire sequence is cut. JD is just helping a patient with minimal dialogue before he talks to Turk.
In the screenplay, JD and Elliot are talking before Dr. Kelso gives JD the harsh reality of the hospital.
In the pilot, Elliot is cut from the beginning of the scene, but shows up at the end to catch Dr. Kelso as a bad person and to hear about JD needing permission from the Burski family to do an autopsy.
In the screenplay, Dr. Cox is scolded by the young male patient’s family for using dirty words.
In the pilot, this is cut entirely.
In the screenplay, JD runs into the screen door at the end of his shift and the main cast all react.
In the pilot, JD runs into the screen door and the pilot ends with no reaction from anyone else.
There isn’t much difference from the Scrubs pilot and the Scrubs screenplay. Whether or not that’s because it was closer to the shooting script is unknown. Besides the usual criteria of a good show, Scrubs adds unique elements that give the show an edge creatively. Like reading a novel, we get to see the perspective of the protagonist JD using voice-over as he tells the audience exactly what is going through his mind. Then there are the fantasy elements where the show takes a step out of reality into a ridiculous metaphorical realm to explain what’s going on using JD’s personal and humorous way of looking at events.
The scene sequence is generally the same with the only real difference being Mr. Burski’s scenes cut and spread out throughout the pilot. Mr Burski is also given less screen time and dialogue, relegated to just an old patient which may have lessened the emotional reaction we see from JD after his death, but then again this is a comedy with dramatic elements not the other way around.
The problems we see JD deal with are connected to the other characters. He is worried about losing his friendship with Turk as they may not live together. He has a crush on Elliot who decided not to help him when he needed her. He can’t decide who is there to really help him, Dr. Cox or Dr. Kelso. From his perspective the problems are very evident and as the plot unfolds we are relieved to see that things aren’t as bad as they seem. JD is now part of a team and when he feels down, the team is there to pick him back up.
I also want to add that I have no idea the original intention of the Janitor character as he doesn’t add anything to the overall plot or theme. Based on the limited screen time and lack of description, I don’t know if he was intended for the long run. However I’m guessing the character became a fan favorite because the Janitor lasted the entire series.
Scrubs utilizes the voice-over to give us a look into JD’s mind. Keep in mind this is used throughout the series and not just for the pilot, so if it’s not something you would use going forward, consider a different way to tell the story or don’t use it often.
Scrubs uses the montage to show JD’s night during On-call.
Scrubs starts with the first day with JD as a doctor, flashbacks to orientation where he meets everyone and then goes back to JD on his first day as a doctor. This is a very confusing sequence of scenes and I don’t recommend it. It obviously worked out for Scrubs, but an alternative approach would be having JD’s first day at orientation and then keeping it linear as the rest of the episode happens over several days.
Bill Lawrence may have had a reason for the specific confusing sequence, but keeping the plot linear unless dictated by the story is the safe bet.
Scrub uses fantasy sequences to show the character’s exaggerating mind react to the events. We all have weird and crazy fantasies, which makes it relatable when the audiece gets to see JD go off on his.
Again this element also stays with Scrubs throughout its run.
Reverse Character Intentions
Dr. Cox is written as an asshole throughout the screenplay, but in the end helps JD gain his confidence. On the other side, Dr. Kelso is written like a nice guy, but in the end, doesn’t care about JD at all. It’s an excellent display of keeping a character the same character but misdirecting the audience until the character’s true intentions are revealed. This only works if the intention reveal doesn’t change the character. For example, Dr. Cox was going to give JD a hard time regardless because as we find out, that’s just the way he is. Dr. Kelso will always have a happy public persona, but when confronted in private, he is not afraid to show the doctor’s who is boss.
Thanks for reading and feel free to suggest a pilot.
Next Pilot: The Shield