Alongside showrunner Bill Lawrence and co-star Christa Miller, Braff kickstarted musical careers and immortalised musical moments for a generation of viewers. Scrubs' uncommon appreciation of all things musical is but one of the show's many enduring qualities, one that's solidified it as a standout amongst its peers. Let's look back on the soundtracks of Zach Braff, which irrevocably tied both Scrubs and Garden State to an era that's already passed.
Scrubs, as far as network comedies go, is one of the greats. Running for just under nine years, it eclipsed Bill Lawrence's previous TV outings, transforming him from "that guy who created Spin City" to "that guy who created Scrubs."
One of the show's enduring stylistic tenets is its reliance on musical cues: not for the score, but for the soundtrack. Scrubs seemed to do everything it could to harness the power of indie music, supporting the then-bustling scene with savvy curation. Some of the shows most emotionally resonant moments are tied to the tracks that scored them - take "How To Save A Life" at the close of "My Lunch," "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" in "My Last Words," or "The Book Of Love" in the season 8 finale.
The show's musical direction was largely influenced by Braff, the lead, and Christa Miller, who had a recurring role as Jordan Sullivan. Miller was married to Lawrence, the showrunner, and as such regularly recommended music to her husband. In an interview with Paste, Miller recalls her path to musical curation:
"When I was in New York, I used to fill in for the DJ sometimes at this club uptown. I just started doing it on Scrubs. I figured out the music on the Scrubs pilot for Bill and then he wanted me to figure out the music for every episode."
Though she wasn't officially credited for these contributions on Scrubs, she made sure that she was a Music Supervisor on Lawrence's subsequent sitcom, Cougar Town. Similarly uncredited, Braff used his musical influence to give two of his close college friends a break.
Joshua Radin had barely started his music career when Braff introduced his work to Lawrence. One of his earliest tracks, "Winter," appeared at the close of "My Screw Up," one of Scrubs' most emotionally resonant episodes. His music would go on to feature in programs such as House, Cougar Town, Castle, One Tree Hill, 90210, Shameless and Bones. Similarly, Cary Brothers reaped the benefits of Scrubs' unconventional approach to soundtracking. "Blue Eyes," which appeared in "My First Kill," marked his first foray into TV soundtracks. In the years since, Brothers has become one of televisions most prolific musicians, with IMDb credits on 27 programs, many featuring more than one of his original songs.
Scrubs doesn't stop there, with the musical appreciation occasionally factoring into the plot itself. Colin Hay appears in the season 2 premiere, diagetically scoring the show's opening with an acoustic cover of Men At Work's "Overkill." "My Musical," the sixth episode of the sixth season, uses the delusions of a patient to stage an eccentric, no-holds-barred musical tribute, complete with original compositions. The episode featured a performance from Avenue Q star Stephanie D'Abruzzo as well as songwriting from Robert Lopez, the only person to ever complete the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) twice over.
Late in season three, Lawrence & Co. close out an episode by inviting symphonic pop group The Polyphonic Spree to perform within the story, apparently sidestepping confusion by having one of Cox's patients be a member of the band.
One particularly comprehensive Spotify playlist documents the show's ever-rewarding soundtrack, featuring tracks by Five For Fighting, Guided By Voices, Howie Day, Ryan Adams and Fountains of Wayne, to name a few.
Braff's award-winning soundtrack to his debut directorial effort, 2004's Garden State, uses music in much the same way. Hand-selected by Braff himself, the accompanying soundtrack incorporates music that resonated with him during the writing process as well as tracks that steep the film in a long tradition of narrative music cues.
- "Don't Panic" - Coldplay
- "Caring is Creepy" - The Shins
- "In The Waiting Line" - Zero 7
- "New Slang" - The Shins
- "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" - Colin Hay
- "Blue Eyes" - Cary Brothers
- "Fair" - Remy Zero
- "One Of These Things First" - Nick Drake
- "Lebanese Blonde" - Thievery Corporation
- "The Only Living Boy In New York" - Simon & Garfunkel
- "Such Great Heights" - Iron and Wine
- "Let Go" - Frou Frou
- "Winding Road" - Bonnie Somerville
The soundtrack went on to sell over 1.3 million copies, earning it a Platinum plaque from the RIAA. It also earned Braff a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Pictures, Television or Other Visual Media, a ridiculously-titled accolade that was one of just six awards bestowed upon the film.
Interestingly, the soundtrack holds up nearly 14 years later as a cultural time capsule. Pithier than Scrubs' eight-season soundtrack, it charts the ascension of The Shins, now grizzled veterans in an increasingly niche indie market, as well as the mainstream primacy of acoustic singer-songwriters and alt-rock outfits. Even a quick glance at the tracklist induces nostalgia: Coldplay are still indie darlings, The Shins are still the hot new act in town and "Such Great Heights," originally a track by The Postal Service, is still dominating pop culture as an unforgettable slice of early-naughts indie. Frou Frou were still relevant, having disbanded a year prior to the film's release: whilst they reformed in 2017, Imogen Heap's solo career has since eclipsed their collaborative work.
Braff's sophomore effort, 2014's Wish I Was Here, doubled down on the indie-steeped soundtrack of its predecessor. More twee and less culturally representative than Garden State, the film's soundtrack featured original contributions by The Shins, Coldplay and Bon Iver, as well as work by Paul Simon, Gary Jules and Radical Face. If you're down for a particularly niche afternoon, both playlists are embedded below.
Whilst Scrubs carries enduring relevance, Garden State is very much the product of a time and place. Though everything from the central idea to the somewhat indulgently indie style reflects the early 2000s, no facet of the film does so as well as the soundtrack.
It's hard not to feel a subtle yet smug sense of superiority emanating from the film, complete with left-of-centre indie accompaniment scoring the curiously philosophical coming-of-age tale. Whilst one could argue that Garden State has aged poorly, it seems as though it's aged perfectly: a distillation of a time and place with the narrative, cast and soundtrack to match. If you're ever in search of the mid-2000s, I recommend diving into Zach Braff's well-documented music taste. It's more interesting than it sounds.