Bill Lawrence Knew Scrubs Fantasy Sequences Were A 'Slippery Slope'

A lot of popular TV shows have a tendency to become more self-indulgent as they go on. The first few seasons are often written with restraint, with the full knowledge that cancellation could be on the horizon — but once a sitcom becomes a hit, the writers start to get more confident. Maybe a little too confident. By the time "Scrubs" reached syndication in season 6, they started indulging perhaps a little too much in the show's most unique element: JD's (Zach Braff) fantasy sequences. 

Whereas most of the early season fantasy sequences are sharp and snappy, later seasons "Scrubs" had them go on for entire minutes at a time. Some of these (like the Floating Head Doctor joke that was done three separate times) were so good that they were worth taking up a significant portion of the 21-minute episodes, but these longer fantasies were a lot harder to forgive when they fell flat.

Perhaps more worrying, however, is the way the wacky unrealistic elements that previously only existed in JD's head started to happen in the real world. One such example, which showrunner Bill Lawrence points to as a mistake, was in the season 5 premiere in which Turk (Donald Faison) is seen sneaking JD into a movie theater by hiding him in his backpack. Later on, JD needs to hide from Carla (Judy Reyes), so he quickly hops into the backpack and zips himself up within seconds. You'd expect this to be revealed as part of JD's imagination, but no, it actually happened. "Scrubs" was always a silly show, but it was never quite this cartoonish.

"Hey, look, it's a slippery slope," Lawrence acknowledged, later adding, "We might have gone too far with crossing the line between fantasy and reality."

How far down the slope did they go?

When was "Scrubs" at its most absurd? Most fans would probably point to seasons 5 through 7. The season 6 premiere in particular marked a clear shift in the show's tone, as it opened with JD fainting in front of a bunch of elderly gay men who were hanging out at the porch he bought. The "old queens," as JD called them, then kidnapped unconscious JD and brought him to Las Vegas. JD woke up in the middle of his wedding to one of them, ran away, and ended up stumbling onto the stage of a Blue Man Group performance, where he was promptly attacked, arrested and had to be bailed out of jail by Turk. 

The same episode features the Janitor (Neil Flynn) hanging JD up on a flag pole and forcing him to act like a flag. All of this happened within the reality of the show, and things only got stranger from there. 

One fun outlandish moment the cast pointed to was in the season 5 episode "My Five Stages," in which the Janitor built a giant home-sized sandcastle in the hospital parking lot. Neil Flynn recalls a confused Zach Braff remarking while they filmed the scene, "But this ... we're not fantasizing at the moment, that means this exists."

A slight return to Earth

Things did get a little more grounded, however, in the final season. Maybe it had something to do with "Scrubs" moving from NBC to ABC, or maybe it was just a natural choice on the part of the writers, but season 8 often struck a closer tone to the earlier seasons. JD and Elliot's decision to get back together was done in a surprisingly understated way, and episodes like "My Last Words" managed to (mostly) maintain a serious tone the whole way through. 

There was even an episode where JD and the Janitor weren't there at all; "My Full Moon" focused on Turk and Elliot alone as they went through the night shift with the new interns. There's only one fantasy sequence in the episode and basically everything in it is something that could happen in real life. It's hard to imagine such an episode coming out in season 6 or 7.

Season 8 was intended as the final season, after all, so it makes sense for the writers to want to return to the show's roots. With most of the main cast now entering a more stable part of their lives, this final string of episodes seemed more focused on the new interns, whose struggles mirrored the struggles JD, Turk, and Elliot had gone through over the years. Weird stuff certainly still happened in the later seasons; perhaps most egregiously, Elliot is suddenly established as having an irrational, over-the-top fear of red-heads that she's never mentioned before. But for the most part, "Scrubs" ended its main run with one foot back in reality, and that's probably for the best.