Whether he’s lost in some extravagant daydream, searching through “the infinite abyss,” or playing small yet unforgettable characters on a variety of sitcoms, Zach Braff has long been one of the most interesting and charming faces on the silver screen and small screen. Each time he steps into the frame, you can’t help but be carried away by his charm, comedic timing, and earnestness, which almost always makes for a fun experience.
And, with the former Scrubs cast member being a major part of the Cheaper by the Dozen cast, I started to think about the best Zach Braff movies and TV shows that I would like to revisit. In doing so, I found out that quite a few of them are streaming and thought to myself that others would be looking for the same, so I made this little list.
Scrubs (2001 - 2010)
Over the course of nine seasons, 182 episodes, and two networks, Zach Braff portrayed young doctor John “J.D.” Dorian at Sacred Heart Hospital on the critically acclaimed medical comedy, Scrubs. Throughout his run on the show (a run that turned him into a massive star), Braff’s character went from an awkward resident starting his career to a dependable mentor by the time things wrapped up, bringing laughs, tears, and loads of inside jokes along the way.
No matter what Braff does with his career from here on out, Scrubs will always be one of the shows for which he’s most remembered. One of Bill Lawrence’s best creations, this iconic early 2000s series wasn’t afraid to try new things, incorporate multiple genres, and give the cast room to breathe, creating some of TV’s best moments along the way.
Garden State (2004)
Following the sudden death of his mother, struggling actor Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) returns to his New Jersey hometown for the funeral. But, what starts out as a quick trip home to honor his mother’s life quickly turns into an existential exploration of “the infinite abyss,” an odyssey that sees the despondent and heavily-medicated prodigal son cross paths an eccentric young woman named Samantha (Natalie Portman), who forever changes his life.
In addition to starring in Garden State, Zach Braff also wrote and directed this 2004 comedy-drama, and quickly made a name for himself as one of the most interesting young filmmakers in Hollywood. And, it doesn’t hurt that the movie has one of the best soundtracks in recent memory, which was hand-picked by Braff himself.
Wish I Was Here (2014)
Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is forced to pull his children out of an expensive private school after his father, who pays for their schooling, is diagnosed with cancer and decides to spend the last of his money on a revolutionary treatment. Instead of finding a new school, however, Aidan decides to homeschool his daughter and son by following a rather unorthodox curriculum that involves camping, swimming, and San Diego Comic-Con.
Zach Braff’s character in the Kickstarter-funded Wish I Was Here is one of the most endearing of his career and goes through a tremendous change by the time the movie ends. The way Braff, who also co-wrote and directed the 2014 comedy, portrays a father forced to sacrifice his own desires for those of his children makes for a great study of parenthood and being an adult in general.
Chicken Little (2005)
After claiming the sky is falling and the end is near, Chicken Little (Zach Braff) is viewed upon as the “boy who cried wolf” and untrustworthy for getting his town all worked up in a state of panic. But, when it happens a second time, things are worse than they appear, and only the small, outcast chicken can save the day from arriving extraterrestrial invaders.
Based on the classic European folk tale of the same name, the 2005 animated film, Chicken Little, captures the heart and soul of the source material while also transitioning it into modernity. All of the actors are amazing in their respective roles throughout the movie, but none compare to the kind nature of the underdog Chicken Little, who is made all the more likable thanks to Zach Braff’s understanding of the role.
The Ex (2006)
On the eve of becoming a father, Tom Reilly (Zach Braff) takes a job at his father-in-law’s advertising agency where he soon strikes up a bitter rivalry with his wife’s ex-boyfriend, Chip Sanders (Jason Bateman), who uses his brain and paraplegic state against him.
Probably one of the funniest movies of 2006, The Ex is held together by the on-screen chemistry of Zach Braff and Jason Bateman, who do such an amazing job of portraying two bitter rivals that you believe they actually hate one another. The constant back-and-forth between the two as they jockey for position is incredible and really increases the drama and comedy.
The Last Kiss (2006)
Michael (Zach Braff) seems to have everything going for him in life: he has a loving girlfriend who is pregnant with their first child, a well-paying job, and a group of close friends. Despite that, the soon-to-be 30-year-old feels trapped and nothing like the free young man he used to be. When he meets a young college student named Kim (Rachel Bilson) at a wedding, Michael sees a quick escape, but his new fling could bring his life crashing down.
Tony Goldwyn’s 2006 romantic drama The Last Kiss (a remake of the Italian film L’Ultimo Bacio) shows a Zach Braff character who is far different from anything he had played before. Sure, his characters have always been a bit complicated and introspective, but his portrayal of Michael in his fall from grace is truly something else. It’s strange, because you are forced to decide whether or not you like the character or despise him for his actions, and mistakes, in life.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
When one of their neighbors suddenly dies, Larry Lipton (Woody Allen) and his wife Carol (Diane Keaton) find themselves so intrigued by the mystery they begin investigating the matter on their own, no matter what they might encounter on their curious journey into the unknown.
Although Zach Braff only appears briefly in Manhattan Murder Mystery as Larry and Carol’s son, Nick Lipton, it’s a performance that should be brought up at every opportunity. This is mostly due to the fact that this Braff’s feature film debut (he had appeared on an episode of The Baby-Sitters Club at this point), which automatically makes it more intriguing.
BoJack Horseman (2017, 2020)
One of the best Netflix original series, the animated adult comedy, BoJack Horseman, centers on the titular washed-up actor (Will Arnett) as he struggles to find meaning in life now that he’s no longer the star of the popular Horsin’ Around sitcom. Over the course of six seasons, the walking, talking, anthropomorphic horse deals with depression, fame, and what it means to be successful in Hollywood.
There were a ton of great celebrity cameos throughout BoJack Horseman’s run on Netflix, including an appearance by Weird Al Yankovic at one point. Well, you can add Zach Braff to the list of famous actors who popped up on the show on two occasions, first at a Season 4 party where he caught on fire and was killed by Jessica Biel and then again in the final season in one of BoJack’s dreams. The best part about his appearances was the way Braff parodied himself, especially with his comments about monologues.
Arrested Development (2005 - 2006)
One of the funniest shows of the 21st Century, Arrested Development followed the lives and exploits of the Bluth family. Over the course of five seasons (the first three on Fox, the later two as a Netflix revival), the family, to the chagrin of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), found themselves in one ridiculous situation after another in the wake of the family patriarch, George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor), going to prison.
In addition to the large Bluth family, Arrested Development also featured an even more expansive cast of supporting characters like Zach Braff’s Phillip Litt, an unsavory filmmaker behind the exploitative Girls with Low Self-Esteem video series. This character is completely over-the-top and nothing like anything else Braff had done up to that point or since. Clearly a parody of Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis, Braff appears to be having a lot of fun with the portrayal.
The High Cost Of Living (2010)
When a hit-and-run accident results in the death of her unborn child, Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) falls into a downward spiral of depression and lost hope. That all changes when she meets an equally flawed man named Henry (Zach Braff), who’s own decisions in life have left him in a situation just as dark and dreadful. Together, they form a strong bond that is put to its ultimate test with a devastating revelation.
Before Deborah Chow went on to direct the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+, she cut her teeth with intimate indie projects like 2010’s The High Cost of Living. Far more toned-down from Braff’s work on Scrubs, this small project really gives him a lot of room to try out a different character, one far less upbeat than J.D., and it works really well.
With multiple movies coming out in the very near future, expect on seeing some additions to this list of the best Zach Braff movies and TV shows. If you want more information on those projects, take a look at CinemaBlend's list of all the 2022 movie releases so you don't miss a thing.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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