Zach Braff of <EM>Scrubs</EM> Zach Braff of Scrubs

When Zach Braff and the gang grab their clipboards and return to their shifts at Sacred Heart Hospital for Scrubs' fifth season premiere on Jan. 3, fans will certainly have a lot to look forward to. Not only will the NBC comedy deliver a double dose of new episodes each Tuesday at 9 pm/ET, and not only will Arrested Development's Jason Bateman put in an appearance — leaving Braff's J.D. tangled in a bunch of feathers! — but prepare for the crew to pay their respects to the yellow brick road in a Wizard of Oz-themed 100th episode, airing later in the month.

With its return, Scrubs will settle in to NBC's Tuesday-night lineup at a time when most of their prime-time counterparts are well into their fall seasons. Braff and series creator Bill Lawrence understand that this mid-season start might present a struggle in terms of the show's reception by viewers and critics, but remain optimistic that diehard fans will appreciate the hard work their team put in during the show's hiatus.

"It would have been very hard to come back to work at the beginning of the year if it weren't for the fact that we were lucky enough to get nominated for some Emmys," Lawrence reasons. "[Resuming production] was initially tough, but [the Emmy nods were] a vote of confidence from our peers, enough to make us excited and confident to dive back into the show. Now that we're finally getting our shot, we're going to make the most of it."

Braff, who in his off-time lent his voice talents to Disney's animated feature Chicken Little, also looks forward to coming back to work. Although for a time there, Scrubs' fate was up in the air, it was that same uncertainty that, he believes, advanced the show to a new level. "There was an attitude of, 'If we weren't going to be on the air, let's take this a little further,'" he says, promising that the new season will be more "amped up."

Relationships are explored further this season, with Turk and Carla finally moving into a home of their own, and J.D. bunking with Elliot (Sarah Chalke) — a platonic arrangement, Lawrence stresses, that will allow the characters to examine "how close you can get to someone of the opposite sex." In an added twist, Elliot has accepted a fellowship at another hospital and won't return full-time to Sacred Heart until at least the new season's fourth episode.

While such minor changes will keep fans satiated from the start, Braff reveals that the real fun comes later, when Jason Bateman makes his appearance. Stifling laughter, Braff explains that the Arrested Development star will play a patient of J.D.'s who failed to express gratitude for his treatment. Not happy until he is shown some love, J.D. storms the home of Bateman's character but in doing so must fend off a few of his patient's feathered friends. "To make a long story short," Braff says with a chuckle, "[10 domesticated] ostriches beat the hell out of us and hurl me through a plate-glass window into the house, where we find Jason."

Crediting Braff with enhancing such comedy that continues to drive the series' success, Lawrence believes that the young actor is leaps and bounds beyond his peers, simply due to his willingness to not just make the jokes but realize that at times he must be the butt of them. "He hasn't lost sight of the important thing, which is what's funny," says the exec. "One of the things that makes this cast work so well is that with Zach in the driver's seat, setting the bar so high, the rest work harder just to stay in the same lane."

Entering his fifth year as J.D., Braff, who earned kudos for his writer-director-actor triple-play in Garden State, is eager to also continue on the silver screen — but not until time permits. "I wrote Garden State before I was cast on Scrubs, so I had time to be the guy sitting around in his underwear for five months at my kitchen table writing it," he remembers. Hinting that he may adapt his next movie rather than pen it from scratch, Braff insists he's in no rush to close the television chapter of his career.

"You will never hear another actor who's been on a show for five years talking about still loving the job. But this environment is so fun, I can't imagine a better job," he proclaims. "I'm in no rush for this show to end. I have yet in my life to have a better experience."