30 Oct TV Recommendation: A Retrospective on NBC’s FRIENDS
With binge-watch culture as strong as it is among television audiences today, it may seem a bit redundant for me to be recommending one of the most syndicated sitcoms of all-time; however, if your only familiarity with the TV show Friends is from a few out of context episodes aired on Nick at Night or TBS, then this is surely a story worth checking out in sequential order from the pilot.
Friends is arguably the most famous sitcom to grace the new millennium (being that the Seinfeld finale was in ‘98), and may very well be the television program responsible for paving the way for the countless number of TV shows revolving around “single twenty-somethings” that followed. Without Friends, we may never have gotten a show like How I Met Your Mother, or maybe even Scrubs and The Big Bang Theory to an extent. Though its sheer impact alone is enough of a reason to start Friends the very beginning, the show’s stellar cast is what makes this character driven story still work as well as it does. The six main characters all have very diverse personalities, and Friends’ ensemble of actors and actresses does a tremendous job in developing each of their own unique arcs over the course of the show’s 10 seasons.
The pilot begins with Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) having just run out on her wedding as she searches for her best friend from grade school to high school, Monica Geller (Courtney Cox). Rachel hadn’t spoken to Monica in a few years before finding her hanging out with the rest of the Friends group in their signature spot at the Central Perk coffee shop. It’s there, while still wearing her rain-soaked wedding dress, that Rachel meets Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) and Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) for the first time; and is re-acquainted with Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) and Monica’s older brother, Ross (David Schwimmer). Rachel was viciously spoiled growing up, and she finds out that her father is cutting her off financially if she doesn’t go through with the wedding later in the episode. To combat this Rachel moves into the vacant room in Monica’s apartment, takes a job as a waitress at Central Perk, and is quickly absorbed into the group. From there, we follow the tight-knit group of friends throughout the trials and tribulations of their careers, love lives, and other personal relationships.
Rachel is incredibly self-centered at the start of the series, but becomes far less absorbed as her independence mounts. Though Rachel was the prototypical “popular girl” in high school, the character maintains this approachable “girl next door” quality about her. She can be a bit of a push-over and is somewhat ditzy at times, but she has also shown the ability to be courageous, and has a lot more going on just below the surface. This part of Rachel is likely where Ross’ infatuation with her stems from. Ross’ long-standing crush on Rachel dates all the way back to the time prior to her senior prom and was re-awoken when Rachel reconnected with his younger sister, Monica. Ross had always been viewed as the nerdy older brother, but we see he derives a bit of arrogance from his Ph.D in paleontology throughout the series. He is pretty socially-awkward, especially when it comes to women, but is generally warm, flamboyant, and level-headed. Ross is a very relatable character to me, but tends to get a bit of a bad wrap from audiences due to his numerous character flaws such as his extreme jealousy and over-competitive nature; a trait he and his sister share.
Monica is easily the show’s most neurotic character. Along with her hyper-competitiveness, Monica also takes cleanliness and organization to a borderline OCD level, and can be a bit bossy in her attempts to control everything around her. Though it may seem like I’m down on Monica, she is actually my favorite Friends character. All of these personality quirks come from a good place as Monica has this “uncontrollable need to please people,” which goes double for those closest to her. It may not always appear this way, but she is the most selfless member of the group and she takes on a brunt of the load when it comes to carrying the show through its middle seasons. Her character seems to really take off when she gets together with Chandler, who is widely regarded as most viewer’s standout-favorite. Chandler was Ross’ roommate in college and has a similar socially-awkward demeanor to him. He is the only child from a broken home and has a well-developed defense mechanism involving intense sarcasm and self-deprecating humor because of this. Chandler is wildly insecure and is deathly afraid of commitment, but at the same time, he is very caring, loyal, and utterly hilarious; by far the funniest character on the show.
The group is rounded out by Monica and Chandler’s respective roommates from before the start of the story, Phoebe and Joey. Phoebe’s upbringing was crazy to say the least. The madness of Phoebe’s childhood included her father leaving, her adoptive mother committing suicide, and a stint of living on the streets at the age of 14. This, coupled with never attending high school or college, lead to a bit of immaturity in Phoebe’s personality and just some general ignorance in how to conduct herself in public. She is brutally honest and tends to divulge a little too much information at times as well; but because of her past, the group often coddles Phoebe in an effort to spare her feelings. She can be an insufferable character at times, but makes up for her flaws by being the most eccentric and interesting one of them all. Contrary to Phoebe, Joey is a character that resonates well with audiences despite his glaring flaws. Joey is not very bright and is incredibly misogynistic, but the character is not without his redeeming qualities. As a struggling actor, Joey seems to deal the most with rejection out of all the other characters (despite his idiot-savant reputation with women), and often feels unappreciated and unsuccessful in his career path. Also, being the only male in a family of eight children, Joey does have a protective side to him which he shows with his sisters as well as with Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe.
Friends, similar to Seinfeld, is a show about nothing; but, although the plot isn’t written out as explicitly as it is in a show like HIMYM for example, there is a definitive starting and ending point to the story. The concrete timeline of Friends runs from the seeming formation of the six-person crew (when Rachel comes back into Monica’s life) to the final moments their collective residency in New York. There is also an extremely strong sense of “place” in Friends, and as a result, the characters’ apartments sort of take on a lives of their own and are depicted as favorably as the gang’s precious coffee shop. Because of this, it’s only fitting for the final scene of the series to take place in Monica’s apartment (an apartment all but Ross lived at one point or another) with everyone returning their keys before heading down to the Central Perk one last time.
Now, Friends is not a perfect story by any stretch of the imagination, and there are quite a few aspects of the show you’ll have to look past if this is your first time watching the series from front to back. Like most sitcoms that were developed over two decades ago, some of the strategies used to progress the narrative are a bit outdated and the show itself hasn’t aged particularly well when it comes to both TV storytelling and subject content. There are far too many clip-show episodes for my taste, a lot of roll-your-eyes “men vs. women” plotlines, and some blatantly homophobic jokes. Friends is also shackled by clique television tropes at times; I can think of three instances off the top of my head in which one of the characters races to the airport in this story. To go along with that, there are are a couple obvious plot holes in Phoebe’s story, some very rushed plotlines in the latter seasons, and a bunch of times where Ross and Rachel will sicken you as a couple by being either too sappy, too immature, or just the way they sometimes bitterly bicker at each other. There are more than enough episodes that are very entertaining and funny, but a binge-watch of Friends does come with its fair share of skips.
That being said, the true heart of this show lies in the everyday relatability of its characters. That is why Friends took a nation of TV watchers by storm in the ‘90s, and why you can still find reruns being broadcasted on any day of the week. Their vivid personalities make it easy for viewers to find at least one trait or flaw they can identify with, and allows them to step into one of the characters’ shoes and feel like they’re a part of the gang. When it comes down to it, you can’t help but feel like these detailed characters are your friends when watching this show. All 10 seasons of Friends are available for streaming on Netflix, and if you have been under a rock for the last 20 years, this is a series that is definitely worth your time.