Ever since Netflix started streaming Friends, I’ve been slowly making my way through the catalog of the show with fond nostalgia. The show was funny, quirky, and spoke to the viewers on many levels. The show managed to do quite a few things well, but there are also a few aspects of the show that are lacking.
This show is one of my favorites, and although I own a significant portion of the series on DVD, I still can’t help but watch it via Netflix streaming, or if I happen to catch a rerun on syndicated television. I’ve seen a lot around the net about the show lately, much about “things you didn’t know about the show” or “Where is Emma Gellar-Green now?” But, what I really want to focus on is the things the series did “Right” and the few areas where I think the show failed.
All the Characters in Friends, at some point, lost their jobs or went through some sort of financial crisis.
Wait, what? How is that getting it right? At the beginning of the show, we meet six people: Ross Gellar, who works at a museum, his sister Monica who works as a chef at a restaurant, Joey Tribbianai, a struggling actor, his roommate Chandler Bing, who works in a big office doing *something* that no one quite gets, and Phoebe Buffay, a formerly homeless massage therapist. Then enteres Rachel Green, a suburban princess who ran away from marrying a rich doctor to seek shelter with her childhood best friend.
By the end of the series, Monica has lost her restaurant job (though ultimately is the head chef of a new restaurant), Ross was fired from the Museum and became a professor, Rachel went from a waitress to having her dream career at Ralph Lauren, Joey gains (then loses, then regains) a career on a top-rated Soap Opera, Phoebe gets fired from one massage parlor and ultimately works for a high-end spa. In season 9, Chandler leaves his well-paying job and starts over as a junior copywriter (and is the oldest person at his work with his job)
These multiple job losses and gains show one aspect of life that should not be forgotten about. Jobs and career changes. Despite the ideal of people working one job for their entire lives, this is not the case. Businesses downsize, people make mistakes that cost them their jobs. With hard work, dedication, the right qualifications, and a bit of luck, a person can find a good job.
Central Perk: Coffee House.
The Friends spend a lot of time, not only at their jobs or homes, but in the Central Perk coffee house. The coffee house was a “third place,” where the Friends could meet up, talk, hang out. Over the course of ten years, the Friends worked there, played there, met up there, and bought thousands of dollars in coffee and pastries.
All of the characters move during the series (even a cool apartment-switch storyline) but one place remains the same: Central Perk.
3. Dynamic personalities.
Let’s face it, in most sitcoms the characters do not develop beyond the two-dimensional characters. Seinfield’s George Costanza, for instance, never evolves beyond the lonely, desperate bald man. Fonzie is always just “cool.”
The Friends all have static personality traits: Ross is a know-it-all, Joey is a flirt, Chandler is funny, Monica is a neat freak, Phoebe is a flake, and Rachel is high-maintenance.
EXCEPT… they each demonstrate a level of character growth during the series. In order of growth (Least to most)
Monica: She remains a control freak throughout the show, but does develop some changes: her relationship with Chandler matures her, forces her to relinquish control.
Phoebe: She remains a ‘flake’ and the most ‘hippy-like’ of the Friends, but Phoebe
Joey: Eternally a flirt, by the end of the series he’s grown out of that ‘How-U-Doin?” phase to the “I might enjoy a relationship” phase. Of course, of all the friends, he was the only one who did not settle down. “This whole thing with Rachel makes me think I might be ready for a serious relationship…”
Ross: Starts out a overbearing know it all. By the end of the series, he’s still an overbearing know it all, but somehow more tolerable. He’s no longer depressed all the time, on the point of tears over his love life. Does he still correct grammar? Yes, but it’s less obnoxious.
Chandler: Early Chandler is a commitment-phobe, but through his relationship with Monica, he expands and becomes ready to be a husband, and a father.
Rachel: She starts out as a spoiled princess, having just left her wedding and decides she wants to be something more. And she does: she travels the furthest of all the friends: getting her dream career, having a baby, and taking care of herself. SHe moves from ultra dependent to “Miss Independent.” Speaking of:
For a show that goes over the course of a decade, the show does a lot of good when it comes to babies. At the beginning of the series, Ross becomes a father. His son Ben is central to many of his early stories in the show, but ultimately dries out (A point we’ll get to in a moment). When actress Lisa Kudrow became pregnant, instead of trying to write in a boyfriend for the character to have Phoebe pregnant with her own child, the writers developed a great idea: have Phoebe become a surrogate mother to her brother’s children (laughs and a great solution!). Later, Rachel had a baby with Ross. This is where Rachel’s story really shines. She moves into an apartment with Ross, not because she needs to do so, but because Ross wanted to be around for the pregnancy moments. Rachel doesn’t need Ross, the baby needs Ross, so she spends time with him.
5. Post 9-11
The show spans pre and post 9/11 New York. After the Twin Towers fell, the show stopped putting up splash cards with the New York Skyline. The show didn’t do a massive tribute to the falling of the World Trade Center. Instead, there were subtle tributes. Joey occasionally wears a FDNY Shirt. The Magna Doodle on the back of Joey’s apartment makes occasional notes in commemoration. While it is completely possible that the Friends each lost people in the incident, it never discolors or mars the show. It remains funny, serious, and charming.
An excellent way to heal the wounds. Laughter.
6. The relationships with others:
Romantic or not, the relationships the Friends have with the people outside the group are amazing. They are supportive of each others’ relationships. The boys wanted to hang out with Richard, because he was “cool” and “smooth.” Ross seeks out Mike to explain Phoebe’s weirdness. The group supports Joey when he dates his hot female roomate, works to help Chandler rid himself of Janice (and of Creepy Eddie). And they all seem just as oblivious as Rachel is to Gunther’s secret crush on her. These make for excellent stories and adventures.
Because let’s face it, your friends should be there with you regardless of who you’re dating.
7. The non-romantic relationships with each other
Not just between the friends and their significant others, but the dynamic of the relationships within the core group. New Age hippy Phoebe and Ross clash on so many intellectual points, but have worlds to talk about when they are alone. Chandler and Joey have a “bromance” bordering on a “bro-fair.” Ross and Monica interact like brother and sister (which they are), but unlike other siblings, they are friends as well. Rachel and Joey live together for a while, and when Joey develops feelings for Rachel, he works to remain friends with her even when he sees she’s not trying to return his feelings. Rachel and Monica are childhood best friends who act more like sisters than friends, Chandler and Ross were college roommates who are like brothers (and become so when Chandler marries Monica).
So, that’s what Friends got Right. Now, let me examine what it got wrong. And this list is quite short.
After Phoebe gives birth, we see the triplets once, maybe twice, and they are occasionally referenced. Ben, Ross’s son shows up frequently in the first several seasons, but practically disappears after Emma is born. Emma plays an important role throughout the season where Rachel is pregnant, but in the series finale, when Rachel is flying to Paris, she is not with her mother, and not with her father in the final scenes.
It is almost as if “We’re going to put you through a story then have it be irrelevant later on.”
Ben effectively disappears in the later half of the show, not even making an appearance around the birth of his baby sister, without so much as an explaination.
The Lesbian Wedding.
Yes, Friends is renown for the lesbian relationship between Carol and Susan, even marrying the two in a widely publicized episode. It was very forward-thinking, especially for NBC.
The lesbian relationship is a source of jokes and laughter, used for comedic purposes (the show is a comedy, so there is some leeway for the comedy). It might have been better had the lesbian relationship been a story line with one of the central characters. However, this was the nineties, and perhaps TV wasn’t quite ready yet for one of the main cast to be homosexual.
Wow, when I started writing this, I really expected to come up with more things that “friends got wrong.”
Does the show still resonate? Yes. Even after all these years, The show is funny, smart, and charming. And I could binge watch it all the time, if I didn’t have fandoms elsewhere.
The show is still “There for me” to help me laugh when I need it.
I’m Moon Sedai, and I know Everything.
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