Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friends Are Friends

It's a goofy thing to admit, but I sort of miss the Friends.

Cast your mind back, if you can, to the late 1990s. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were still married. Angelina Jolie was starring in such classics as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which was one of those films that was a total WTF moment in most people's lives, if they even noticed it in the first place, which most people, to be honest, did not. There was no such thing as the critical flop and destroyer of career worlds known only as Joey. It was, as they say, a simper time.

While Friends is no ground-breaker, the series itself was charming and shockingly well-executed. The characters - dimbulb Joey, kooky Phoebe, nerdy Ross and all the others - were well developed and genuinely funny. Most women I know (the ones between 20 and 35, at least) can solidly point to one of the male Friends as their "type." Most of the dudes I know can point to all three of the female leads as being "babes." I think while most people started off as Chandler girls - he brought the funny! everyone loves the funny! - by a few seasons in, Matthew Perry had started mugging so hard you could fill him with coffee. Chandler was so easier typed that it sort of became lame. Well, lame for him: it allowed David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc to shine that much brighter. By the end, even though he was a dork, Ross was America's Favourite Dork.

Friends is one of those shows that sort of defined a generation of TV watchers. Oh, sure, Seinfeld was hilarious and off-beat and cutting edge; they played fast and loose with TV rules and rooted the show in some slightly off-kilter alternate universe. For that, they won a bajillion awards and became one of those intensely quotable shows that still shows up in daily conversation (see: master of my domain). However, I feel like, because Seinfeld was just slightly out of our world, Jerry, Elaine, and the rest of the gang were a little alien. Friends, on the other hand, peopled its universe with characters who were slightly larger than real life, and therefore imminently relatable.

If you go back in time, Friends followed a time-honoured tradition that was probably started by Gilligan's Island, honed to a fine (if mostly asinine) point by Three's Company and indelibly stamped by Cheers: they were all about friends who argue, hang out, date and make the funny. While shows like I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch and The Simpson used the family as the driving trope, Friends made space for the self-created family, the friend group, to really shine.

While neither the show nor the genre is perfect - sitcoms, as a rule, can grate, and by the end of its 10-season run, Friends was getting a little Byzantine in its hooking-up flowchart (and, quick sidebar: what is it about flowcharts that makes them rule so hard?) - the show worked really well. The writers and the actors all knew their characters inside and out, making episodes like "The One With Ross's Teeth" sucessful as both stand-alone episode that your average person can watch on TBS with only a hazy recollection of the show, and as part of a larger narrative wherein the thrice-married Ross Gellar is unlucky in love and not a slammin' stud with the lady-types, which produces much comedy over the years.

I might be overselling the point a little, but I think that Friends is in the top five or six shows produced in the last 20-odd years. Rivalled seriously by only and Seinfeld, The Simpsons and The Office in terms of character-driven comedy, Friends was consistent, semi-sweet humour with a huge side order of relatability and humour. As such, I miss it. If that's lame, I'm fine with it: there's a lot of TV out there in the world, and I like the stuff that makes me feel good.


  1. Remember that summer when we ended up quoting that one random line over and over and over and it just got funnier every single time? Oh wait... that was every summer, it was just that the random lines changed every now and then ("Well you know what they say: when in Rome..." "Wait, I know this one!! Romans.")

    But seriously, do you remember the one night when, for reasons I can no longer recall, we ended up in my parents' basement watching the video that came from god-knows-where featuring some clip from Friends where Joey said, like, "Paper! Milk! A ghost!!" and then that was our answer for everything for the next few weeks?

    Good times. Very good times.

  2. I found the quote in its entirety, which is, upon a second consideration, still hilarious!

    Right here!

  3. OH MY GOD. Thank you. Definitely still hilarious.

  4. I think Seinfeld was the "better" show, but Friends was wonderful in a comforting sort of way. It seems so outdated now, though, and yet not. It's hard to tell what's retro and what's contemporary when the colours don't fade.

  5. Seinfeld is the better show, but it's centered around a completely different premise. Jerry Seinfeld was basically playing himself (trust me, there's many an outtake whose basic premise is horrible an actor Jerry is); in order to make the show work as a sitcom, his pals had to be zany as all get-out.

    I mean, I like the Seinfeld folks and all, but I don't want to hang out with them the same way I want to hang out with the Friends. Can you imagine seriously having George Constanza as your best friend? I'd be having none of that sad sack.

  6. I DO NOT find any of the male characters in Friends even remotely appealing. Maybe David Schwimmer, if he didn't look like a horse's ass.

  7. I agree, I would much rather be friends with "Friends".

    In fact, I think I saw a psychology doc. once which claimed that watching "Friends" had many of the same measurable positive effects as having actual friends.