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.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's A Series Of Tubes!

I am in a serious rut. Oh, sure, I've kvetched before about my apparent lack of motivation re: obsessions (although my mom rightly pointed out that I may have, ahem, fixed that), but in terms of time spent surfing the various screens, I'm losing my touch.

Oh, sure, I still love me some CSI: Someplace, especially when Eddie Cahill gets all drunk on the subway, and I'll still sit down for the old Jon Stewart and his Daily Show - a stalwart favourite since 2002 - but TV, when you only get two channels, means watching a lot of local news. The local news is always some lead story about: the dearth of/apparent unsafeness of the flu vaccine; a massive local fire; some boneheaded thing Americans are doing; a shooting. Then it's weather, sports, and a feel-good story about a local kid made good. Then I have my nap.

It's the same on the internet. I regularly read, like, three websites: Go Fug Yourself, to which I am fully and completely addicted; XKCD, which I remember to check maybe once a week; and Cracked, which, given the chance, I'll read everything they post. Dudes: this isn't enough. Wither the funny Youtube videos? Where is my addiction to online TV? How come I can't find anything new, anything fresh, anything that hold my interest for longer than a few months? My cultural currency is like, a peso.

I guess it's okay that I'm not totally addicted to the Next Big Thing on the internet, since I don't have an at-home connection and am loathe to spend hours in Robarts, which gives me a headache and makes me hungry. But I still feel a little out of cultural touch - it makes me wonder how I'm going to cope with I'm older. I mean, the things that grew up when I was growing up include: home computers, cell phones, digital cameras, Discmans (Discmen?), iPods that shuffle songs when you shake them, talking to your car, phones that fit inside your damned ear, hologram newscasters, and making long-distance phone calls on your computer.

Do I own any of those things? Nope. I am so technologically ill-adapted at this point, when someone hands me an iPhone, I return it and demand a phone with numbers. I can't work this shit. I have been alive for 26 years. What the hell am I going to do when I'm in my fifties? I can't drive a regular car; how I am supposed to drive my flying car?

In a way, it's a relief not to keep up with the trends; if something's really important, people will tell me about it. Like the Beyonce video that everyone spazzed about this summer. It sort of clears the path of all the look-at-me crap that's out there competing on 456 different channels and a zillion websites. With a DVD player, a stereo system and a land line, we can figure it all out, and still have time for a nap.