Since Rambling Ever On’s inception in December of 2015, I have written about Seinfeld every five to six months. This is by design. It’s easily my favorite TV show of any genre and its fanaticism rages on two decades later. That is worth a regular turn in our rotation of topics.
Today, I want to give one of my Seinfeld slots to its younger sibling of 90s American Sitcoms: Friends. In a lot of ways it rivaled Seinfeld—it was about New Yorkers, its mammoth popularity allowed it to take over the 9 PM Thursday Night slot on NBC, and it has lived on in well after its finish. It was never quite as popular but it was still a very iconic show with a dedicated, rabid fanbase that can have entire conversations in show quotes. In other ways it was quite different: the characters were attractive, relationships worked out and it could get very dramatic.
Nevertheless, I have never considered these shows to be competitive rivals. They were in a great sense on the same team. If Seinfeld was Jordan, Friends was Pippen. And for that reason, I do not understand the hate that Seinfeld fans throw at this show, even to the present day.
I have not bashed Friends, not much at least, but I haven’t defended it either. It is a show I’d seen most of when I was single and found enjoyable but not worth publicly lauding. After years of being married to Kayla, who will binge-watch this show and then start it over immediately, I have secondhand watched the whole series several times. And I have to confess, there are things that are worth defending. It is not a show for everyone, but for what it set out to do, it prospered for a full decade. Today I celebrate some of those things.
The LOL Quotes
This is the essence of what makes a sitcom great to me. If I want a deep story I will watch a drama like LOST or Stranger Things or Friday Night Lights. For comedy I want someone to say or do something that causes me to cry-laugh or, even better, to literally roll on the floor. Friends offers no shortage of these. Here are a few of my favorites (Spoiler: They are all Chandler and Joey):
“No, Eddie, this isn’t out of the blue. This is SMACK. DAB. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BLUE.”
(Chandler, to his psycho roommate who wouldn’t leave)
“No, we only kissed.”
“Kissed? That’s even worse!”
“How is that worse?”
“I don’t know but it’s the same!”
(Chandler and Joey, hashing out how Chandler betrayed Joey)
“Custard good…Jam good…meat GOOD.”
(Joey, eating Rachel’s revolting trifle)
“Alright, listen. I have to go to the bathroom, but if the place with the big fish comes up again, I’d like to know whether that’s several big fish or just one big fish.”
(Chandler, on Phoebe’s fish story)
(Chandler, when accompanying Joey on a double date/blind date, when he realizes his date is his many times over ex-girlfriend)
“Monday…One Day. Tuesday…Two Day. Wednesday…When Huh What Day?” “Thursday…THE THIRD DAY.”
(Joey, explaining how to remember what day he wanted the audition)
“Stretchy Pants!! You should wear those every day every day.”
The Other Memorable Catchphrases
There are many repeated quotes that were not necessarily LOL funny to me over and over but were still very amusing and were so well written and delivered they have become timeless with the American sitcom vernacular. Like Ross’s “Pi-vot!” Or Chandler using any sentence with “Could” and “be” and “any more…?” that was constantly made fun of and parodied (Joey’s “Could I be wearing any more clothes?” while vindictively donning Chandler’s entire wardrobe is probably the best version of that.) Or Joey’s “How you doin’?” Or Phoebe’s endless use of “Phalange”.
A mark of a successful sitcom to me is how easy and fun it is to quote, even 15 years after its end. Friends hits this mark easily.
Sitcom acting coming out of the 80s could be horrendous, even on the good shows, and the 90s ushered in a period of TV shows landing fantastic actors who had good comedic timing and not just mediocre actors who were naturally funny. Friends was like a drama so they needed six people who could really land the nuances of human emotion. They succeeded in my opinion, especially David Schwimmer, who pulled off a wide range of performances and nailed them all. Yet if you want a 0.5 second example of what I’m talking about, watch closely when the camera cuts to pregnant Phoebe in New York when Ross says Rachel’s name instead of Emily’s at his wedding in London. Moments like that are remarkable television to me.
The Chill Bump Moments
I confess my goosebumps shatter when “She got off the plane.” And when Chandler and Monica propose to each other. And when Rachel flies all the way to London and then changes her mind and congratulates Ross. And when Chandler loses the face-off to Phoebe and confesses he loves Monica. And so many more get me. Every. Single. Time.
“The One With the Jellyfish”
Few scenes in very few sitcoms have gotten to me the way the final two scenes do in the Season 4 premiere. This is the episode where they come back from the beach after Ross has broken up with bald Christine Taylor to get back together with Rachel.
The first scene is when Joey, Chandler and Monica finally break down and tell the other three what happened out at the beach that traumatized them so badly that they would not talk about it. Two moments cause me to lose it: First, when Joey says, “That’s right! I stepped up!” The night my son was born my wife was in too much pain to change his diaper and I had never changed one. But, awkwardly as it was, I did it. And every time that story gets told I quote Joey very loudly. Secondly, when Joey admits he got stage fright he says they had to turn to Chandler who tries to go hide, screaming into his covered face.
The second scene is the classic, “WE WERE ON A BREAK” scene, but there is so much more to it than that oft-repeated Ross rationalization. Nearly every line in this 2-3 minutes makes me laugh hard, no matter how many times we’ve watched them. “18 Pages. FRONT AND BACK!” “You fell asleeep?” “EH UH EH FINE BY ME!!” And the greatest Chandler quote of all time: “I KNEW IT!!!”
This was the peak of the show to me.
The Creative Storylines and Cliffhangers
I liked Friends when it first came on for how it ended seasons causing me to die waiting three months for closure to a season finale. But I also admire how the storylines were kept fresh for ten seasons and you never knew what was coming most of the time. Episodes like the “What would have happened if…?” (where Rachel marries Barry, Joey is still on Days of Our Lives, etc.) were unprecedented at the time and really opened up new ways of sitcom storytelling that I think others have followed and even improved upon. Additionally, I truly appreciated how at the end, they didn’t follow any trite formula for how the six characters ended up. Two were married with children, two just started dating again, one married outside of the group and one was still single. Finally, I loved how they used Phoebe, the oddball character, to move away from the romantic subplots and bring in her messed up family to give us some phenomenal poignant moments.
The Notable Guest Stars
Having mega-super stars like Bruce Willis terrorize Ross and Brad Pitt terrorize Rachel was A+ comedy, but even lower rung stars like Jon Lovitz and Giovanni Ribisi were hilarious in their spots. A third group I adore in hindsight are people who went on to star in TV after Friends, notably Hugh Laurie (“I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with your friend Pheebs” with his fantastic English accent) and Jim Rash, who eventually became the Dean on Community, who forever gets the glory of being the one who led the charge off of the plane in the finale because it didn’t have a left phalange.
That Inimitable Opening Theme
It wasn’t just the song, as perfect as it was in complimenting the show, but also how they used quickly clips from the episodes to superbly match the music and lyrics. And they constantly updated these clips, even midseason, to keep it fresh. It was always extremely well done, so much so that those cheesy dancing-in-the-water-fountain shots before the show even began couldn’t detract from it.
That is my list. What were things you loved about the show? Comment below!