Saturday, September 3, 2016

I'll Be There For You

(This post contains spoilers)

Well, I didn't think it would happen, but here we are. I've joined the rest of the world and I've finally watched all of Friends.

Of course, I'd seen a few episodes here and there before Seinfeld marathons on TBS, but I'd never taken enough interest to actually invest the time to watch all 10 seasons. It was only when I decided I needed a new Frasier (i.e., a ton of seasons that don't require my full attention) that I took the plunge.

Arguably one of NBC's (and television's) most successful shows of all time, Friends started with a cast of virtual nobodies who, over the course of the series, rocketed to star status and are now some of the most recognized actors on screen, big or small.

Friends is basically the epitome of the '90s; although it had spilled into the next decade by the time it ended in 2004, when you think of Friends, you think of the '90s. For the TV-watching world, Friends is the ultimate representation of both the era and of being a twenty-something.

As a twenty-something myself, it's impossible to separate myself from the intent of the show. I'm exactly the type of person who's supposed to love it. And yet, to be perfectly honest, I just didn't.

Let's be clear: I didn't hate it. I just didn't love it the way everyone else seems to. I found it perfectly entertaining, enough to stick it out through more than 200 episodes. But the '90s was a decade packed to the brim with really great multi-camera sitcoms (you already know how I feel about Frasier), and, to me, Friends just didn't hold a candle to the likes of 3rd Rock from the SunNewsRadio, or Will & Grace.

I get why people love it. It's fun, it's relatable, and there are plenty of genuinely funny moments. It wasn't particularly groundbreaking, though, and I found a lot of the punchlines to be predictable and a lot of the acting to be, well, overacted. A lot of sitcoms tend to get shouty, where all of the actors just yell all of their lines, especially the funny ones, instead of delivering them believably. Unfortunately there was a little too much of that on Friends (I'm looking at you, Courteney Cox).

On that note, I loved the episode where Chandler and Monica's prospective couple friends rejected them because of Monica's constant yelling.

To be honest, I don't understand why people like any of the characters or think any of the things they do to each other are okay. At least on Seinfeld the fact that the characters are all shmucks is basically what the show is about. But if Friends is about growing together as friends, it just didn't happen for me. Let's be frank—it's no wonder all these people are friends with each other, because there's no way anyone else would be friends with them! They're self-centered, judgmental, manipulative, and often just plain annoying. They're not even that good to each other.

That said, I honestly don't get why everyone hates on Ross so much. I find him so much more sincere and endearing than any of the other friends, and even though he was whiny and did some awful things—telling Rachel they were divorced when they weren't comes to mind—is he really any worse than the others?

Rachel ran out on her wedding, called Ross gay for not having sex with her when she was vulnerable after her dad's heart attack, and interfered in everyone's relationships when they didn't suit her. Jennifer Aniston is the only one of the actors that I ever really liked before watching Friends, but seriously. Rachel is terrible.

Chandler made fun of Monica when she was fat and lied to Janice about moving to Yemen just to avoid breaking up with her. He constantly belittled everyone he talked to. He grew the most as a character over the course of the series, and I liked seeing him as a husband and dad, but he was kind of an asshole about 80% of the time.

Joey is an incessant womanizer, and... well, that's really his entire character. We never know much about Joey, so all he is is a dumb, misogynistic actor and seems to only be there for punchline value. It's too bad, really. He could have been more.

Monica is extremely competitive and controlling, and I just can't get past the yelling. She's not the worst; I appreciate her ambition, and she knows what she wants. But her borderline OCD and control freak tendencies just get old fast.

Phoebe turned out to be less annoying than I initially thought, but her character is a bit confusing to me. Half the time she's the flighty hippie type who lives in her own, strange world, and the other half she's manipulating her friends and boyfriends in various ways. Her rough childhood on the streets was actually pretty interesting, but it didn't really seem to factor into who she was on the show very often. It seemed like it just came up when it was convenient but didn't have any bearing on anything else that happened.

Ross may be trigger-happy when it comes to getting married, but he really cares about people. He's intelligent and has the only stable career of any of them, but he's constantly made fun of for both of these things, because sitcoms always have to dump on smart people. His mistakes almost always come from misguided attempts to be nice to people. I wouldn't want to be friends with him, but compared with the rest of the characters, why does everyone hate him specifically?

Anyway, somehow all of these lousy people ended up together, and the rest is television history.

Considering it was on for so long, Friends was actually pretty consistent in its quality. Granted, the quality wasn't much above average to begin with, but it didn't get really bad like it could have. It was more successful in its long story arc than other long-running sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory. Somehow, despite being perfectly average, it beat my 5-season theory. Well done, guys. Sort of.

And while the ending was mostly great, I was really unhappy that Rachel stayed in New York to be with Ross. It's great that they finally got together—the whole "will they or won't they" business got really old, because obviously they were going to end up together eventually—but there's no reason that Rachel couldn't have gone to Paris. There are museums in Paris that Ross could've worked at. But that job Rachel was offered was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I don't get why neither of them considered it an option for both of them to go to Paris. It seemed unfair to me for Rachel to just give up her dream without any discussion between them.

That aside, I liked that everyone moved on. They were out of their twenties and had gotten on with their lives, and that's why the show had to end. I appreciate that; as I've mentioned before, few things are more disappointing in television than shows that last beyond what's good.

Creator Marta Kauffman says that this is why there's never been a reunion or a reboot or anything of that sort: "Once you start having family of your own it changes, and the show was over. A show has a lifespan, I believe. It has a lifespan like anything else, and there's no reason to continue doing it just because people miss the characters. Watch the old ones; there is no way we could win that. And there's no way it would be satisfying and it'll never happen. We'll never do it." (I saved this quote but failed to save where it came from. I think it was a Buzzfeed article.)

Thank you, Marta Kauffman, for being a voice of reason in a profit-driven media world!! It would be so easy for a show as well-loved as Friends to constantly come back to appease viewers who don't understand that things either end well or get bad. There are 10 perfectly good seasons available to enjoy: enjoy them as they are.

I'm glad I watched Friends so I can finally have a real opinion about it, but the trouble is that I didn't like it enough to satisfy the people who would care enough to want to know. People are fiercely dedicated to Friends, to a point that I don't really understand. Again, I understand why it's popular. But really. It's not that good. Sure, I'll watch reruns, but it'll never be among my favorites.

Oh, and for the record, they were on a break.
My Favorite Episode: "The One Where Everybody Finds Out," (S5, Ep.14). Everyone finally finds out, in various ways, that Monica and Chandler have been dating. Phoebe and Rachel start messing with Monica and Chandler to try and get them to confess. Also includes Ugly Naked Guy, which is never a bad thing.
It's hard to choose a favorite episode, because there are so many. There are more individual moments over the course of the series that I liked a lot more than any in this episode, but as a whole episode, this one was funny and helped move the plot along in an effective way.

Some Trivia:

  • Even the cast didn't like the Joey and Rachel plotline. "It felt wildly inappropriate. [The cast] got super defensive about the whole thing." -Matt LeBlanc
  • Pay negotiations were a group effort for the cast, so that no main character ever made more than the others. At the beginning, they each made $22,500 per episode, and by the end it was $1,000,000 per episode.
  • R.E.M's "Shiny Happy People" was originally supposed to be the show's theme song instead of the now-iconic Rembrandts song.
  • Tom Selleck was met with standing ovations every time he entered a scene. Those entrances were unusable, so he would have to re-shoot them all without the audience.
  • The show's main characters are all named for characters from All My Children.
Next Up:
House, M.D.

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