While at first poorly received by NBC, the portrayal of six young friends trying to make it in the big city managed to climb to the top of the ratings throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Even after twenty years, reruns of Friends play on numerous channels in the US and have gained international recognition. How did this show, primarily regarded by network reviewers as not very entertaining or original, become a phenomenon that we still admire today?
Friends broadened the horizon for other sitcoms to follow. Watching six characters develop simultaneously, all with equal importance and emphasis, was unprecedented. Sitcoms in the past focused on portrayals of the family or other group dynamics, and zeroed-in on a few main story lines. These sitcoms took place in stable surroundings: the comfort of jobs, family and significant others. Friends, in its novelty, held instability at the center of its plot lines. The characters’ jobs, futures, and romantic relationships were, for the most part, all up in the air.
The timeless series relied on something far more relatable than its predecessors: honesty. This group of young friends sat around on a coffee house couch sharing the highs and lows of their careers and love lives. Friends offered the truth (usually ending in a punchline from Chandler) in a novel way that people appreciated. The audience valued Friends for its unapologetic, humorous depiction of life, in all of its chaotic beauty.
Two of our writers, Dinah and Danielle, sat down to watch the beloved series and provide their commentary on some of Friends’ most iconic episodes.
Dinah: Like many avid Netflix fans, I rang in the New Year of 2015 the right way: I started watching Friends on Netflix. After a month to catch up on all the things I never quite got when my friends talked about “unagi” or “the one with…” I finally know, and have now come to love this classic sitcom. Danielle, a lifelong Friends-lover, and I watched four of her favorite episodes to show me the best Friends has to offer.
Danielle: For a veteran like myself, watching Friends with Dinah was like discovering my love for the show all over again. I got to pick the most iconic episodes, with the best lines like “PIVOT!” and “Ahhh salmon skin roll” and share them with her. After watching four episodes, all I could think of were the other episodes we had to watch. Every episode reminded me of other classic moments and lines that I remembered and loved.
Season 6, Episode 17: The One With Unagi
Dinah: “Unagi.” For me, this episode portrays the perfect combination of ironic, often crazy, and just plain fun times with friends. Ross tries to test Phoebe and Rachel’s self-defense skills by “attacking” them multiple times when they least expect it. He even goes so far as to attend a self-defense class himself, to get some tips from the teacher. This light competition and Ross’ ridiculously obsessive nature, combined with the girls’ desire to get him back, is a creative example of the irony and fun inherent in only the truest of friendships.
Danielle: “The One With Unagi” is a classic Friends episode; it has some of the best comedic timing. Ross shouting “DANGER!” at the appropriate moment gets me laughing every time. Each one of the six characters shine through in this episode. The combination of Ross’s insistence on Rachel and Phoebe learning the concept of Unagi (which really is a type of sushi) and all of it’s unexpected surprises makes it one of my favorite Friends episodes.
Season 5, Episode 16: The One With the Cop
Danielle: The One With the Cop has one of the most iconic lines of the entire series, and it represents peak Friends perfection. All I have to do is hear Ross’s emphatic “PIVOT!” and I dissolve into giggles. This episode also highlights Phoebe’s wonderful quirkiness when she finds a lost cop badge; throughout the episode she uses her “cop power” to do good deeds, like make people apologize to trees. Her lovable, albeit, completely ridiculous misadventures are always good for a laugh.
Dinah: Phoebe acts morally in an unconventional way, and gets a date because of it. One of the reasons I love Friends is the way each character makes you laugh on the surface but also has depth in development. In this episode, Phoebe’s caring nature shines through the hilarious premise of using a police badge she found in Central Perk to stop people from making bad choices. Phoebe may be the wildcard of the group, but there is always room for Phoebe to be the voice of reason and loved for just being Phoebe.
Season 3, Episode 16: The One With the Morning After
Dinah: In this episode, we learn that “taking a break” from the relationship meant different things to Ross and Rachel. Devastated that Ross cheated (which resulted in the breakup), I couldn’t help but rewind a few episodes and live in sitcom bliss where no one fights and everyone lives happily ever after. But, the end of this episode proves that Friends is unlike other sitcoms: Things are left unresolved between Ross and Rachel, much like they would be in real life. Ross and Rachel may never ever get back together, or maybe they will, and we will undoubtedly be hitting that next episode button in order to find out.
Danielle: Honestly this episode just depresses me. I think that in most sitcoms when something sad happens there isn’t too much weight to it, because the writers try to keep it fun and light. But when Ross and Rachel break up, there isn’t much to laugh at. Their separation is heartbreaking for everyone involved. However, out of tragedy comes comedy. This episode gives rise to one of the show’s most famous running jokes, and after rewatching this episode I must say Ross and Rachel were most definitely NOT on a break.
Season 5, Episode 14: The One Where Everybody Finds Out
Dinah: Finding out isn’t all Phoebe and Chandler do in this episode. The twisted web of secrets and pranks between Chandler and Monica and Phoebe and Rachel culminates in one of the funniest scenes yet: Chandler and Phoebe kiss, only to be stopped by Chandler telling Monica he loves her. The comfort and bond in their close friendships shaped Friends into something no one wants to be kept secret.
Danielle: I love this episode because we get adorable Mondler moments, but it’s hilarious at the same time. We say goodbye to Ugly Naked Guy, and the show’s best couple is finally outed. The One Where Everybody Finds Out establishes a new era of Friends. Ross starts over after his second divorce, and Chandler goes from being a notorious commitment-phobe to being in a stable, long-lasting relationship. With Ross living across the street and Chandler and Monica’s relationship in the open, the group’s dynamic is changed for the better.
A couple of additional friends’ thoughts on Friends:
“Ross makes me feel better about myself.”
“I love Chandler’s sarcasm.”
“Phoebe is my spirit animal.”
“How does Rachel’s hair always look so good?”
“I want to be a Rachel, but I’m probably a Monica.”
“How YOU doin’, Joey?”
Even if you haven’t seen Friends, you still may know the characters and the storyline. There are one-liners and even whole episodes that any Friends fan can recite with ease. With many more episodes still to go, I must say these favorites are some of the best we’ve seen so far. Laughs, friends, and Friends? They go hand in hand.
What’s your favorite Friends moment or quote? Tweet to @HalftimeGU to share your thoughts.