100 Greatest Television Series

100: Friends

Posted in 1990s,Greatest TV Series,Sitcoms by Kirsten on July 23, 2009
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Honestly, if I had been a NBC exec in the early 90s and heard the pitch for this show- six single friends living in New York City- I would have passed. Why? On the surface, it all seems kind of- blah. But then again, I would have passed on Seinfeld’s ” It’s about nothing” premise, so all this tells you is that I should never be a T.V. exec. But it’s also meant to illustrate that once upon a time, simple premises made for likable T.V. pilots that turned into really funny T.V. shows.

Would Friends succeed today? I actually believe it would. The show holds up well for multiple viewings, and while certain references may be dated, the core conceit of these six twenty-somethings living and loving in NYC is anything but old.  Jokes still come fast and furious, the cast still charms, and the writing is still sharp.

Friends is also one of the first sitcoms I can remember that came with what we now call a mythology, but is really more of an accidental series long question. Creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane admitted that the romance that fuelled the show was originally to be between Monica and Joey. It takes some smart, flexible TV show runners to throw original plans out the window upon seeing the chemistry between two secondary costars like David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston. The Ross and Rachel love story also did not play out like a TV cliche. Yes, there were moments of sitcom cuteness, and the will they/won’t they was drawn out to ridiculous extremes, but the point is it wasn’t easy. Real life is never easy, why should TV be so simplistic. The Ross and Rachel break up episode ( ” The One With the Morning After”) remains one of my personal favorite half hours of television in history- it was real. It wasn’t pat, it wasn’t irrationally over the top, it was the way two people would behave when trust is broken down in a relationship. Ross and Rachel were never the same again, even as they repaired their friendship, had accidental name slips at the altar, drunkenly wed in Vegas, have a baby, and go through numerous other relationships.

Then there was the surprise of Courteney Cox Arquette’s anal Monica and Matthew Perry’s clownish Chandler. I never saw it coming, but that relationship again seemed grounded in reality. They were both scared that the friendship would change, only to realize it did, but for the better. It’s the type of romance that can only come with growth and maturity, particularly for Chandler. Again, it was never easy, and even after the wedding, the realism of infertility hit them, and that and the adoption story were well done.

I guess my over riding point about Friends is this: there were six stock characters- dumb guy, funny guy, geeky guy, flaky girl, the princess, and the neurotic girl. This show could have flailed for six episodes and then been pulled. But the writers refusal to allow their stock characters to remain static and never fearing change, this sitcom about latte loving people remains fresh, funny, and real.