Sh*t I Used To Watch – Friends

In this new series of posts, I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favourites TV shows of yesteryear, and some which I’m watching at the moment. In ‘Sh*t I Used To Watch’ I’ll reminisce about some TV shows that I used to watch, from my childhood up until roughly the time I graduated from University – by and large these will be shows that I haven’t watched since that period, or have only caught a small numbers of episodes of. In ‘Sh*t I Watch’ I will talk briefly about the shows I’m watching at the moment, and will deal with both current series which have not yet been cancelled or completed, and those which I am catching up on having missed first time around. I’ll try to post one of these each week, but as regular Glancers will be aware, my regular posts are fairly irregular. Some of the shows in both categories which I’ll talk about will be ones you should all be familiar with, while others will be extremely niche and I can only imagine about three other people will have ever heard of.

So no-one told you life was gonna be this way? Either a question or a statement, the opening words of one of the most recognisable songs of the 90s spoke volumes about the show it appeared on – the all-conquering Friends. The show was about 6 twentysomethings living, working, and loving in New York and followed their various relationships and tribulations over 10 Seasons. It rejuvenated the stale sitcom format, launching the careers of its six main cast members, garnering rave reviews and massive worldwide audiences, and remains incredibly influential. On paper, the shows sounds like something I would never choose to watch; Lord knows if was only created and shown today for the first time it would be packed with too many smiling faces, reality stars, and a multitude of other reasons to not watch. When it first aired in the UK, I was 12 years old (arggghh) and it was a pretty big hit amongst certain groups of my peers. I remember a lot of people in school talking about it, and although most of the people who were talking about it were those whose opinions I didn’t care for, and although they made it sound much worse than it actually was, a few people whose brains I actually did trust also loved it. In short, I’m not sure why I eventually decided to watch it – I’ve never been one to give in to peer pressure, the show sounded rubbish, but for some reason I watched it. And when I did, I was hooked.

What people who haven’t seen Friends don’t realise is that it isn’t a simple, standard sitcom featuring unrealistically pretty people in unrealistic situations. While it was trendy, while the people involved are too pretty, and while many critics and fans did focus on the more shallow and less important aspects of the show, it was, and still is an incredibly well written show, and features exceptional comedic performances. Much of the humour is zany and offbeat, but not in the obvious way and not in the ironic way seen nowadays. It was a very slight touch – often only a single moment in a single episode. While I never really got wrapped up in the who’s dating who aspect of the show, the characters did grow on me quickly, and I did eventually want certain characters to end up with each other. The show played this card a little too often over the ten years, and a little excessively towards the end, but at its peak it was extremely good at being charming and making the viewer root for someone they loved.

Arguably my favourite funny moment of the show is something that no-one else would ever think of. It was in one of the first few episodes, and Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe appear to be having a sleepover on their balcony. The girls are a little tipsy while talking about relationships. Rachel leans forwards and her cushion falls off the balcony; there’s a beat, and the group continue their chat. For no greater insight into my personality – I’m laughing my nuts off thinking about it now, while you are staring at the screen wondering why that’s funny and thinking what the hell is wrong with me. As I continued to watch, I got into the swing of the dialogue, grew to love each of the friends, saw the highest of high quality of the writing, and even got drawn into the various love duels – one in particular.

Yes, in another time I may say I’m ashamed to say i got drawn into such things, especially as everyone else was talking about the will they, won’t they nature of Ross and Rachel, but for a couple of Seasons there it was wonderful. Even though Ross is a bit of a knob who almost falls into all those ‘Nice Guy’ tropes and traps, there is still something loveable about how inept he was, and it was clear for everyone that he was perfect for Rachel. This all peaks of course in The One With The Prom Video – a flashback episode where the gang find an old Video featuring their younger selves preparing for Prom. For some reason Ross really does not want to watch the video, but everyone else does. We assume for much of the episode that Ross is simply embarrassed about everyone seeing what a doofus he was, but the selfless act at the end leads to one of my favourite moments in the show. But before that, we get plenty of hilarious moments which the writers would revisit with lesser effect throughout the series – Monica’s weight, Chandler’s attraction to trends, Ross’s gradual steps from one strand of geekdom (and his music which is visited later to excellent effect) to another etc. As the Prom video progresses we see that even then Ross was infatuated by Rachel and is upset when he sees that Rachel has been stood up by her date. Upon his parents’ insistence, Ross gets dressed in his tuxedo to offer to take Rachel to the prom (with comedy stair-falling), but just as he is about to come downstairs to ask her if she will go with him he catches Rachel leaving with Monica and their dates – it turns out Rachel’s date was simply late; Ross is broken and the video is turned off. We see that this is why Ross didn’t want the gang to see the video, but as he readies himself for a comic backlash, Rachel approaches him and gives him one of the greatest kisses in TV history. Yay! Fade to black and end the series on a high! Ah, I’m tearing a little at the memory of it, and I still remember the feeling of joy now.

Aside from the main characters, the show had a large and varied cast of recurring characters – some excellent actors who would appear in a handful of episodes, or others who would continue to appear over the 10 Seasons – the various parents of each character, Janice, Gunther, Carol and Susan, Julie, Pete, Mr Heckles, Estelle, Emily – all of them and more felt like real people and not simple two-dimensional figures thrown in to serve some random plot. The show also drew the best of Hollywood as guest stars – Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, George Clooney –  the list goes on, and each made a lasting impact. The show was a cultural phenomenon and everyone wanted a slice. Arguably no show before or since has seen such adoration from fans and critics, and seen so many A-Listers falling over themselves to be a part of it.

The Simpsons has a claim to this of course, but roughly since its 10th Season the show has become a depressingly awful abomination
The Simpsons has a claim to this of course, but roughly since its 10th Season the show has become a depressingly awful abomination

Another favourite memory of mine is the double Wedding episode set in London. Rachel has rushed to London to stop Ross from marrying Emily and the series ends on a stinking cliffhanger. I remember that when this was first shown in the UK, there was a break between when this episode ended and when the new series began. I can’t recall what the delay was  – it may have been only a week, or it may have been a few months. Luckily one of my friends and me had RTE – the television service of the Irish Republic, which just happened to be showing the new episode of the new series that very night – just after the British broadcast ended. Remember that this was before all the internetting and Tweetbooking we have nowadays, so being one of a select few who were able to catch the new episode and get the resolution to the cliffhanger was a real coup.

Over time though I gradually lost my way with the show. The show began to re-tread similar ideas and I began watching other stuff. I would still tune in the odd time to catch an episode or two, but I didn’t like what I saw – there seemed to be a shift in the humour, the performances were too self-aware, and stories of the actors being paid ridiculous amounts of money all pissed me off. The show seemed to have hit its peak and wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t until after the show had officially ended that I returned to it. My girlfriend at the time (later to be my wife) had most of the Seasons on DVD so we had a bargain that I would watch all of Friends with her if she would watch all of Buffy. It was win win for me then as I already liked Friends  and was interested in watching it all again, and I love seeing people’s opinion’s of Buffy changing as they inevitably fall in love with it (took her until the 2nd Season like most people). It turns out that I was right and wrong about the final seasons of Friends – yes the show did become bloated, the actors did become overpaid, but the writing for the large part shone through. Although none of the major plots gripped me as much as the early season plots did, there were still a lot of highlights – Ross and his keyboard, Paul Rudd coming on board, and many other smaller moments, and there were some low points – Rachel and Joey’s relationship being entirely unconvincing and silly.

Nope
Nope

So, for a few years there in my early teens Friends became required Friday night viewing, with each episode being discussed with…ahem… friends on Monday morning. It’s been a few years now since I’ve watched any of it, but I imagine it is still as fresh as ever, and those pieces that may not be so fresh will be saved by nostalgia – funny is always funny if the writing and performances are good. The show is definitely seen as a watershed of the 90s, but it was so smart, and had such an easy and smooth transition between slapstick, satire, pathos, romance, and tragedy, that it’s quality will always ensure it will be watchable. Anyone who ignored the show for any of the reasons I give above, or any other reason, I would advise you to give the show a try – a brief run of episodes in order would be best to get accustomed to the characters and not what you imagine them to be. Some of the acting in the first series isn’t great, but that is greatly improved by the time Season 2 comes along and many of the gimmicks are dropped. It’s a quick and easy show to watch, and there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy in there.

Did you watch Friends religiously when it was first broadcast, or did you come to the show later? What are your favourite moments, episodes, and memories of watching? Let us know in the comments!

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