Classic Comedy: Friends

classic comedy friendsIs there anything that hasn’t been said about this ‘lightning in a bottle’ of a show?

Were you looking for reviews and couldn’t find one (aside from this)? Well… neither can I. Until I included ‘Blu-Ray’ to my search terms. This gives me the feeling that a lot of viewers of the show were introduced because the show was playing in the background of an informal get together. I do wonder if Peach doing reruns of the show is more for those who like to have it in the background (like music lovers when they listen to their favourite album).

After more searches later, I discovered that using each of the character’s names is the key: Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), Ross Geller (David Schwimmer). I found out all sorts of tidbits (like LEGO figures of each of the characters complete with Central Perk as the backdrop or episodes being shown at the cinema last year). The media presence of the actors who play the characters have overshadowed actual writeups about the show, that it’s likely that I may never find reviews (aside from DVD releases or essays about the cultural impact of the show) that have been written during its ten-year run.

While it’s peers (like ‘Frasier’ and ‘Mad About You’) have not been able to age well, I find out from the comments of clips on YouTube that one of the reasons it’s managed to still make us laugh is the wide variety of humour. While ‘Frasier’ thrives on farce and ‘Mad About You’ excels at the everyday, ‘Friends’ arsenal consist of hyperbole, subtle, silly, goofy, dark, wry…it’s like all the kinds of humour were crammed in and somehow it came across as something that happened everyday.

The setup? Pretty simple: six friends experience the ups and downs of living in New York. No matter whether it’s the first or the tenth season, the premise doesn’t change, though thankfully the characters do (even Chandler who’s fearful of change and being truly open to find love). The pace of change might not be a speedy as ‘The Good Place‘, and sometimes there are humans who do need that long so it’s forgivable.

The big struggle to see how much of a groundbreaking show it was during the time it aired is its influence on what a the half-hour comedy format is capable of. It’s likely if you weren’t able to last between commercial breaks (if you were watching a syndication via a free-to-air network), that’s a hint that you might have watched other shows that have been influenced by the creation of David Crane And Marta Kauffman. When new shows fail to impress me, sometimes it’s because it is attempting to recreate from something I’ve already seen and hasn’t been able to add something new.

Similarly to how I am probably unable to watch any more episodes of ’24’ (a pioneer in Action Thrillers). A pioneering TV show (or film) is eventually going to age and get to a point that they would only be viewed by those who have deep interest in early influences. Unfortunately, that is not me. An exception would likely be if I had already viewed the titles, like ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Inception’ and have not come across as successor. This is probably why I’d usually turn to ‘Homeland’ even if it’s less action and more of a Psychological Thriller.

If I were to go through each episode scene by scene, I’d probably come out with a list of ‘gags’ that are inappropriate. Now it makes sense on why viewers concerned with Politically Correct (PC) content were riled up. I watched the scene when Marcel (the white-headed capuchin monkey) goes missing and was saddened when the laughs came when Ross was reacting to the news very unkindly and also piling it on to Rachel (saying that he should have known that something similar would happen). That’s probably another reason why it’s not wise to have live audience during filming (it could turn ugly — just like what happens in soccer matches attended by people who don’t need much excuse to join a violent mob).

For those who are judging Ross on keeping Marcel, remember that he was rescued from a lab (as mentioned in Season 1 Episode 10). We should hand it to the writers that they eventually let the primate move to a sanctuary and not let Ross let him live with him indefinitely. The reason Christians (or at least those who profess they are) struggle to produce films that can be appreciated because of the storytelling is they treat the medium as a pulpit. Just like how adolescents are likely not going to hear you when all you hand to them are one sided cautions, films that try to control the narrative (which slightly doesn’t make sense as there is a director and editor who assemble it) end up with characters that are so thin they seem to have walked out from a skit from Saturday Night Live (SNL).

If you liked the show and really don’t follow it, its inevitable that you’ll come across news about either the show or the actors involved as publications are keeping a close eye on the sort of things the cast are working on. Apparently big money wasn’t only during the final season, there’s also the significant amount of money Netflix decided to pay to keep the show, just for 2019. I mean, I know there are syndication payments and didn’t expect that much of a heft as that is close to paying for a whole new show! And it also looks like Foxtel will pay a similar amount (similar in a way that that both deals are expensive) for syndication rights for 2020. I guess I’m just glad that 2% of that $1 billion the studio is receiving annually for the show is spread to the cast as well.

I definitely thought it was amusing that boxed sets were sold off assuming that the show would be available on streaming forever. Personally, I would only purchase them as a gift or writing reference. Yet the fact that viewers were reminded of the biggest downsides of streaming (compared to owners of physical media) is enough good news that the disc formats (DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K Ultra HD) are here to stay. Friends aired at the time when networks didn’t realise how big business releasing a season and it took the show completing it’s run before it was released. So you couldn’t catch up on the show by just grabbing one of the older seasons. Saying that, I offer you a PSA: If you’re the type who gets a thrill in finding awesome items during garage sales or at a market stall make sure you’re getting a whole season and not a ‘Best Of…‘.

The arc I’ve enjoyed the most is Chandler’s growth from defensive (as he is heavily sarcastic in the early seasons) to a loving and loyal partner to Monica. It’s not that ‘Old Chandler’ would cheat on Monica, it’s more like the lesser version of him wouldn’t be able to fully accept that he is deserving of love (and might unconsciously sabotage the relationship by either finding things wrong or doing something that Monica might not likely forgive him for).

I’m convinced that I’ve seen (or read, as there are fan made transcripts) every episode, but somehow I feel like I’ve missed a couple in Season 8 and 9. It is likely that I haven’t and they were just not as memorable (and fail to live to eternity as a collection of gifs) as set pieces like Rachel’s failed attempt to make an English Trifle (well at least not to Joey). Thanks to having access to extra channels (and more seem to be added) and opting for a DVR since Australia started the digital switch about 10 years ago, I basically just have to find the right month (or week) to find the specific episodes I want to rewatch and have almost unlimited chances (as the syndication rights have transferred from Channel Nine to Channel Ten).

My favourite moment of the show (the episode when Ben is born) is probably when Chandler tries a number of times unsuccessfully on giving the silver lining to Monica, and instead of getting annoyed at her for not appreciating his gesture (by lashing out sarcastically) he just makes a commentary on how he’s crashing and burning (“Dear God! This parachute is a knapsack!”).

As for other proof that the show lives on, I had a peek at a shop that sells films and TV and found out that they carry two notebooks from the show. It was interesting because I could see a 10 year old picking up this one or asking her mum if the show could be queued up for movie night after studying the cover of the second one. It’s still a surprise, and now I’ve been paying attention to all sorts of ‘Friends’ related merchandise, I’m now likely going to see more of them as I visit stores that sell home accessories.

Comedic Highlights:

The show was also known for its big name guest stars and my highlight would definitely be My favourite guests would probably be Paul Rudd (Phoebe’s future life partner: Mike Hannigan). A close second and third are Reese Witherspoon and Christina Applegate who play Rachel’s sisters. Yes, there were duds (don’t worry, I won’t mention them), and rather than focus on them, I’d rather note the ones who crossed over. Both Lisa and Bruce Willis both appeared in ‘Mad About You’, and somehow that makes me want both of them to join Matthew as a guest in ‘The Good Fight’.

If you’re more the kind of viewer who could only stomach anything once (even shows that you really like and enjoy), try watching with a fr—someone (I almost said it!) who also enjoys the show. But if you would like more entertainment (and possibly ‘thanks’), find a human who still hasn’t seen the show (or is outside the age of watching network TV). Your 15-year-old godson? Perfect! Just clear it with his parents first! Because despite the disappointments by newer viewers (those who judge rather than look at the show as an example of good storytelling), I take the disparity a win as it is a sign that there is less ‘insult humour‘ which is one of the things I wasn’t fond of.

Please, if you are writing a half hour comedy. Please…please…please…make this your benchmark! Find the best version of the story! At least if you miss…you might get something like ‘The Neighborhood’ or even ‘The Unicorn’…which are both capable shows that I enjoy…but if you succeed. Well…

Leigh Lim.
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Related Link:
Classic Comedy: The Larry Sanders Show

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