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Why “Friends” Does Not Suck

I was disappointed by yesterday’s finale of Friends (but was not surprised that the writers chose the easy way to tie up plots). The quintessential Friends moment came when Joey decides to break down the Foozball machine and both of them give homage to the miniature wooden players. I saw several good wrapups of what the popularity of Friends means. Joshua Levs speculated that he spent at least 75 hours of his life watching Friends. It reminds me of the last season episode where Joey succumbs to temptation and eats his date’s chocolate dessert while she is away. When she returns to find the cake gone and his face with crumbs of chocolate, Joey shrugs and says, “You know, the funny thing is I’m not even sorry.” Lev wrote:

Friends” helped restore the “situation” in “situation comedy,” because the humor rarely came from jokes — and almost always came from situations that the characters themselves didn’t realize were funny.

In response to this article by Frazier Moore about whether Friends TV show was overrated, I wrote this defense:

I agree that the acting makes the show really great. The guy who plays Joey Tribiani (and even Ross) are just amazingly good. I’m a big fan of Lisa Kudrow too. People criticize the show because it seems too “pretty” or “whitebread” or “shallow” or “unrealistic” (who could afford those apt’s in Manhattan?) or manipulative. Why for example haven’t they moved away from each other yet?

They overlook these things:

  1. the script writing team produces some of the tightest scripts I’ve ever seen on TV
  2. they manage to throw in a romance or two between the friends without seeming too manipulative or crass
  3. the characters don’t have too much depth, but the accumulated backstory provide complexity of motivation. The Ross/Rachel thing is a really complex and well-described relationship/friendship.
  4. some of the situations are just hilarious! (free porn, ugly naked guy, apologizing by sitting in a cardboard box)
  5. while I won’t deny the “superficial” accusation, at least the one-dimensional qualities are well-done and entertaining ( Joey’s stupidity, Monica’s competiveneness, etc)
  6. Like Cheers, the show has a nice story structure (start in the coffee shop and end there).
  7. The writers don’t give the characters too many romances, but  I liked how effortlessly it shifted from being  a show about dating in New York to being a show about well-established relationships.
  8. The writers don’t make any of the characters as bad guys or gals, just as deluded or flawed or Not the One who Ross/Rachel/Phoebe/Joey love.
  9. Just as the characters grow, viewers grow with the show.
  10. great (and great looking) guest stars!

Actually, though I thought last week’s episode (Danny Devito as stripper) was one of the weakest I’d seen in a long time. My main complaint is that the show is reluctant to show major changes in the characters’ lives (like moving away) although they threaten to do so occasionally. My other complaint is that the formulaic sitcom plots and subplots make the whole show seem choppy (2 minute scene, commercial break, 2 minute scene, commercial break, etc).

Leaving aside the unreality of single people living in the same place in the most expensive city in the world, the plain fact is that in this day and age we live far away from friends, people are moving away and you are lucky to be in a coffee shop with even two people who know who you are.

Although I love this TV show, my favorite at the moment is Larry Sanders Show (which by not trying to be funny, manages to be funnier than all the rest of them). Also, Third Rock from the Sun has such an ingenious premise that it allows all kinds of amazing plots. Of course, neither show comes close to All in the Family.

Favorite lines:
Ross to Rachel when she is in stirrups in the delivery room about to give
birth. He knocks his elbow against something and says, “You can’t imagine
how much this hurts
!”

*
Phoebe to Ross’s British girlfriend (Ellen?). Ellen’s British rugby friends are killing Ross on the field.

“I don’t understand,” Ellen said. “I specifically told them to go easy on Ross.”

Well, no offense and all,” Phoebe said, “but sometimes it’s hard to understand you, what with your accent and all.”

*

in an episode where Phoebe and Monica do catering for a funeral wake. In the kitchen afterwards, Monica is reluctant to ask for her payment because the widow seems emotionally distraught. Nonsense, Phoebe says (I’m paraphrasing), she’s not distraught. She’s just taking advantage of you.

Monica: Maybe I’ll ask for the money tomorrow or later in the week.
Phoebe: Nonsense! Look. (Phoebe opens the door to the living room. Cut to the widow standing beside a piano, joyously singing to her friends, “It’s a grand old flag, it’s a high-flying flag.”

Now that was a moment.

See also: My Favorite Sitcoms and Thoughts about Writing a Sitcom .

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Friends IS overrated.. 8/30/2004, 6:22 pm

    Yeah, okay Friends is nowhere near the same league as Cheers. Cheers was original back in the day and Friends just rips off other TV shows. Like the Monica/Chandler sneaking around came from Newsradio. Oh yeah by the way Ross and Rachel are boring and have nowhere nearly as much chemestry as some of the greats like David and Maddie from MOONLIGHTING or Sam and Diane from CHEERS.

  • Robert Nagle 8/31/2004, 6:11 am

    You are not going to find any disagreement from me about Cheers’ superiority to Friends. What’s interesting about Friends is how formulaic it is, and yet how it managed to overcome the limitations of that form. The Rachel/Ross thing just went on for so long that it became a long complicated relationship–and I think viewers like that. In many ways it was just as complex as Sam/Diane (and actually I think Cheers jumped the shark in the last episode where Sam and Diane allegedly get together again.

  • Lauren 3/24/2008, 10:15 am

    Ross’s british girlfriends name was Emily, not Ellen. And FRIENDS is 150 x’s better than Cheers could ever be;). Friends was not a rip off of any shows. Every TV show has similarities with previous shows and I’m sure Cheers was based from an idea of a show almost just like it before its time. Friends and Cheers are NOT the same (and yes, I like Cheers, I’ve watched it).

  • al 1/14/2009, 11:54 am

    If FRIENDS was so great, why didn’t it feature any african americans in it? They were all white n whiney, and rosss way beyond the stereotype of a chiche Jew.

  • Robert Nagle 1/15/2009, 5:35 am

    Al, that didn’t bother me as much as the characters had two extremely nice apartments that they couldn’t possibly hope to afford in real life.

  • FRIENDSBIGGESTFAN!! 2/14/2009, 1:01 am

    i LOVE friends more than anything. No other tv show can compare xD

  • Kate 7/8/2009, 4:45 am

    OMG I LOVE FRIENDS SOOOO MUCH- I WATCH 4 TO EIGHT EPISODES LIKE EVERYDAY SINCE I GOT ALL OF THE SEASONS IN APRIL!! My friends and i actually evenpicked out the characters to us because some of us are really like them. Love friends very much, very funny best tv show ever!!!

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