Classes are back in session (well, a new school venture for me!) and with that, I’m rewatching all of Friends again to procrastinate. I’ve watched this show so many times over, and I love it just as much each time. I’m always finding something new to love and think about, so what better place to talk about it than here?
Let’s start with the most important: the six friends. I have always loved Rachel, Ross, and Chandler most, although maybe not always in that order. What’s great about each of the characters is that they seem to embody different parts of most real people. Everyone is a little eccentric, or nerdy, or popular, or maybe a bit of a clean freak, and all of those characters are loved despite how much those oddities are highlighted. The characters actually developed really well each season, and from the start of the first episode to the 236th, that’s no small feat.
Rachel is at the height of her flighty-ness this season, unsurprising since the show starts as she’s fleeing a wedding, but what I love about her comes later when she loses some of that immaturity and starts developing into a stronger, more intelligent woman. She’s always a little flaky and silly, but also driven and courageous. This season, she has a fling with Paulo and is really looked at as the sexual character and the one audiences should sexualize. Although this isn’t too overt and she’s not put into many compromising positions, she’s the one everyone finds attractive: Ross likes her, Joey was interested when he first met her, Paulo goes for her – and that’s one of the only big connections to dating we have in the first season.
Chandler is kind of dopey, and if it wasn’t for his humour (or, Matthew Perry’s delivery) he’d be really dull. In the first season they play up his lack of skill with women by giving him few conquests – but when he does pursue a woman, it quickly fails or the girl is only interested because of his lack of charm. That changes in later years turning from lack of success to a fear of commitment. I guess they thought that fear allowed for more character development. But this season, let’s just enjoy how aloof he is.
Ross and Phoebe are awful (but kind of amazing) this season. Ross has always been one of my favourites, but I only realised recently just how whiny he is. Especially this season when he desperately pines after Rachel and moans about his pregnant ex-wife, which really got annoying. But there’s so much that I love about him, too. I never realised how much he enunciated until really paying attention to it this time around. It gives me life – and I live for his sarcasm. He’s also an intelligent character, and basically working my dream job. Curator at a museum? Yes, please!! As much as he is whiny and annoying, that also makes him a great straight-backdrop for some of the more silly jokes of Chandler and Joey.
Although I don’t mind Lisa Kudrow and she’s sometimes a fun addition to the show, Phoebe has always been (and likely always will be) my least favourite character. I just don’t feel like she adds much substance to the show until later in the series (basically, when she’s seriously looking for love). Once she calms down a little I enjoy her a lot more, but in the first season, she’s really off-the-rails loopy to the extent that I honestly don’t understand how she’s friends with everyone in the group. Good thing she wasn’t primed to be one of the major characters in the first season, so she gets a lot less airtime than some of my favourites.
Since they’re doing the most intense version of each character this season, Joey’s philandering gets played up big time. “How you doing” became one of the most memorable lines of the show for a reason. I’ll never really understand how he got so many women to bed with how he acted, but that part doesn’t really matter. He’s also proven to be quite dumb and in later seasons they play up his sweetness so he’s a bit more endearing. This season, I don’t love him though.
Last up is Monica, the former fat girl who used to be friends with Rachel in high school (which has never made sense to me) and is now super skinny and OCD. Her relationship with Ross and the immediate bond she forms with Rachel in the first season are probably a big part of why I love her and the show early on because otherwise, the whole group wouldn’t feel that cohesive.
How were big issues handled in the 90s?
When talking about female characters on TV and in movies, people still love bringing up the Bechdel test. Basically: do women have conversations without men, that aren’t about men? But that gets a little more tricky in shows like this since 3 out of 6 of the main group of friends are men. I understand the point of the test is to make sure the men aren’t dominating every scene, but how would that work here?
If the women talk about men a lot, then the same can be said the other way, around. Ross is always talking about Rachel, his ex-wife Carol, or his sister Monica. Joey has many romances, and Chandler is obsessed with his inability to find women. The women almost have more diverse conversations, also focusing on jobs, family, and trying to feel like they’re in control of their lives despite all the negative influences around them.
As Friends started in 1994, there are different attitudes towards some issues as well They throw in a lot of casual gay jokes throughout the series and although they never seem intended to really hurt anybody, it’s also not something that really hits nowadays. But, the big problem about this show is that everyone is white. In the first season, it’s like New York City became the least diverse city in America. It certainly wasn’t the only show not to have any POC in the main cast, and there’s still a lot of shows that struggle with diversity today. Unfortunately, they rarely improve on this front.
I was really stingy with my favourites this season because I had so much to say about the characters and big topic issues – but get ready for much longer lists next time around.
- 1×01: The Pilot. It’s an odd choice as a lot of pilots are really bad, but the first episode of Friends really starts off the whole series wonderfully. We get a lot of great character background that doesn’t feel forced – it helps that Rachel is thrust into this group so we can get our footing. The fact that they use clips of classic moments from this episode throughout the series proves audiences developed an immediate connection with these characters and loved this show.
- 1×04: The One with George Stephanopoulos. There’s a girly sleepover as all the men head out to a hockey game. Sure, it’s conforming to men-like-sports and girls-have-pillow-fights but… it’s also incredibly fun. I love having girls nights (Bachelor and wine nights, hello!) and they do talk about real-life things like jobs and success, along with relationships. We also have our first use of the word floopy which is something I still say to this day, so it’s a perfect episode on that front alone. As for the guys, Chandler’s interactions with the nurse at the ER is one of my favourite moments of the entire series.
- 1×07: The One with the Blackout. Chandler’s trapped with a supermodel, everyone’s hanging out during a blackout, Ross’ feelings for Rachel really blossom in our view, and Rachel starts a fling with Paulo (who was never attractive). It starts a fantastic arc that lasts all 10 seasons. But really, my favourite part is Chandler’s mental notes the whole episode while trying to talk to Jill Goodacre. That’s when he clearly became one of my favourite characters on TV.
- 1×24: The One Where Rachel Finds Out. And here’s the start of the rest of the series – again, due to Chandler. I don’t love this episode so much for itself, but more because of everything it gave us. The writers were confident enough to leave the first season with a relationship cliffhanger, and they turn the tables on the whole Ross and Rachel setup. Suddenly giving Rachel that insecurity of desire was a great change.
You can watch all seasons of Friends on Netflix, so what are you waiting for! But tell me, what are your favourite things about season one? Who are your favourite characters? Let me know on Twitter @reviewsbylauren!