I Finally Watched Friends – A Retrospective 16 Years On

I’ll start off with a simple admission: Until now I’d never watched Friends. I was familiar with particular moments throughout the show’s run, from Ross’s slip up at the altar to “Emily” (Rachel), to Monica and Chandler and the Joey memes. When asked why I’d never watched the show, I’d remark that I wasn’t a nineties kid, that I’d grown up in a new era of TV.

Instead, I spent my time with sitcoms such as How I Met Your MotherThe Big Bang Theory, and The Office. However, I can now safely say, after more than sixteen years since the finale aired and with a reunion imminent, Friends is a classic sitcom and a staple to the world of television. In much the same way Breaking Bad or The Sopranos are considered two of the greatest crime dramas ever produced, Friends is most certainly one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. 

So this is what led me to write some thoughts. I want to begin with the show’s development over time. An obstacle that befalls many iconic sitcoms, and in particular the three examples listed earlier, comes from the show stagnating as the years go by. For The Office, the show’s quality declined around its sixth season, while the final nail in the coffin for many fans came following Steve Carell’s exit. 

I’d argue that How I Met Your Mother’s later seasons (six onwards) suffered from a gradual decline in quality, and worse of all, on top of needlessly endless pop culture references and a bloated wedding weekend stretched perilously thin across their ninth and final season. Not to mention the decision to kill off the titular mother so suddenly within the final minutes of the finale. 

With Friends, the show maintained its quirky, honest appeal from beginning to end, failing to falter despite running for ten seasons that consisted of twenty-plus episodes a season. That is a tall order, and one few sitcoms ever manage to surmount. This type of consistency is not only rare in sitcoms, but to a wider array of television shows in general, and should be applauded. Of course, we need to talk about the show’s main cast, whose immeasurable talent on screen and passion for the sitcom elevated Friends to a level far more profound and compelling than words on the scripted page could ever deliver. 

From Chandler’s sarcasm and endless one-liners, Monica’s obsessional attitude to cleanliness and order, Joey’s bad acting and love for food, Phoebe’s eccentricity and questionable skills on the guitar, to the will they/won’t they Ross and Rachel storyline, I found myself utterly immersed by the trials and tribulations of six ordinary people’s lives. Never once did I find myself bored or in fear the showrunners were retreading the same ground. An equal amount of credit has to be honoured to David Crane and Marta Kauffman, who were responsible for keeping the show fresh, moving Friends on year in year out with a new exciting direction and promise.

The show’s best moments, to name a few, because we’d be here until the end of time listing them all otherwise, would have to be Season 2’s “The One With The Prom Video”, an elegantly woven story of unrequited love between Ross and Rachel. Or Season 5’s short montage of Chandler dropping things in “The One With The Ball” (the hardest I’ve ever laughed throughout the show’s run). 

Others include the quiz from “The One With The Embryos”, to the Season 4 finale of Ross and Emily’s wedding, perhaps one of the best cliffhangers ever produced for television.  

Suffice to say, I exit Netflix after the credits roll on the finale, fulfilled and smiling with the knowledge that I’m now one of the club, but most importantly, that I’ve been given the opportunity to experience Friends relatively unburdened by spoilers.

So much so I’m actually going to miss the show now I’m finished. Perhaps one day I’ll do another run. It’s how sitcoms should be made, and it’s a production countless others have imitated since. Truth be told, none compare. The hilarity and humour of Friends are equally matched in the show’s honest portrayal of real life, love, heartbreak, and tragedy. It’s not perfect, but then nothing ever is. 


Matt Bailey

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