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Critical Analysis of Interpersonal Relationships of the Hit 90s Sitcom 'Friends'

Alternate Title: 2000 Words on the TV show Friends that Nobody Ever Asked For

I know, right? Didn't that show end like years ago? Who has thought about it for more than a millisecond since then, other than to brainlessly watch the hours of reruns on 5 different channels at any given time?

Well, me.

I am a rabid fan of Friends. The last few seasons, I recorded every episode (ON VHS) for my friend who didn't have access to it for some reason. I've seen every episode about a billion times. Nobody will play my Friends trivia game with me because no one else can ever win. My favorite episodes: The One with the Blackout, The One Where No One's Ready, and The One with the Embryos. I didn't have to look those up, and I didn't actually really have to think about it.

Just so you know the level of crazy you're dealing with here.

I usually talk about post-production in my blog, since that's what I know. I also like talking about story, and from there, character relationships. I enjoy writing, and thinking deeply about how characters would behave in real life situations in order to build real relationships into a script is something I've been working on. What better exercise than to tear apart a show like Friends? And before I lose you completely, know that my point is to demonstrate that you can think critically about storytelling anywhere, even aged must see TV with laugh tracks.

Plus, editorial on Friends is not that interesting to me, at least from a technique perspective. It's a multi-camera show, and I watched a vignette about the editing of it once. It was cool at the time, and now it's more of a "aw that's quaint" kind of a thing. It's an adequately edited sitcom, that's pretty much all I have to say about that.

Here's a weird thing. Friends ran through the 90s into 2003, so when I watched it I was pretty young. It ended when I was about 15..maybe 17. I was just watching a rerun the other night (duh) from later in the series (not even the beginning!) and someone referred to Monica as a baby-crazy 25 year old woman. I'm 26. It is weird to age when these characters will never get any older.

Anyway, now being older and having some knowledge of story and characters, when I think about the various relationships on the show, I get kind of irked.

[I would say spoiler alert, but seriously?]


First, Monica and Chandler. Here's my problem with the Monica/Chandler relationship. I didn't like that they ended up together from a random drunken hookup, especially considering she was looking for Joey originally. I liked the characters together though, so I wasn't really bothered. I could basically write that off as a thing that happened if I really had to, but it felt like a cheap ploy to quickly get them together without any of the messy character junk. How do you bring two characters together that have had a good platonic relationship for YEARS and originally hated each other with a 22 minute-at-a-time run-time? Get them drunk in London, I guess.

However, I did feel like Janice was Chandler's great love, and he let his immaturity allow her to get away, but only because the writers made her more unbearable than any person really ever would be. He was annoyed at her quirks and eventually broke up with her because he couldn't take it, and we cheered for him because OH. MY. GAWD, right? That kind of sucks for Janice, as a character. But to a less interesting degree, I can see this happening in life. Then there was the point when they accidentally met online and got back together, but Janice was in an unhappy marriage at the time and Chandler decided he didn't want to break them up since they had a kid. So they probably would have ended up together.

But then at the end of the series they go for the cheap shot with Janice, bringing her back for a couple last gags where Chandler is completely repulsed by her. And I don't believe that for a second. Chandler is an impressionable guy, and he just takes on the repulsion from Monica. Deep down, he's still hot for Janice. There were multiple times when he was totally fine with being with her forever, what changed? Nothing, just poor writing. His character goes from A to C without any of the stuff in the middle, and the audience buys it because "hahaha, Janice is legit stupid, yo."

Now, an example of a decade-long platonic relationship becoming something else that I felt really failed: I never bought Rachel and Joey as a thing. Joey starts to see Rachel as more than a friend suddenly, then Rachel does the same, and it's all this weird sort of convenient-to-the-plot bullshit for a while. But then they make out and are instantly repulsed by each other? Wha? I guess I can see what they're going for here, trying to illustrate the idea of suddenly being in love, and suddenly dropping out of love from a lack of sexual chemistry, but it's like preschool level interpretation. This relationship was just a way to pass the time, and it was rather silly from a writing perspective. Audience manipulation at best.

Phoebe and Mike are lovely and I wished they were together longer so we could see how that turned out. They had their moments of well that's a little convenient, namely when they decided to move in together before discussing marriage, Phoebe realized Mike didn't want to get married and she did, then they call it off, then they're back in in dramatic fashion when she's being proposed to by an old lover. The later seasons of Friends were pretty hard to believe compared to the early ones, but I guess you have to figure out how to keep it interesting somehow. I always appreciated that the writing was easy to related to even if it was dramatized, and the last few seasons lost that edge.

There's a big part of me that felt Richard and Monica were the best relationship on the show. Plus she was infertile, so they could have totally skipped kids anyway! Not that Monica, the baby-crazy 25 year old (really? How many single girls do I know that have considered sperm donors? None!) would have been good with that idea. I think in the end, Richard just wanted to be back with Monica (another oh no I've been proposed to by two guys in one day situation) out of loneliness and that wouldn't have worked very well. Once they did have kids, he would have eventually resented them AND Monica and would have probably jumped off a building or something. Pete (Jon Favreau) was her best choice. He was cool as hell, and he would have gotten over the whole cage fighting thing after a while. To break up with him because you can't see him hurting himself? Bummer, and a lame way to write off a recurring character.

And here's the big one: I DEFINITELY didn't think Ross and Rachel should have ever been together. The writing for their relationship was among the worst in any sitcom, ever. They could have been interesting, but the writers never knew how to deal with them when they were together. They were an interesting couple, having a history and coming into each others' lives here and there. But they were boring together, so they constantly split them apart. When Ross cheated originally (WE WERE ON A BREAK -- no Ross, that's not cool), that should have been the end. But then they go on to make a whole series of poor decisions together. Yipee!

Rachel's ending was dreadfully bad, too. Her story within Friends was about growing up, gaining independence, figuring out what she wanted out of life, and making it happen. In a way, the entire show was really about her specifically because she actually had a full character arc. Minus the complications of Ross along the way, a love which is more out of convenience than anything, she followed a pretty good, believable path. She didn't always take big steps forward, and that made her character believable and likable. Then by the end, she's made it as a fashion executive and a single mom, and she's got the chance of a lifetime to live her dream in Paris. She'll finally be free of the constant distraction of Ross and meet a nice french man who will actually not be neurotic. 

So what do they do? Have Rachel ditch Paris at the last minute to come back to Ross, for the 8th or 9th time. Oh yes, it'll stick THIS TIME! Way to go, writers. You destroy a decade's worth of character development by making her too co-dependent to take the next step in life and get the f*** away from her crazy on-again-off-again boyfriend of 12 years. Normal people don't DO this. I hated it so much. And their feelings all came back around to one drunken hookup that re-awakened things. I'm sorry, but that's also not a thing that usually happens. I understand it's a sitcom and you can't exactly portray a complex moment of weakness turning into love or whatever, but come on! We went down this road with these characters over and over, and there was NO indication that this time they were different people besides the fact they made a baby. It made Rachel weak and Ross stupid, and that was the end. What does that tell women who followed Rachel's story and drew inspiration from it?

While I'm on the topic of making babies, I'll comment on one of the high points of the show, in my opinion: that Monica and Chandler couldn't conceive. I can't remember that ever being a topic that had come up in a sitcom, let alone a prime time sitcom, and I appreciated seeing that side of a relationship and how they dealt with it, especially because of Monica's previously mentioned obsession with babies. It was a great way to approach the whole "baby episode event!!!" in a fresh, modern way. This was a real situation that the characters had to deal with and figure out instead of some cheap audience manipulation like running to the airport at the last possible second. The easy way to go would have been getting Monica pregnant with twins and hilarity ensues. Instead, she has to deal with the fact her dream won't come out just the way she thought it would, which is often how things actually go. At least a lot more often than getting proposed to by two guys at once.

As I think critically about characters and how they interact, digging into television I enjoy or used to enjoy is actually a pretty interesting exercise. You're familiar with the characters and stories, but when you look at them critically, it's often quite different. It also helps me to avoid a lot of the tropes, or use them effectively. With a show like Friends where you have 6 primary characters interconnecting with each other and doing little else, there's a lot of angles to consider. And loads more short term relationships I didn't even think about.

(Notice that I didn't touch on the unbelievability of their living conditions or work life, or the fact they're always sitting around together at a coffee shop. I want the people themselves to be real, but if I wanted to watch 6 people try to live in a shoebox with no air conditioning in the Village, I'd probably find something on HBO instead. My belief is effectively suspended in the ways that matter.)

Story isn't just important for writing. As an editor, I obviously have to cut things in a way that are believable. If I don't understand how humans talk to each other (and I often don't), I can't cut a scene in a believable way. That's how I'm justifying this rant, anyway. The TV box tells me things.

You can find storytelling exercises anywhere. Even on TBS, six times a night.

There you have it. My bizarre fandom in 2000 words on a television show that ended a decade ago. I regret nothing.


Posted by: Kylee Wall on Dec 3, 2012 at 8:11:49 amComments (6) friends, storytelling
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