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Looking back at FRIENDS 25 Years Later: The First Show I Fell In Love With

Keli writes about her love for Friends on its 25th anniversary.

I first discovered Friends when I was six or seven. The ensemble comedy was constantly talked about between my two sisters during the time, how the interplay of characters was humorously involving and every moment from Chandler’s sarcasm to Monica’s quirkiness resulted in countless sore belly-laughs. It even resulted in some of my brothers displaying their interest towards the sitcom, which kind of left me feeling disengaged from the rest of them. I wanted to feel the same way they were all feeling, I wanted to know what “Smelly Cat” was, what “Unagi” was all about, and what “we were on a break” actually meant.

So, as the VHS tapes of all the seasons stood stacked and bearing down at me in our small, enclosed cupboard, I chose one at random, stuck it in the video-player, and awaited to see what the whole fuss was about. But, as I learned when the bright umbrellas of the bubbly opening titles struck the small box television screen, it wasn’t actually the “fuss” I was making it out to be. I’d soon learned what everyone else was feeling and absorbing from the group of six friends that drank coffee and lived, timelessly, through each other’s lives and apartments. The show carried a sense of warmth about it, an inspiration that, through countless reruns, made us decipher if we’d ever come across similar people—or perhaps similar experiences?

Each episode was an hilarious escape from reality into a story-line that shone, with both drama and great humor, the ongoing, sometimes stagnating, and drastic changes life can have on you. I think that’s why people loved it so much, and why I carried that same feeling. It was the first show that I’d seen that depicted adulthood as something real and authentic, a show that can be hilarious and genuine at the same time; which mostly correlates to the fact that it was the first show that I fell deeply in love with.

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Friends (1994-2004) – source: Warner Bros. Studios

It’s hard to believe that a group of five friends suddenly became six, twenty-five years ago. Monica’s estranged friend Rachel had just stumbled into the small decor of coffeehouses, Central Perk, dripping wet in a wedding dress and veil—unknowingly enough allowing one of the most influential and life-altering TV shows to be born. A show in which millions across the world, including myself, would wholeheartedly cherish and recite to ourselves, family and friends, for years to come. 

There hasn’t been a sitcom that truly depicts life among the post-college adolescent phase the way Friends has done. Following the life of Ross Geller (Schwimmer), Joey Tribbiani (LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Perry), Monica Geller (Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Kudrow) and Rachel Green (Aniston), and the New York City lights that shined down from 1994 to 2004, it’s necessary to note that the sitcom poises the realistic strike out that growing up and finding a place on your own can have on an individual—especially across these six characters. They’re facing a time in their life when they have to have the best health, the most freedom, the most disposable income (if not likely the most total income) and the most fun—a pleasure they’re fortunate to endure as they can share it with each other: the people they love.

The phase when they have to “settle down” both career-wise and family-wise…I have always found to appreciate. Friends depicts quite accurately the settlement of adulthood with both drama and hilarity, and since starting the show, up until now, ten-years on, the show has made me contemplate this track of time in my life quite often—particularly due to the fact that I’ve seen myself in most of the roles. If it wasn’t for Friends, the adult world would beckon on me with the strongest intent that I wouldn’t know what to do with it. But, thanks to it accumulating a decade of my life, I can, seemingly enough, live and learn like Ross; be successful like Chandler, have a passion like Joey; succeed like Monica; adjust my ways like Rachel; and be truthful like Phoebe.

It might not mean a lot for certain people, but there’s more heart than there is laughs throughout the show—that I’ve picked up at least. Particularly following the inside moments that capture important life lessons within the coffee pals’ chemistry and adoration that they share towards each other. It’s subtle at times but the sitcom is genuinely chock-full of life advice, and I’ve learned to express their tactics throughout my everyday life: sometimes without even knowing it, feeling closer to them by the second.

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Friends (1994-2004) – source: Warner Bros. Studios

Friends will always remain an exceptional TV series to me. Each of the numerous episodes from its whole ten seasons contain nothing more than the seductive mixture of chaos, humor and thin tension—a cultural and comedic phenomenal that drew audiences from all across the world to adore it—including myself. And it goes without question that the six eccentric leads are definite standouts within the series, whether it be through demonstrating their passion for games and Baywatch, their hyper-competitive side through sports and cooking, their penchant for writing odd kooky folk songs (like Smelly Cat), their interest for ancient fossils, or their strive to become Ralph Lauren‘s best—but we can’t let the memorable cast of supporting characters get unnoticed surrounding all this praise.

There was surely never going to be “seventh friend” on the show but needless to say, the side characters were evidently important to the six nonetheless. Living through a decade of NYC together, sipping hot cups of coffee at Central Perk, gulping down muffins and chatting about gossip, it certainly wouldn’t have been the same if it wasn’t for the overturning relationships, advancements on promotions, or early childhood memory flashbacks that navigated them to the end. Thanks to Janice Litman and her enhanced cry of “Oh my God!“;  to Susan’s forged friendship with Ross, to Estelle’s rather shoddy acting agency with Joey, to Julie’s unwelcome presence from Rachel, to Mike’s blind date set-up with Phoebe, and Gunther’s unrequited love for Rachel, the sitcom pleasantly accumulated something much more advanced. Whether it be Carol coming out as a lesbian to Ross, or Pete’s obsession with becoming the “Ultimate Fighting Champion“, to the love-triangle that split between Kathy, Joey and Chandler, or the fact that Marcel the Monkey embarked on a movie career in Hollywood before any of them could—it’s crucial to understand that all these side characters come together to make Friends what it is. Through occasional touching moments, fun invites to homes and celebrations, the premise of the supporting cast is that it helps transform the characterizations of our six leads to be a lot more pure and magnified, up until each season’s end.

In addition, the Friends supporting cast are just as equally significant as the show’s main characters, obtaining a great dynamic to the seasons run and the story line that goes along with it. Each character brings a collection of eccentricity and amusement to the show, and adds a new level of depth for the main character they support—and the sitcom wouldn’t be remembered twenty-five years down the line if it wasn’t for their unique and side-splitting intakes on the three young men and women that comprise a role in each of their lives.

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Friends (1994-2004) – source: Warner Bros. Studios

Bouncing from one season to another in the quickest time, holding onto characters relationships that I knew would never work out and contemplating what my life would be like if I was Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey or Phoebe, it finally clicked to me that this show had changed me. From quoting whole scenes from The One Where No One’s Ready and bouncing back lines from The One With The Football, I realized how much this show had had an affect on me. I was loving something for the first time, immersing myself into ‘apartment 20’ like it was made specifically for me.

I was infatuated with this 90’s sitcom, unaware of the directions it would later take me in life—but I was grateful nonetheless. Prancing around primary school, in the fit of ranting about the love-triangle between Julie, Ross and Rachel to my own friends, it dawned on me that this was perhaps something that I’d love forever. Not just the show in fact, but the screens that bore clear images of stories told through direction, acting, production, cinematography and a whole lot more. It struck me: if six-year-old me hadn’t stuck in that VHS tape of Friends for the first time, sat on my bed and daydreamed about hanging out with the friends that lingered on screen, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now.

Friends changed my perspective on how I viewed television and cinema, and initiated my thoughts and feelings towards a motion picture and episode into something much more worthwhile and valuable—despite the reliance I had always carried when something came to a close. The groundbreaking slice-of-life comedy in all its 90s glory is in truth the reason I stand with a passion for the big screen today. It’s not just about its engagement of laughs that carried the series through a whole decade, or how holding onto a pack of twenty-something aged characters made me understand the diversity of humor a sitcom could carry, but it’s mostly about the mechanics of the relationships, emotion, balance and fragility that each season carried itself with. There doesn’t seem to be any critical quality or reception towards Friends but I’d always seen it as a frame of art.

Whether it be in Central Perk, the childhood homes, the small football pitch outside their building, the restaurants where they shared awkward confrontations with their exes, or if it’s simply in the small hallway that separated the guys apartment from the girl’s apartment—everything mattered, and I appreciated that. I respected how the creators aided themselves towards something different and unique each episode, whether it be a flashback or a break-through segment that told us something new about a certain character. I truly felt like the six coffee pals that traded gifts together at Christmas, ate lunch together at Thanksgiving and poured misery around each other during their thirtieth birthday, were, in fact, my friends too. I loved that feeling. That feeling of being involved and having emotion for whatever moved on screen—it was special. It draws me into where I stand today. Loving the form of moving art, with a full heart.

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Friends (1994-2004) – source: Warner Bros. Studios

Putting the latter of personal passion and devotion aside, Friends is both regarded as one of the greatest and most popular sitcoms of all time—and it should hold that title for as long as something “even better” comes and takes its place (which I highly doubt will happen). It’s been a long-running show that’s made me and other viewers across the globe thankful to be alive to see it strive twenty-five years later, and living out as a legacy within the entertainment business for generations to come. Wrapping in 2004—a decade after it first aired—I was left in tears (a blubbering mess if I’m honest) when the famous six-some handed in the keys to their equally famous apartment and went to live out their happy endings.

Happy endings that we as fans wouldn’t see, but would picture as something much bigger and much brighter than the time they spent together in New York City. A place in which the sitcom repeatedly expressed that whether you were an aspiring actor, chef, waitress, massage therapist, paleontologist, or whatever the hell it was that Chandler Bing worked as, it was impossible to live in—but having the right group of friends that were there for you could do the trick.

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