Sunday, May 29, 2016

Watching and Enjoying 'Friends' for the First Time Years After It Ended Made Me Realize That It's a Timeless Classic

It has been a dozen years since the last episode of Friends aired, but it’s only recently that I got to become a fan.  For years, I’ve been aware that this show was – is – a big deal.  I had some familiarity of what it’s about: a sitcom about six friends hanging out in a café, engaging in dating and relationships and the like.  But I was never interested of checking it out.  The whole “dating and relationships and the like” turned me off.  I felt that its premise wasn’t my cup of tea, that I wasn’t part of the show’s target demographic.

Then there was a big buzz earlier this year that the cast will have a reunion.  The fans were excited.  But the “reunion” turned out to be a panel talk segment as part of a tribute show for director James Burrows, not a reunion episode as what everyone was expecting.  Anyway, around this time, during a session of Internet surfing (is the term “surfing” still used nowadays?), I caught a Youtube video that compiled some scenes from the show… and I found it utterly hilarious!  As a result, for the first time, I was strongly interested of watching the show.
This led me thinking: “Wait a minute.  This isn’t the first time I saw clips of Friends.  I didn’t find it likable and funny before, why do I suddenly think it is now?  Hmmm.”  The likely answer is that because I’ve grown older.  I was in elementary and high school when this show ran.  And even in my college years and early 20’s, the themes of this show failed to make a connection to me.  But now, I’m in the same age group as its characters, making it relatable to me.  In a sense, I was right with my assumption that I wasn’t part of the show’s target demographic – I was simply not old enough.  But now that I’ve grown older, I’m finally in the stage where I can appreciate the merits of this show.

So this summer, I watched all 236 episodes of its ten seasons, and I enjoyed it tremendously.  I found the writing very clever (though inconsistent in several trivial aspects of its mythology, like birthdates).  The storylines aren’t exactly brilliant, just good, but the comedy works extremely well and it’s effectively heartwarming and dramatic when the narrative calls for it.
Its energetic, good-looking ensemble cast has one of the most fantastic chemistries I’ve ever seen on screen.  They are all terrific comedians and comediennes in their own right, to the benefit of the characters they are playing, who are one-dimensional but lovable.

The characters have respective archetypal characteristics which generally defined them throughout the run of the show.  Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) is the sarcastic funny guy who hates his good-paying white-collar job.  Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) is the charming, dim-witted struggling actor who loves food as much as women.  Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) is the dull, unlucky, awkward, nerdy palaeontologist.  Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Ross’ sister, is the bossy, obsessive-compulsive, ultra-competitive chef who serves as the “mother hen” figure of the group as her apartment is where the gang regularly meets.  Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) is the quirky, eccentric, loony, street-smart masseuse who is also an awful self-taught musician that regularly performs in Central Perk, the café in which the gang usually hangs out aside from Monica’s apartment.  And Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) – who’s ironically my least favorite character though she has the most well-developed character arc – is the fashion aficionado who progresses from being an inept, spoiled daddy’s girl to a struggling Central Perk waitress attempting self-sufficiency to a successful career woman in the fashion industry.  Character developments in general are minimal, but there are ample amusing factoids and habits in the characters that keep them interesting, making up for the lack of depth.  In fact, I find the characterizations perfect for the kind of tone and dynamic the show need to work.  Thus, I learned to love this group of characters.
The thing I don’t like about this show is still its “dating and relationships and the like” facet.  I sometimes find it corny when storylines revolved around its tropes.  Most importantly, I hate the liberal, sex-centered ethos of American dating culture that it constantly features.  On the other hand, beyond that, it also has positive messages on friendship, love, maturing, moving on, and vocation.

I’m not saying I didn’t find any enjoyable romance in this show.  I did.  Monica and Chandler’s love story developed quite well – full of hilarious and tender moments.  Also, the addition of Mike in the latter seasons as a serious love interest for Phoebe is also nice.  (Meanwhile, I never really cared much for Ross and Rachel’s on-off relationship, but it did result to several great comedic moments).

All in all, I had plenty of laughs from Friends.  Heck, it could even be the best sitcom I’ve ever watched.  It has been twelve years since its last episode aired, and almost 22 years after its first episode aired, but it has still made a relevant impression on me.  It has dated ideas, technologies, and fashions – especially in the earlier seasons – but the storylines and comedy still completely work to this day.  I also believe that even future generations, once they reach a certain age, will find this show endearing.  For Friends, as what actual friends are, is timeless.
Miscellaneous musings:
  • I think among all TV series, Friends has the most big-name celebrity cameos ever.
  • Too bad that the much sought reunion episode hasn’t happened yet. I wish they’ll make it happen. Or, better year, a full-length movie!
  • I also realized how cool and well-written the Friends theme song, The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You”, is.
  • In my opinion, Lisa Kudrow is the most talented and versatile in the cast. It’s apparent when she killed it whenever she had to do impressions. That’s probably why she had been nominated for an Emmy ten times (the most among the cast) and the first among the cast to win one.
  • At their peaks, Phoebe and Monica are the most attractive.
  • My teenage self would have definitely loved Chandler.
  • My most favorite recurring character is Mike Hannigan – played by a young Scott Lang a.k.a Ant-Man.  Seriously, the wit and charm of Mike and Scott are very similar.
  • This show is full of fun, ridiculous dances – most of them involving Fat Monica (during flashbacks).  Her dances had me in stitches:

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