HBO Max just dropped a Friends reunion special and darn it if it didn't make me horribly nostalgic for that show.
As I wrote previously on this blog:
When it first came onto the scene in 1994, it had a quicker wit than anything on television. The banter was fast and funny in a way that wasn't common at the time.
The show also hit a chord with the people growing up in that era. There was an experience of extended adolescence as post-college young people found their way through the world.
And the ensemble cast had a fantastic chemistry. There was something honest about they way they related to each other as they teased and taunted each other, though still held by a deep bond of affection.
I've heard people on social media calling the show problematic for its humor and its lack of diversity. In its day, Friends had a lot of moral problems. The show constantly promoted immoral lifestyles. As a Catholic, you cannot help but be sensitive to the casual acceptance of rampant sexual immorality as well as things like IVF. I have complete respect for people who cannot enjoy the show because of its moral content.
However, in terms of the art that it takes to make a funny TV show, I cannot help but admire the craft that went into making this show. Humor is also something that is much more emotional than it is analytical, and I cannot help but still laugh at the jokes.
So below are my rankings for the Top 10 episodes of Friends.
10. "The One with the Morning After" (3x16)
This is one of the least fun episodes of the series and that is one of the things that makes it stand out. The final moment between Ross and Rachel in this scene is burned in my mind. The way he talks about how he can't imagine his life without her always gets me.
9. "The One with the Two Parties" (2x22)
This is a simple episode in typical sitcom fashion where they have to keep Rachel's parents separated at two parties across the hall. My favorite part is the bit of physical comedy where the boys have to quickly improv a way to get her father to the other room while her mom is in the hall. It is so silly and simple that it makes me laugh every time I think about it.
8. "The One That Could Have Been (6x15-16)
With the exception of the Phoebe storyline, it was really interesting to see how the lives of the characters would have been different and yet the same. What I liked about it as a writing experiment is to see how the core of the characters remains the same even given different circumstances.
7. "The One Where Ross Moves In (5x07)
I love the way this episode highlights how sharing close quarters can highlight annoyances. Throwing Ross into the Joey/Chandler dynamic was really funny.
6. "The One with All the Thanksgivings" (5x08)
This is another one that helps flesh out the backstory of the characters, but as a big fan of the Monica/Chandler relationship, I love how absolutely ridiculous the moment is when Chandler finally says "I love you."
5. "The One with All the Resolutions" (5x11)
The opening is wonderfully written with everything having to resolve in 60 seconds. The rest of the episodes are filled with nice sitcom contrivances, but the best part is where Ross cannot get his pants back on. It might be Schwimmer's best comedic performance. The absolute sense of desperation as things become more absurd is hysterical.
4. "The One with the Proposal" (6x24-25)
Again, I am an old-fashioned romantic. The re-introduction of Richard, Monica's old love, helps raise the tension in this episode. While the ending should be seen coming a mile away, I remember watching this episode when it originally aired and having a real sense of emotional investment as to whether or not they would end up together. And at the end when Chandler says, "You make me happier than I ever thought I could be. And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you feel the same way," I can feel this as the completion of an important part of his character's arc. It also encapsulates my feelings when I proposed to my wife.
3. "The One with the Embryos" (4x12)
I always ignore the title topic of the episode. What makes this episode work is the trivia competition for the apartment. When I watched the reunion episode, I was shocked that I still remember all of the answers. Not only does it change the status quo (for at least a few episodes), but the game ends on one of the best running gags of the show.
2. "The One Where No One's Ready" (3x02)
I go back and forth as to whether or not this is the best episode of the series. This bottle episode plays out in real time, which is unlike almost every other episode of the series. It works together as a mini-play that interweaves greater and greater absurdities while the clock is ticking. It also has one of the best visual gags of the show where Joey does the opposite of Chandler hiding his clothes.
1. "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" (5x14)
Most of the jokes work really well and the increasing absurdity of the two groups bluffing each other into submission raises the comedic stakes. But it works out so well because it builds to the cathartic release of Chandler and Monica's public declaration of their love. Being a softy, I really love this.
Looking back I noticed that all of my choices were from seasons 2-6, and that 4 of the episodes were from season 5. The fact that there are no favorite episodes after season 6 tells you about my assesment of the show's quality from that point forward. I will tell you that I have a very clear memory of most episodes in the first 6 seasons, but I don't have a lot of clarity going forward. And I don't think I'm alone in this.
What are your thoughts?