Friends holds a special place in my heart as the first grown-up TV show that I ever really loved. When I was around 11, I started watching the reruns on the WB, which would have meant the new episodes were in season 5 on NBC. I remember watching it before dinner - before Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy - and giggling with delight at their antics. I soon had watched all the episodes multiple times and quoted from them liberally in my daily life.
This quotation habit got me into trouble with the holy rollers. I remember being guilted by a friend's mother, who scolded and clucked her tongue at the idea that my parents allowed me to watch such filth. Thus, I knew that my love of this fun little sitcom was verboten, something to be admitted only shamefacedly among the conservative crowd I ran with. That changed somewhat by the time everyone was watching it in high school, but the sense of Friends as a scandalous show that I probably shouldn't be watching has persisted.
A few years break from watching the show should give me some fresh perspective, so in this rewatching, I'm going be paying attention to a couple of things. First, is it as scandalous as I remember people thinking it was? Second, do they sleep around as much as my conservative cohort seemed to think? Third, is it still funny to me here in 2013, almost a decade since the finale aired? Fourth, how well has it aged at this point, socially and culturally?
With that said, let's dive in!
Episode 1.1: "The Pilot"
I have to confess that this is my least rewatched season out of all of them - I tend to prefer the show as it goes on (controversial, I know) and I remember this season as not really feeling like Friends yet. We'll see how I get on...
We start right in with the title sequence - you know the famous one where they all play in the fountain and intercut moments from the show of each cast member. It does a pretty good job of conveying tone for the series - this is a group of people who have fun together and don't take life too seriously. It also has one of the most famous themes ever, which still makes me do the *clapclapclapclapclap* when I hear it. Considering the show's eventual 10 year run, this is a title sequence and theme song that hold up pretty well.
They get right down to business - pan of New York City, cut to a close up on Central Perk logo, and pick's up mid-conversation with a joke about Monica's love life. (Joey: "You're going out with him - there's gotta be something wrong with him!") Within 60 seconds, we get a taste of Chandler's snark/pitifulness and Phoebe's general weirdness, and then we just get a series of random conversations to further establish the tone of the show as observational, low stakes humor. I, however, have a very hard time listening to any of this because Joey looks like this:
Bowl cut? Leather jacket? Not to mention an amazing leather vest that gets whipped out later on... and sleeveless vest/shirt thing... The fashion is amazing in this episode. Monica's GIGANTIC pants with suspenders, her later GIGANTIC pioneer dress + sweater combo, Rachel's crimpy mouse hair, Chandler's comically oversized baseball cap... it is all amazing. I will continue to keep my eyes open for the epic mid-90s fashion on display in the early seasons.
Back to the show- Ross finally comes in and his first word is his best catchphrase from the whole series:
And we establish another of the show's best conceits - the lesbian ex-wife. It's just so funny to see people's reactions when he explains why he got divorced (the first time), mostly because he is so defensive about it. Though Chandler seems more supportive than some, providing my first laugh of the show...
|"Did I just say that outloud?!"|
The rest of the episode is basically the outworking of this first scene - Ross reeling from his divorce, Rachel cutting her ties from her previous life, and Monica going on her date (and we also hear Phoebe's first ridiculous song that includes the lyric - "your love is a giant pigeon crapping on my heart"). The boys put together some fantastically 90s furniture and encourage Ross to "grab a spoon" and put himself out there again. As a sidenote, Joey feels pretty different at this point than where he ends up going - he's decently articulate, if a little one-track-minded. They dumb him down and increase his caloric intake as the show progresses. He's also still trying to be a serious actor at this point - keep dreaming, Joe.
We keep cutting between Ross and Rachel to parallel their emotional connection and the fact that their both trying to start over (the shared music cue as they look out the windows is a pretty awful after-school-special moment that thankfully gets basically dropped by the end of season 1). Rachel is clearly set up as a good hearted but totally inept princess, though she does have a good flash of sass when she's telling her dad she doesn't want to be a shoe anymore.
I love the inaugural moment of Phoebe bringing everyone's problems down to size by bringing up her mother's suicide and teenage homelessness. It's also great to see the first of Monica's many terrible boyfriends with Paul the Wine Guy. Lesbianism, impotence, sex with socks on - there's a lot of sexual issues getting worked out in the pilot.
Rachel's detachment from her parents is also setting up the key show dynamics - though we see more of the parents in the first couple of seasons (including the AMAZING Eliot Gould as Mr. Geller, but we'll get there...), this is a show about creating your own family among your friends wherever you're living. That's definitely a theme that still resonates with my generation's huge geographic mobility. We see the friends helping Rachel cut those ties - literally- by cutting up her dad's charge cards. Then Monica utters the most truthful thing anyone can tell you about adulthood:
Before the end, they establish Ross's long term flame for Rachel and the fact that he was too geeky back in the day to get her. We also establish that Rachel is okay if he asks her out sometimes - which makes one wonder why he doesn't just do that instead of PMSing about it for an entire year. Urgh. Seriously. I guess he needs to have a weirdly codependent, semi-erotic relationship with a monkey first. But we'll get to that.
We end with seeing that Rachel has finally found something that she can do - waitressing. Although she is already established as the world's worst waitress, so not holding out too much hope that it's the best place for her long term.
All in all, this is a pretty strong pilot. I mean, it's also one of their worst episodes, but that's just the nature of pilots. For a pilot, it's doing better than most. It sets up all the keys elements that will continue to be a part of the show for the full 10 years and there's only a few things that materially change from this pilot - all for the better. It does still have a joke-laugh-pause timing that I don't love, but if memory serves, this dissipates pretty well after the first few episodes.
As far as hookups, I count 4 sexual partners mentioned in this episode - Ross & Carol Wilick, Rachel & Barry Farber (aka Finkelstein, they mess up continuity here), Rachel & Tony DeMarco, and Monica & Paul the Wine Guy.
The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
And favorite quotes of the episode are...
Ross: "Eh, Aruba, this time of year - talk about your... big lizards."
Phoebe: "Ooo, I just pulled out 4 eyelashes, that can't be good..."
Chandler: "Once I was a wooden boy..."
Whew! That was way longer than most of these will be. A lot to dissect for the pilot. But here's to the long and winding road ahead...
What's your experience of Friends? Love it, hate it, forgot it?
**It turns out that AV Club has had the same impulse - they posted THIS after I wrote this recap. Should be fun to see how our opinions relate to each other. Friends love must be in the air