I'm Re-Watching Friends and Have Some Thoughts on Friends

Re-watching the entirety of Friends has been an idea floating around in my head for quite some time. I watched the show when it first aired and enjoyed it well enough. I’ve also caught a good number of reruns and gone back to a few of the seasons on DVD. However, in recent years I’ve found myself bizarrely inclined to dip my toe back into that world. When Netflix announced the entire series would be hitting the service on New Year’s Day 2015, I knew this was my chance to dive in. I would honestly love to know the numbers for how many hungover people just fired up this show and didn’t stop Netflix until it was time to go to bed.

It’s now a few weeks later and we are almost at the end of the third season. During this rewatch, I’ve picked up on a lot of things that had eluded me during the show’s initial run. I thought it could be fun to put some of these thoughts and observations down on paper. We’ll see if I end up being right about that! There won’t be much rhyme or reason to this whole thing, just a few topics I want to touch on about this show. I have quite a bit to talk about so we’ll have to do this over the course of several installments I’m sure. Here we go!

1)      All the Friends are assholes to each other

I remember back in the day, Friends was often referred to as the “anti-Seinfeld.” On that show, the characters were known to be assholes who treated one another, as well as just about everyone around them, as complete garbage. Friends was generally viewed as the opposite, where all the main characters were nice people who treated their fellow group members with the upmost kindness and respect. No. Oh god no. These people are all the absolute worst to one another.

I always remembered Chandler as being the quippy character who shat on everyone in the group because he had been using humour as a defence mechanism ever since he was a child and his parents got divorced. But it turns out that all six of the Friends are constantly making jerky comments at one another. Every statement and question posed by any one of them is greeted with a snarky remark. It actually gets exhausting after a while. Of course friends give each other good natured shit, it’s expected. But I don’t even think these characters have real conversations. It’s instead all a series of sarcastic and catty responses.

It goes far beyond just word play though. These people do awful, AWFUL, things to each other, most often because one of them is only looking out for themselves. In the almost three seasons I have rewatched, these “friends” have done the following:

-          Chandler completely breaks Monica’s spirits and forces her to tears in order to get out of jogging

-          Chandler harms Joey’s acting career by insisting he use Joseph Stalin as a stage name, costing him at least one audition, perhaps more

-          When Rachel’s boss tells Phoebe she can no longer play her music in Central Perk, she refuses to stop angrily playing outside even though this cannot be good for Rachel’s job

-          When Rachel accidently loses Ross’s monkey, he tears her down as a human being in a way that is quite frightening (this one may fit better in a later sub-category actually.)

The list goes on as I imagine I could probably find an example from each episode. The truth of it is, this group seemingly doesn’t even like one another, let alone are bestest buddies. They are constantly looking out for themselves and will gladly throw anyone else in the group under the bus if it means they will get what they want.

 

2)      All the Friends are assholes to everyone else as well

The core group’s shitty behavior isn’t exclusive to how they treat each other. Oh no. It extends to how they treat everyone else too. Often they have no regard for the well-being of others, just as long as things are working out ok for them. Examples!

-          When it’s revealed that Monica’s boyfriend is only fun because he’s an alcoholic, he starts to clean up his life. As a result he becomes far more dull, much to the disappointment of everyone in the group

-          While on a double date, Joey and Monica conspire to break the other couple up so they can date them instead. I believe this plan is also successful in the end.

-          Rachel sleeps with her ex-fiancée even though he is now dating her friend. She then makes a big speech about herself when attending their wedding. Sure they antagonize her but it’s still kinda weird.

-          I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole Eddie roommate situation. Yeah I don’t blame Chandler for wanting him the hell out of there, but they did send a clearly mentally unhinged man out into the world with a bunch of pent up rage. In some universe there is an episode of Criminal Minds that follows-up on the Eddie character after those events.

Once again I could continue on with this list for pages and pages but it feels unnecessary. The truth of it all is that we are in fact watching a show about six sociopaths who are burning a trail of broken hearts and ill feelings everywhere they go.

3)      Ross is far worse than I remember, and I remember him being real bad

Even back in the day I remember everyone would quantify their approval of this show with some variation of “I just like all of the characters…well except for Ross.” It was such a wide spread opinion that when a friend suddenly revealed they thought Ross was mostly ok (they didn’t even actively like the character, they just tolerated him), we were genuinely aghast at the revelation. Nobody liked Ross. That was simply how it worked.

Going into this rewatch, I expected these negative feelings to hold true. What I did not expect was for them to be significantly magnified. Ross was not only as bad as I recalled, but I was finding myself even more irritated by him. He was still the whiny, sad sack character that I remembered and he also starts out as far more of a Chandler clone than I thought. These were the characteristics that used to bother me but what stood out more this time is that the dude is actually creepy as fuuuuuuuuck, at least when it comes to the Rachel stuff.

It’s made clear almost immediately that Ross has had the hots for Rachel since high school. It’s a crush that has been ongoing for approximately a decade. I believe in the very first episode he mentions to her that at some point he would like to ask her out and she seems ok with the idea. Then he doesn’t do anything about it. He stands to the side and whines about how he wants to be with Rachel but does dick all to actually make it happen. This is the same stuff I remembered being bothersome but I was taken aback but how creepily possessive he is of Rachel. Even though he hasn’t made a move, he still seems to believe she is his.

Take for example the arrival of Paulo about halfway through the first season. Once he and Rachel start seeing each other, Ross is immediately openly hostile towards him. Yes eventually Paulo is revealed to be an asshole, but before that happens, Ross is making fun of his accent and calling him “crap weasel.” I think we’re supposed to be on his side about it but what the fuck man? Stop being an asshole about this. It’s not just the Paulo stuff either. He gets all pissed when Rachel has a sex dream about Chandler and I believe there are lots of other moments too. Basically he spends the entire first season getting all worked up about Rachel as though he has claim over her.

Things don’t get any better once they actually get together either. While Ross remains irritating in his usual way throughout most of their relationship, his shit really ramps up once Rachel lands a new job at Bloomingdale’s. She is given the job by this guy Mark, and Ross immediately cranks up the jealously to alarming levels. There is absolutely no basis for his paranoia, though in all fairness they do later discuss how Carol and the divorce really messed him up. Still, his behavior here is infuriating to watch. He is a dick to Mark right to his face and becomes possessive of Rachel in a way that would make a serial killer go, “You’re being a bit intense right now dude.” He shows up at her office unannounced, even when she specifically tells him not to do that. He sends a barbershop quartet, a bunch of flowers and stuffed animals, and countless other things to her office to make it clear to everyone that she is his. He also whines whenever she tells him not to do unsettling shit like that. It’s also worth noting that one of the times he shows up uninvited is on their anniversary. Yeah it sucks she is working on their anniversary but did Ross forget what he ended up doing on the night of their first date? Going into fucking work!

Perhaps his worst moment in that relationship (I’m not going to get into the “we were on a break” nonsense but I do think everyone was in the wrong there) is when Rachel tells him that she is going to attend a fashion seminar with Mark. Ross whines about it and says he wants to go instead. Rachel abides. How does Ross repay this gesture? By falling asleep during the seminar, then later telling her it was boring and that his job is way more important than hers. I know it’s a sitcom and hey I shouldn’t take it too seriously, but oh my god man. Ross is an asshole, there is no way around that. The studio audience laughs it off but if you took away the canned laughter and played this scene completely straight, I think it would work perfectly well. Though you may have to cut the “Jurassic Parka” bit which at least does alleviate some of the awkwardness.

I could keep going but I think I’ve made my point. Ross is a gargantuan prick and he and Rachel together are absolute poison. Anyone putting them on their “Best TV Couples Ever of All Time” list needs to go back and see how toxic their relationship truly was.

4)      Susan and Carol are surprisingly mean

I know I just spent several paragraphs railing against Ross as a character, but this is one area where I do feel some sympathy for him. Ross is going through a divorce right when the series begins and it’s because his wife Carol has come out as a lesbian and is dating Susan. The divorce alone would be devastating as it’s quickly made known that Carol and Ross have been together for years and years. These are young characters so Ross has been with Carol most of his dating life. So to not only have that relationship end, but to find out your wife is gay and has been cheating on you with someone else, would naturally be pretty devastating. On top of all that, she is pregnant with your child. This last area is what I take the most issue with.

Almost immediately upon meeting their characters, Carol and Susan are treating Ross like garbage. They treat him as little more than a glorified sperm donor and seem often annoyed that he keeps trying to interfere in, you know, the birth of his own child. They chose a name without him and also don’t want his last name anywhere near the kid. All this while almost constantly rubbing the whole “our marriage failed and I’m dating a woman” aspect directly in his face.

You would think Susan would feel awkward about the whole thing and take a walking on eggshells approach to the situation. Nope. Right from the first introduction of her character, she is treating Ross like garbage and pushing him out of the situation. She seems insistent that Ben is just as much hers, if not more hers, than he is Ross’s. Maybe she knew people would judge this relationship so she felt the need to be aggressive but it’s not the best approach for a character that I believe we are supposed to sympathize with. She loses me almost immediately and several seasons later, has not gained me back.

5)      My god that sure is a lot of gay jokes

I definitely recall there being at least a good amount of gay jokes on this show, mostly revolving around Chandler having to occasionally assure someone that he is not, in fact, gay. But wow there are levels of gay panic going on here that I did not recall. Yes the show did a lot of progressive things at the time, like feature a lesbian wedding. But man are the guys ever quick to freak the fuck out if a dude touches them or hugs them or looks at them. It’s particularly noticeable watching so many episodes back to back that they fall back on this trope waaaay too often.

 

6)      You know what? Ross is right, you should all be fucking ready!

I have to side with Ross for one more thing, though only partly. The One Where Nobody is Ready is a famous episode and it’s certainly solid but I found it far more stressful to watch as an adult because I kind of agree with Ross that everybody should be ready long before there is only 20 minutes before they all have to leave for an event that is hugely important to him. That’s pretty shitty across the board. Chandler and Joey’s childish fight over the chair is still funny but at the same time would you assholes stop quibbling about stupid shit and put some fucking suits on?!

Of course leave it to Ross to fuck it up and lose my sympathy for him before the whole ordeal is through. His freak-out at Rachel in the third act is….troubling. It goes back to what I was talking about earlier, when he lost it at Rachel when they believed she had lost Marcel. Yeah it’s a sitcom and yeah it’s all in good fun but shit gets daaaaark for a moment when Ross berates Rachel in front of everyone. That is an outpouring of rage that is a tad alarming and Rachel forgave him for that one way too quickly.

I could keep going but let’s save some of these for a further installment. I should point out that I still am enjoying going through the show a lot. The cast is terrific and the writing found its groove very early on, managing to avoid the initial uneven season that many sitcoms fall victim to. With an already existing familiarity with the material, what else is there to do but nitpick the hell out of it so this won’t be the last one of these!