May 6, 2004


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It’s hard to write an article on the last episode of Friends without sounding like a promo commercial for NBC. You’ve probably seen some variation of the ad: “It’s been 10 years [cue tear-inducing music]. You’ve seen them through bad and good, and now its time to say goodbye …” We’ll save you the trouble. We’ve cracked the code on what’s going to happen: Friends is going to end, and you’re (we’re?) going to be ok.

Instead of descending into mass hysteria as we did the last two times NBC threatened to end the show, we’ve decided to act our age. So, we’re facing our separation issues and saying goodbye to Friends, with a Mocklate-coated send-off.

Friends burst onto the Thursday night Must See T.V. scene on September 22, 1994. For those of us who were in fourth grade at the time, it blew TGIF out of the water. By May 1995, Rolling Stone was calling it a “six-headed monster hit,” and the cast — Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — had forfeited their lives to the paparazzi. From the beginning, Friends had a Beatlemania quality to it. In fact, Friends creator Marta Kauffman said in 1995, “The friends should be like the Beatles … Everyone has their favorite, and who you choose says something about you.”

Over the past ten years, the show’s loyal viewers have watched the cast down dangerously high amounts of caffeine in Central Perk, willing to suspend disbelief for 22 minutes a week every Thursday night to watch the hilarity unfold in that humongous downtown New York apartment that, lets face it, none of them could afford.

The sheer power that has developed over the show’s span is pretty incredible. It has been estimated that 55 million people will be watching the last episode of Friends, which will air tonight at 9 p.m., and according to the New York Times, advertising spots for the series finale have fetched Super Bowl-worthy prices. Could this BE a little more huge?

If you didn’t get that reference to Chandler Bing’s notoriously emphatic speech pattern, then you haven’t been watching Friends as long as we have. But we’re not here to challenge anyone to a battle over who knows more about Friends (because we’re pretty damn sure we’d kick all your asses in the Lightning Round). Rolling Stone speculated in 1995 that one of the reasons Friends was so popular was that it filled the void left behind when shows like Cheers went off the air in 1993. Like Cheers, the show had an ensemble cast in which every character was endearing, growing and maturing in their own way. You could say that it did for the coffee shop in the nineties what Cheers did for the Boston bar in the eighties.

Classic episodes from the first season included “The One With the Butt” “The One With the Stoned Guy” and the final season cliffhanger “The One Where Rachel Finds Out” which set up the show’s star-crossed love affair of Ross and Rachel. Even in fourth grade, it was obvious that Ross and Rachel’s first kiss was going to be much more perfect and intense than your own.

Some critics have questioned the genius of the Friends’ writers, the highest paid in Hollywood. But really we should thank them. These are the people who introduced us to the nubbin (Chandler’s third nipple), Ugly Naked Guy, the WENUS, and Joey’s “How YOU Doin’?”

The power of the show relies on the individual personalities and relationships. Monica and Chandler. Ross and Rachel. Chandler and Joey. Phoebe. They have the kind of love for each other that you wish for your own friends. Over the years, their lives have become somehow intertwined with our own: we cheered at Monica and Chandler’s first kiss, we laughed at “Smelly Cat,” and we cried when Marcel the Monkey moved on to a lucrative film career starring in Outbreak II as the cast serenaded their departed Friend with an a capella performance of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

In ten years, the fans have racked up a lot of history with these people. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you weren’t really there, but you’ll settle to have them on your television every week. The show’s forte has always been the flashback. “The One with the Prom Video” revealed Ross’ true feelings for Rachel, and Season Four’s “The One With the Bad Thanksgiving” created the back story of Chandler’s flamboyant transvestite father (later played by Kathleen Turner) who left the family for the houseboy (“More turkey, Mister Chandler?”). Making a tradition out of bad Thanksgiving flashbacks, Fat Monica tried to seduce an unresponsive, Flock of Seagulls-loving Chandler.

Alas, even the biggest Friends fan has to admit that the last two seasons were, well … lacking. The Friends became more and more insulated in their small group, so much so that it drove Joey and Rachel into a slightly incestuous and unconsummated love affair. As the show nears its end, you can be sure that Ross and Rachel will end up together. Rachel seems to have taken a lesson from Carrie on Sex and the City in a slightly unoriginal twist by leaving New York for France. (Paris just isn’t what it used to be.) Perhaps a young Joey (oops, Matt LeBlanc) said it best in 1995: “I think Friends represents a period in your life that everyone can relate to. It’s when you’re starting on your journey, before you’ve made your choices. Everybody’s going to go through that turnstile or has already been through it. Younger people are looking forward to it. Older people can look back and reflect. And people our age can watch for clues.” If only Joey wasn’t getting a spin-off that will surely leave viewers wondering “Hey, what happened to your Friends?”

But don’t cry too hard. The miracle of syndication will ensure years of reruns even as the show itself has drifted into T.V. heaven.

Archived article by Logan Bromer and Erica Temel
Red Letter Daze Staff Writers