Sunday, March 8, 2009

Friends: Season One

For reasons not entirely known to me, I have decided to give you an in-depth look at Friends, season by season. I suppose it's because, like with my Dollhouse thing, my head is very full of thoughts about the subject (I watch my Friends DVDs all the time. They provide background noise when I'm performing tedious tasks, and they keep me company when I'm lonesome. They are, if you will, there for me). Nobody asked me to share these thoughts, but hey--I'm just that generous.

So here we go with the first season.

In general:
This a pretty good season. It is not the best season. It's the cutest season, but that's because it's much too cute. There are lots of forced moments that hit you in the face with "AW! THESE ARE THE BESTEST FRIENDS EVAR!" It's also in the little things--for instance, the guys casually touch each other much more than is believable. Overall, the promise is clearly there; it just needs to be grown into a bit more.

The characters develop as the season goes along. In the pilot, Joey is pretty much a blank slate with leather clothes, Rachel is generically helpless, and Ross is unusually Woody Allen-y, speech patterns and all. Only Chandler springs from the first scene fully formed. First Season Monica is definitely meant to be a Lovable Loser. It's good that they drifted from that in part: latter-season Monica still has a mother that hates her, but she's much more successful with men. First Season Monica's biggest trait is being unlucky in love, which is fairly unbelievable for a woman that looks like Courtney Cox. First Season Phoebe is a little weirder, but a lot sweeter than she would get later. Her non sequiters are more frequent and funnier--I love First Season Phoebe. She's a hoot.

The other distinct thing about the first season is that they date some startlingly ugly people. It's pretty clear that the show did not have much of a guest star budget. Sure, Ross got to date Jan from The Office (albeit Jan with bad hair and frumpy clothes), but Joey was really into that woman who now plays Generic Mom in, like, all commercials. And don't get me started on Phoebe's psychologist boyfriend (although IMDB tells me that actor dated Michelle Pfeiffer, so what do I know?)

Little things that drive me crazy:
Mr. Heckles. The writers thought that character was way funnier than he actually was.

The cameo appearance by the women from Mad About You (in "The One with Two Parts"). Specifically, upon seeing Phoebe at the coffee house, they not only assume she is Ursula (which is understandable) but that she is working there as a waitress, since they know Ursula in her capacity as a waitress (which is stupid and strangely classist).

The way-too-cutesy things, in order from least to most barfy:
Joey makes a metaphor for Ross comparing women with ice cream, saying Ross needs to get out there and try new flavors, so later after Ross asks Rachel if maybe he can ask her out sometime, Ross tells Monica, "I grabbed a spoon."
Rachel looks lovingly at her friends, referring back to a Jack and the Beanstalk metaphor from earlier, and gushes, "I've got magic beans!"
Right after Ross' and Monica's grandmother dies, they look through some of her old pictures and find one of their grandma in her youth with her pals and some kind of soda shoppe or something.

Little things I love:
This conversation about the different powers of men and women, particulary Phoebe's line.

Joey and Chandler on a double date--Joey: "How do I look?" Chandler, looking intently: "Oh, um, I don't care."

The cold opens where it's just them sitting around having a conversation. These mostly got dispensed with later in favor of just starting the plot, but a lot of good lines come out of them.

The first cold open that's not a coffee-house conversation, though, is Joey is Freud!, which is well worth it.

When Chandler convinces an unsuspecting Joey to choose "Joseph Stalin" as his stage name. With hilarious results!

One cute thing that does work: when the Gellars are waiting in the hospital when Nana is about to pass away, Ross and his dad sit the exact same way. It's a nice little touch.

Let's talk about Ross:
This season is the one with all the cutesiness, but even more so, it's the one with all the Ross. Almost all the dramatic weight of the season rests on Ross: Ross has just gotten divorced, and he's sad and misses his wife; Ross is an expectant father and trying to figure out how to be a good dad, especially when he doesn't get to be married to the mother anymore; Ross is secretly in love Rachel and can't figure out how or whether to pursue her.

Oh, and he has a monkey for a while.

Ross, in the first season, is the soul of the show. It's odd to realize that from the perspective of later seasons, when Ross would be shunted into mostly irrelevant, often pathetic, stereotypically "sitcommy" plots. What is more obvious is that it's weird for Ross to be likeable. In later seasons, he's petty, whiny, angry, and pretty much just socially inept. For Ross to be the anchor of the show doesn't work when he's like that--Season 1 Ross, even with his nerdiness and sad-sackity, is--for the most part--loveable.

Why did that go away? Did they run out of story ideas for Ross by deploying so many so soon? Did he just get boxed into being a cliche of his character traits sooner than everybody else (because they all did by Season 9 or so)? Did Schwimmer annoy the writers, who then retaliated with metaphorical character assassination instead of making Ross fall down an elevator shaft? The world may never know the answer, but it's certain that Season 1 is the high point for Ross.

One last thing about Ross: there's a scene in "The One with the Candy Hearts" where Ross and his ex-wife Carol end up together in a restaurant on Valentine's Day. Their conversation is easy and fun, and it hits Ross all over again that she is the woman he loves and wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He tells her that he still loves her and they should be together, and here's the thing: the scene is mostly played for laughs. The pace is pretty quick to keep it light, but had it been acted or directed differently, it could have been a beautifully heartbreaking scene. My pet theory is that since it was just the first season, they didn't want to risk putting anything too heavy in their fun sitcom, which is a shame, in my opinion. Seriously, if you happen to catch that episode, imagine it played with a little more gravity, and see if it would't have been just the saddest, sweetest little conversation. I think Schwimmer could have pulled it off.

Top four episodes:

"The One where Underdog Gets Away"
or: "The One with Joey's VD Poster", or: "The One where Ross Sings to the Fetus"

"The One with the Candy Hearts" (I've always thought this episode was poorly titled--it refers to a throwaway joke about Janice getting personalized candy hearts for her and Chandler [right before he re-re-dumps her].)
or: "The One with the Ex-Boyfriend Bonfire", or: "The One with Ross's Date with Carol" (see above)

"The One with All the Poker"
that totally sums it up.

"The One with the Birth"


Frank said...

I love you, Rachel Karen Campbell Davidson Greene!

AVH said...

What happened to the streak?? I'm disappointed...but still think you're awesome!

Rachel said...

Sorry I couldn't keep up the streak, but it was 7 weeks long. That's a lot of blogging. I'll try to get back into some kind of groove--this just hasn't been a very bloggy week for me.

And you are also awesome, Angela. And you, Frank.

Anonymous said...

I agree with like 99% of your friends post, except for the part about Ross. I found early Ross to be totally unlikeable and annoying - EG: "This is my son having lunch, ok?" (yes I know that's season 2). Additionlly, the whole "monkey" storyline was ridiculously stupid and came across as amateurish.

When he loosened up and got a little more goofy in later seasons, he was much, much more watchable.