Saturday, June 5, 2010

Friends: Season Nine

In general:
This season is so lazy. The acting, the plots, the dialogue: lazy, lazy, lazy. Even the clip show is lazy for a clip show. For the most part, characters just go through the motions of plots, and the jokes are weak and predictable. There's an occasional funny line or a flash of impressive continuity (Joey's favorite beach activity is digging a hole, Joey's "Southern" accent is actually Jamaican), but that just makes all the nonsensical stuff even more frustrating by comparison.

One little silver lining is that Chandler is (to some degree) back. Sure, his snarky comments may have lame, implausible set-ups, but he gets to make those comments on topics other than his own patheticness. So that's . . . something.

Little things that drive me crazy:
The material they gave Elliot Gould in the season opener (farting, accidentally spying on his own daughter having sex, being too enthusiastic about her sex life when he finds out they're trying to have a baby, and just lots of stupid lines) was just awful.

An example of lazy writing: Joey's girlfriend Charlie overhears Rachel telling Phoebe that she's jealous because she has a crush on Joey. Charlie later tells Rachel that she overheard, but she thinks it was Phoebe saying that she had a thing for Joey. But why would Charlie think that? There are context clues in the conversation Charlie overheard about who was who--Rachel even addresses Phoebe by name at one point. The writers could have taken the hints out or, even better, put in something misleading that would plausibly cause Charlie's confusion. They just didn't bother.

Another: Phoebe is gushing about how attracted she is to David. Monica, disbelievingly, says, "The scientist guy? Really?" Phoebe responds, "Chandler? Really?" That was a little amusing--the first time they used it (verbatim), in Season Seven (in "The One with All the Cheesecakes").

"The One with Rachel's Other Sister" is bogged down by the cartoonish, entirely unbelievable hatefulness of Christina Applegate's Amy, and it doesn't have anything else going for it either.

One plotline in "The One with Rachel's Phone Number" involves Mike and Ross hanging out and discovering they have nothing to talk about. Attention, all writers of anything ever: watching people being awkwardly bored is awkward and boring.

Joey's nervousness about getting a big, romantic storyline on Days of Our Lives is nonsense. Joey's been an actor for almost 20 years and he's never played "in love" before? Please.

The gag where Joey doesn't know what air quotes mean is dumb. First of all, everybody knows what they mean. Second of all, because of point #1, Joey has of course used air quotes in previous episodes.

I loathe the character Gavin. It's written badly and acted execrably. I'll admit, I haven't seen enough things Dermot Mulroney is in to know if he's a complete and utter no-talent hack, or if he merely put no effort into this one role.

Big things that drive me crazy:
None of the Ross and Rachel "romantic" stuff that happens this season makes sense. Ross totally drops his plans to try to date again because Rachel, in a moment of panic that she immediately regretted, said yes to Joey's (non-) proposal? Why? They both freak out when Rachel gives out her phone number to some random dude? Why? Ross is infuriated when Rachel kisses her co-worker? And then gets "revenge" by pretending to be dating some loser woman? Why? Phoebe keeps insisting (in "The One with the Blind Dates") that Rachel and Ross should be together because they're "so good together"? Good gravy, Phoebe, WHY?

Mike really loves Phoebe, but, not to over-use the question . . . why? All we really see of Mike is that he's a nice guy. I wish there was something weird and interesting about him that showed us he's a good match for Phoebe.

Even worse is the Phoebe-Mike-David love triangle introduced in the second half of the season. Before this season, David had only appeared twice, but his first episode in particular was really memorable and good. Over the course of the series, Phoebe dates a lot of guys, but rarely seriously--she loved David, and he was for her The One That Got Away. It was therefore a good decision to bring him back in the ninth season to provide contrast with Phoebe's new great love, Mike. The show creates a lot of believable conflict/drama with Phoebe's feelings for Mike conflicting with her feelings for David, and then it just poops all over it in the season finale. David, being pathetic and lame, decided to propose to Phoebe too soon and Phoebe, being weird and dumb, decides she'll accept even though she loves Mike more than David (but doesn't the fact that Phoebe and David both want to rush into a bad decision show their compatibility? I think so). Then when Mike shows up at the last minute to declare his love, Phoebe declares her love back and Monica and Chandler celebrate that they've gotten back together and everyone will be happy again forever. Except oh, wait! David's standing right there as all of this goes down. So thanks, show, for bringing back a beloved character just to thoroughly humiliate him for no apparent reason.

Little thing that I don't know how to feel about:
When Ross gets all hyped up on maple candy, Schwimmer's acting is not entirely different from an Emo Phillips impression.

Little things I love:

Joey wondering what "Ross" is short for. You know, Rossell? Rosstopher?

The "It's [NOT] a Boy!" banner they hang up for Rachel. (The store was all out of "It's a Girl!")

I agree with Ross: "Baby Got Back" does promote healthy body image.

Big thing I love:
One thing that Friends did well over and over is break-ups. (OK, aside from the Phoebe and David one I just complained about.) Monica and Richard broke up because she wanted to have kids, and he didn't. Her perspective made sense; his perspective made sense; it was an irreconcilable difference. Ross and Rachel became increasingly frustrated with each other because her career changed the dynamics of the relationship--he got ever-more annoyed because of jealousy of her co-worker and jealousy of time spent away from him; she got annoyed by his annoyance. The relationship became more and more fraught until it ruptured. Chandler breaks up with Janice (well, one of the times Chandler breaks up with Janice) because she still has feelings for the father of her child, and Chandler--because he loves her--wants her family to stay together if there's a chance it will work.

Season Nine has another realistic breakup, that of Phoebe and Mike. Phoebe realizes, because she's so happy with Mike, that she wants a traditional relationship, one that will lead to marriage and kids and driving a sensible car. But it turns out that Mike, who got burned bad by his first marriage (we never learn which of his possessions his ex-wife defecated on . . . but still) won't consider getting married again. Phoebe's already opened Pandora's wedding box, though, and decides that if Mike won't marry her, she needs to be with somebody else who will. Again: this is a believable situation that you could easily imagine happening to one of your real-life friends, so it resonates pretty well when it happens to one of the Friends.


  • Joey: "You don't have a TV? What's all your furniture pointed at?"
  • Chandler, to Monica: "You know how competitive you get, and while I say it's cute, others disagree and I'm lying!"
  • Chandler, upon being ignored: "Should I use my invisibility to fight crime, or for evil?"
  • Phoebe, in her Katherine Hepburn voice: "Here's something rich--thirteen bathrooms in this place; I threw up in the coat closet!"
  • Ross: "If she's never had a serious relationship, do you think I'd go around broadcasting it, like some kind of . . . unstoppable moron?"
  • Chandler: "You're smiling." Joey: "No I'm not." Chandler: "Yes, you are. I can tell by the way your mouth is."

Let's talk about Rachel:
Rachel is the hardest Friend to characterize in a nutshell. You know how when there's a group of four girls/women, they dole out who's the Carrie, Miranda, etc.? Well, when you try to do the same with the Friends characters in a group of three, it tends to go (in my experience), "Well, I'm obviously a Monica, and you're clearly a Phoebe and I guess that makes you, [third person], the Rachel. You, um, date guys sometimes."

Because what is there to say about Rachel? You assume she's sort of, for lack of a better term, boy-crazy, but it's not like she dates any more than Monica (when Monica's single, of course), and she dates less than Phoebe. She seems like sort of a daddy's girl, except when her terrifying daddy actually shows up. She starts out spoiled, but she grows out of that. She's sort of shallow, but on the other hand she dated Ross, a nerd who, as Homer Simpson pointed out, "is handsome in an ugly sort of way." She likes to shop, but . . . well yeah, she definitely likes to shop.

Two big things happen with Rachel this season, both of which reflect her malleability as a character. First, she becomes a mom. That makes sense as a character progression; parenthood is a very common aspect of continuing to grow up. The problem is that show can't decide what kind of mom she is. In "The One with Phoebe's Birthday Dinner" she, if you will, pitches a spaz about leaving Emma with Ross's mom for the evening, believing something terrible will happen if she, Rachel, isn't with Emma at every moment. In "The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work," she cuts her maternity leave short, before she and Ross have made arrangements for Emma's care, because she imagines that her job is threatened. Now, I know moms get more relaxed the older their babies get, but the second thing is her just plain old being a bad mom.

Rachel's other big storyline is her crush on Joey. This plot pales in comparison to Season Eight's Joey-falls-in-love-with-Rachel arc. For one thing, it's not nearly as sympathetic because, as Rachel tells anyone who will listen, her thing for Joey is just physical. As a corollary, the situation doesn't reveal anything new about Rachel. When Joey fell for her, it showed us a new side of his character. It wasn't inconsistent with who we already knew Joey to be, but it did give him new depth. Rachel wanting Joey just shows old self-centered, jealous, shallow Rachel. (They really did go to the jealousy well with her a lot.) Not terribly interesting. The only way it does affect her character is that the writers dumbed her down to make her seem to fit better with Joey. (During Ross's keynote speech, Rachel laughs at "homo" while Joey laughs at "erectus." Boom! Now I'm convinced they're perfect for each other!)

And you know what's weird? I don't even dislike Rachel (except maybe when she ditches her baby to engage in stilted "sexual tension" banter with that puke Gavin). I like her fine. It's just . . . I can't really tell you why.

(For those keeping track at home, we've now "talked about" Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Janice, Ross & Rachel, and Chandler & Monica. I'm excited about this feature in the Season Ten write-up. [As a hint, it's not Joey & Chandler. That got cut in favor of Chandler & Monica.)

Top three episodes (by default):
"The One with Ross's Inappropriate Song"
or: "The One Where Phoebe Meets Mike's Parents" or: "The One with Richard's Sex Tape"

"The One with the Blind Dates"
or: "The One Where Monica and Chandler Babysit Emma"

"The One with the Soap Opera Party"
or: "The One Where Chandler Goes to a One-Woman Play"


AVH said...

Love it! And I agree, lazy season. But for some reason I always enjoyed Joey not understanding air quotes...even after realizing he's used them correctly in the past. I don't know why. And I'm with you on the Rachel characterization. But I love her anyway!

Rachel said...

I will admit, when he does the quotes around his sad face and mouths "I'm sorry," it makes me laugh every time.

Nancy said...

I liked this post a lot, even though I haven't seen enough friends to remember everything you mentioned. I think reviewing friends seasons is a good showcase for your writing ability.