Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Friends: Season Ten

In general:

So here's what happened: I put off and put off watching this season. Then, when I finally got around to the first disc, I discovered that there was a lot in the episodes that made me laugh--it was much better than I remembered. Then, for no good reason, I didn't get around to watching the second disc.

I waited so long that once I finally decided to do the dang thing already, I reviewed my notes and discovered I no longer remembered what they meant. So I started from the beginning of the season again. I laughed much less.

I tell you this seemingly pointless story because I realized: my viewing experience mirrored the original experience of watching Season Ten back when it first aired. We were so happy to still be getting new episodes of Friends that, if for novelty reasons alone, we enjoyed them pretty well. But we enjoyed them less the more we saw them. (No doubt because of how much the cast was getting paid, this season is only 75% as long as all the others. That made for a lot--a lot--of reruns.) And as the season wore on, even the new episodes seemed less and less good. Because they were indeed less and less good.

It cannot be denied, there are funny lines and funny ideas in Season Ten--but not enough of them to fill up even seventeen episodes there are. So the rest of the time is taken up by:

-Stretching the good ideas as far as they will go (example: the "floating heads" gag when Monica and Chandler lock everybody out in "The One with the Late Thanksgiving" is funny, until it drags on and on and on)

-Having the characters be horrible, horrible human beings (one example from among so many: pretty much everyone in "The One with Phoebe's Wedding." Chandler and Ross both throw fits about not being in the wedding, while Monica runs the wedding by being a cruel as possible. The worst thing about this is that after firing Monica, Phoebe gets overwhelmed by the logistics and re-hires her, making the lesson that Monica was right to be horrible all along. Yay?)

-Making Joey ridiculously, cartoonishly, painfully stupid (example: in "The One Where Joey Speaks French," where Phoebe tries to teach Joey French for a role, and the culmination of the plot is that Phoebe tells the casting director that Joey is retarded. It's in French, but the word "retarded" is actually used in the subtitles. Why does calling Joey retarded make Phoebe a good friend?!?)

And I have to tell you, I couldn't even watch the Danny DeVito scenes in "The One Where the Stripper Cries." I had to fast-forward. My heart couldn't take it.

But then the series ends as it must: Monica and Chandler move out of The Apartment, having achieved babies; Phoebe has been married off; and of course Ross and Rachel end up together. (Which is why the Joey-Rachel romance had to be quickly and illogically killed off at the beginning of the season.) It wasn't creative, but it was compulsory. The loose ends had to be wrapped up, except in the event of spin-off potential.

Little things that drive me crazy:
Rachel's bangs in the second half of the season. They're always in her face. Get a barrette, girl, dang!

When Monica gets shell-ended dreadlocks in her hair and then rubs them "sexily" on Chandler. It bums me out.

Pretty much every element of "The One Where Estelle Dies." Phoebe (and everyone who doesn't stop her) thinks it's appropriate to hide Joey's agent's death from him because . . . ? Chandler keeps Janice from buying the house next door to theirs by pretending he still wants her, in (as I have complained before) a blatant re-hash of the Janice episode in Season Seven. Jane Lynch guest stars and is utterly wasted in a nothing role. Rachel decides to move to Paris even though her baby lives in New York (the plan seems to be that the baby will take a bunch of transatlantic flights). Rachel's old boss from Ralph Lauren agrees to re-hire her in response to Ross's bribes, so . . . that guy's pretty corrupt. In a classic Ross Misunderstanding, Ross offers to do a favor for Rachel's boss's son . . . but makes it sound like he's going to molest Rachel's boss's son! Ha ha! Pedophile jokes are awesome. And finally,

what is Rachel wearing here? Grandma's S&M sweater?

I'll stop with this section now, because there several more episodes I could do a similar list with. ("The One with Ross's Grant," "The One with the Home Study," "The One with the Late Thanksgiving," "The One with the Birth Mother," and "The One Where Joey Speaks French" spring to mind.) But that wouldn't be good for the mental health of any of us, I'm sure.

No, one last thing: in the very last scene, everyone is together and gives up their keys to the apartment and so forth. Monica and Chandler are happy, because now they have their babies. Ross and Rachel are happy, because they're together and . . . wait, where's Emma? To be fair, you could ask this question a couple times in pretty much every episode, but seriously, why isn't Emma there? The other babies are there! Why not Emma?! (I also think Mike should have been there, since he represents Phoebe's happy ending, but I can understand why his presence--unlike Emma's!--would have been intrusive.)

Plain old little things:
Anne Dudek plays Precious, the girlfriend Mike decides to break up with on her birthday. Years later, Anne Dudek appeared on How I Met Your Mother as Natalie, a girl Ted breaks up with on her birthday (twice). What are the odds?

Joey sold his boat (The Mr. Bowmont, as I hope he still called it) two years ago. But when exactly did the chick and the duck die?

Little things I love:

Chandler's certainty that their baby's biological father is not the one that was captain of the football team, but the one that murdered his father with a shovel. (Of course Monica's not as worried, "He's probably got a tattoo that says 'Mom' on his shovel-wielding arm!")

Crap Bag

Rachel doesn't mind when drunk Ross spills the beans that Charlie has never liked Rachel: "It's OK, girls tend not to like me." At least she's at peace with it.

Phoebe's right: Jack Bing is a great name, very worthy of a 1940s newspaperman.

At the beginning of "The One Where Chandler Gets Caught," everybody is sitting around the coffee house, talking about which they'd rather give up for life, sex or food. It's very first season, and it's cute they included a scene like that in the last season.


  • Monica, with crazy hair: "Wait a minute--Ross and Charlie, Joey and Rachel, Phoebe and Mike--we're the only people leaving with the same person we came with!" Chandler: "That's not true, I came with Monica, and I'm leaving with Weird Al!"
  • Chandler, after Joey discovers the thesaurus: "You signed it Baby Kangaroo Tribbiani."
  • Rachel: "He's cute! Thank you, JewHunks.com!"
  • Phoebe, when Knicks fans heckle her and Mike: "ODIN WILL SMITE YOU!"
  • Monica: "Chandler, you're panicking!" Chandler: "Uh-huh! Join me, won't you?!?"
Let's talk about Gunther:
Gunther is pathetic. Gunther is passive and passive-aggressive. Gunther is awkward and a little creepy and off-putting to the people around him. Gunther is complicit in his own misery.

But how can you not love Gunther?

Gunther speaks Dutch! Gunther is steadfast! When Gunther gets invited to a party, he helps do the dishes.

Considering that James Michael Tyler appeared in more episodes by far than anyone outside the six core actors (he's got 141 to runner-up Elliot Gould's 20), it's surprising that there are no Gunther-centric episodes. The closest thing to it is "The One with the Joke" from Season 6, in which Joey starts working at Central Perk, resulting in upwards of three Gunther scenes. Even there, he's still a supporting player in the C plot.

But let it not be said that Gunther is unimportant! His effect on events may be subtle, as in "The One with a Chick and a Duck" (Season 3). The episode begins with Gunther coming outside to bring Rachel a cocoa which--because it distracts her from Monica roller-skating towards her--results in Rachel breaking a rib. Gunther can also be direct. One of my favorite Gunther moments is in "The One Where Monica and Richards are Friends" (Season 3), where Gunther is the only person willing to tell Phoebe's boyfriend that his junk is hanging out ("Hey buddy, this is a family place. Put the mouse back in the house"). And occasionally, Gunther really shakes things up. These are the the top three most pivotal Gunther moments:

#3: Gunther helps convince Joey to move back in with Chandler, "The One Where Eddie Won't Go"
After getting killed off on Days of Our Lives, Joey blithely assumes his next big success is right around the corner. He wants to keep not just his fancy apartment, but all the fancy junk he bought to decorate the apartment. Ross tries to convince him to cut back on his expenses, but he resists. Then he goes to Central Perk and shares his woes with Gunther, who asks how they killed his character. "I was buried in an avalanche," Gunther then volunteers. "I was Bryce on All My Children." This more than anything else gets the point across to Joey that the next big paycheck might be a long way off. For that reason (and to help Chandler with his insane-replacement-roommate problem), Joey ends up back where he belongs.

#2: Gunther unwittingly gets Rachel to quit her job at Central Perk, "The One Where Rachel Quits"
Gunther tells Rachel that their boss, Terry, wants Rachel to go through new waitress training again (because she's a terrible, terrible waitress). Gunther's patient but condescending explanations of where the trays go and how to tell decaf from regular coffee drive Rachel over the edge. She quits the coffee shop to take a gamble on a career in fashion, changing the entire trajectory of her character.

#1: Gunther breaks up Ross and Rachel, "The One the Morning After"
Yes, that's right! It was Gunther! Recall: after getting back together with Rachel, Ross scrambles frantically to keep her from finding out that he slept with the girl from the copy place. Chloe the copy girl has already told her co-worker, who has told his sister Jasmine, who works at the massage parlor with Phoebe. Jasmine promises not to tell Phoebe, but has already told her roommate--cut to Gunther. Ross pleads, "Please tell me you didn't say anything to Rachel about me and the girl from the copy place." Gunther, with faux concern: "Oh, I'm sorry. Was I not supposed to?" If Rachel hadn't found out, or if Ross had had enough time to tell her himself, their relationship may have been salvageable. Gunther: evil genius?

Well, no. The best summary of Gunther, when you get right down to it, is his costume in "The One with the Halloween Party": Charlie Brown.

Top two episodes:
"The One with the Cake"
or: "The One with Joey's Dramatic Reading"

"The Last One"

. . . I mean, neither of those are really that good, but they're the best of the 17.

But fear not!
This is not the note on which we are ending the series of Friends posts. There is still a wrap-up post to go, featuring (among other things; let me know if you have suggestions) all-time best and worst episodes, all-time best and worst guest stars, the seasons ranked in order, and some stuff about kissing! It's gonna be good times.

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