Thursday, 15 December 2011

Friends

Friends; comedy series, USA, 1994-2004; D: Gary Halvorson, Kevin Bright, Michael Lembeck, James Burrows, David Schwimmer, S: Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Elliott Gould, Tom Selleck

The story revolves around everyday events and misadventures of six friends in New York: Rachel, who starts off as a waitress and then finds as job in a department store; Joey, who is a struggling actor; eccentric Phoebe, who decides to give birth for her brother and his wife; paleontologist Ross who got divorced from his wife and his sister Monica who wants to be a cook; as well as the often sarcastic Chandler. Ross and Rachel break up but still have feelings for each other. Those culminate when Rachel ends up pregnant after a one night stand with him and gives birth to a daughter.

Subconsciously or not, the authors gave a special feeling of comfortability among the viewers by giving the title "Friends" to one of the most popular and acclaimed TV shows of the 90s, which still holds up pretty well today despite some omissions. Even though it was more a hit in the US than in Europe and the rest of the world, "Friends" have a certain universal appeal in presenting some everyday problems and misadventures, that "slice-of-life" flair that manages to build up awe from scratch, whereas a lot of credit should go to the six main actors who established a strong chemistry and carried even weaker seasons thanks to their charm: the story is a true ensemble cast since none of the actors stands out more than the other, equal care was given to everyone. The first three seasons were arguably the best, until the writers made a crucial error: the break-up between Ross and Rachel was unnecessary and pointless. They tried to make it suspenseful by having the viewers guess until the end whether or not they will make up again, yet the sole concept was erroneous: would an ex-couple still hang around as friends after such a bitter split? Some remarks made by Rachel aimed to belittle Ross were especially mean-spirited and seemed as if they came from a sitcom called "Enemies". Generally speaking, whenever Ross' character swims at top, the episode would always be at least good.

However, during its prime the story offered truly a lot of funny ideas and social observations. In one especially comical episode, Joey exaggerated his CV during an audition for a musical in order to win the role, claiming he had years of experience in step dance. When the supervisor asked him to train a whole class of students for a dance rehearsal, the music started and Joey, after a moment of awkward silence, simply just ran away outside. During another audition, he had to show his uncircumcised penis for a sex scene in a movie, but since it was made out of salami, it fell off. Ross plays a tune and then stops. Joey thinks he found a job as a photo model, but the next day his photo shows up in the city in the form of an add for sexually transmitted disease. The static camera and lax story flow towards the end, when the show lost steam, bother, yet if there is one episode that achieved perfection of cosmic proportions and that should be seen by those who never intend to see the show, then it's in season 5, "The One Where Everybody Finds Out", written by Alexa Junge. In it, Monica and Chandler are still hiding that they are a couple, but Joey, Rachel and Phoebe already know that and are annoyed by endless pretending. So, Phoebe decides to "push the limits" by pretending to seduce Chandler, mischievously "exploring" how far he will go until he finally admits that he is already with Monica. But he and Monica figure out that Phoebe is just faking it so they decide to switch the tables and have Chandler pretend he wants to sleep with Phoebe, too, which culminates in the sequence in his apartment where they both dare it more and more (a stroke, a kiss...) to see who will give in first. That episode was so virtuoso, so deliciously written that you did not care about directing, acting, shot composition or anything else at that moment - you were simply fully absorbed by the story.

Grade:++

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