With blog titles that usually begin with the words ‘The one…’ you might have already guessed that I’m a fan of the phenomenally successful TV show Friends.
Ten seasons covering 236 episodes were originally aired between 1994 and 2004. Unless you’ve been hibernating in Outer Mongolia, I’m sure you know the premise: the lives and loves of six friends (Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel and Ross) who live in New York and frequent their nearby coffee shop, Central Perk. They’re in their mid-20s when the series starts.
I didn’t actually watch Friends from the start although I didn’t watch much TV full stop at the time, preferring to watch films if I had some free time. I think it was probably about season four or five when I was away with work and staying with an old university friend who lived in the area. He and his wife were huge fans and, after expressing shock that I wasn’t, I was jokingly advised that I needed to stay quiet for half an hour while the episode aired, even if I hated every moment. I didn’t hate it. I absolutely loved it and wondered why I’d never watched Friends before.
After that, I didn’t watch Friends on TV but, each time a season ended and the videos came out on a 2-for-1 deal, I’d treat myself. Yes, I did say videos! In later years, I traded the videos for DVDs. Expensive! Kind of negated the savings on the 2-for-1 deal! Although my younger brother (also a huge fan) can’t believe I have several different styles in my box set. To be fair, they’re not aesthetically pleasing all mixed up like that but, as I’d already bought the videos, it was about replacing them with the least expensive DVD set!
Why am I talking about Friends today? Because I recently finished (slowly) working my way through all ten seasons. I can’t remember when I started watching them but it wasn’t a lockdown thing. I think it might have been the very start of the year when I was working crazy hours and struggling to sleep. I couldn’t seem to switch off on an evening but my eyes were too tired to focus on a book so I wondered if watching a couple of episodes of something I’d seen before might be a relaxing wind-down pre-bedtime and hopefully help me sleep better. It did seem to do the trick. And, of course, I couldn’t not work my way through all 236 episodes.
When I watch TV shows and films these days, I can’t help watching them as a writer. After watching the second series of Ricky Gervais’s brilliant Afterlife earlier this year, I actually tweeted him to say how fantastic the writing was. Because it was! Both seasons had brilliantly observed characters, realistic, clever dialogue and absolutely represented life in a way that could have me belly laughing one minute and sobbing the next while marvelling at the genius of the writing.
I’d seen the occasional episode of Friends since I wrote my debut novel but watching all ten seasons as a published author meant I approached them in a different way. I concentrated more on the character arcs, how quirks were emphasised more as the seasons progressed, how themes developed in more depth in later seasons and how the writers would drop in the occasional curveball. I considered the dynamics across the whole group but also the relationships between the different individuals.
If you’re a fan and you’re asked to come up with pairings, you’d immediately think of the romantic pairings of Ross & Rachel and Chandler & Monica, the friendships between Rachel & Monica and Joey & Chandler, and the siblings rivalry between Ross & Monica. But I hadn’t appreciated quite how many scenes Rachel shared with Joey or Phoebe and how close Phoebe and Joey were. And I hadn’t appreciated how many sensitive moments Joey had and how much good advice he gave.
What I also found myself focusing on was secondary characters and the impact they had on the friendship dynamics, whether they were recurring characters or one-off guest appearances. I hadn’t noticed before how many episodes Gunther appears in before he actually speaks. I hadn’t appreciated quite how many times Janice reappears.
I have to give so much credit to the writers for the way they maintained storylines for six main characters throughout 10 seasons. When writing a series of novels, it can be challenging enough to keep one or two main characters ‘busy’. The thought of doing this for six gives me palpitations!
I also marvelled at the slick way in which guests appeared, particularly those who were from one of the character’s pasts. The fact that a friend or relative had never been mentioned before made no difference; they just seemed to smoothly fit in. A few of my absolute favourites are:
- Brad Pitt (married to Jennifer Aniston at the time) appearing as Ross’s former schoolfriend who’d formed the ‘I hate Rachel Green’ club with him and still hating Rachel
- Julia Roberts (who was dating Matthew Perry at the time of being booked for the cameo) wreaking her revenge on Chandler who’d humiliated her at school
- Denise Richards appearing as Monica and Ross’s cousin, Cassie and everyone finding her irresistible, especially when she tosses her hair (and Barry White starts playing)
As for who my favourite friend is, I would have always proclaimed Chandler but, having watched the seasons back to back, it’s a close-run thing now between Chandler and Rachel. I love her character arc from being spoilt and selfish to being a really caring individual while still maintaining her personality quirks.
Watching a superbly-written series like this can’t fail to benefit my own writing and I think there are some great lessons to learn about the use of secondary and minor characters.
I was sad when I got to the end and I’m sure I’ll watch them all again in years to come. Life is so much better with Friends in it 🙂
Are you a Friends fan? Who’s your favourite ‘friend’? Which cameo did you enjoy the most? What’s your favourite episode? What did you think of the plotting / writing /dialogue /characterisation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.