May 6, 2014 marked the ten year anniversary of the finale of NBC’s Friends. And seriously, does that not make you feel old? Because it sure does make me feel old. There are plenty of places on the internet this week that are talking about the historical significance of Friends (go to HitFix and read Sepinwall’s piece, it’s excellent), and I in no way want to leave the implication that I don’t believe it has major historical significance. Because I do. I really, really do. But that’s not what we do here at YBTV. Here, we talk about how TV impacts us on a personal level, so that’s what I will do here in this post.
When Friends started in 1994, I didn’t watch. I was 10 years old, and honestly, the only TV I regularly watched at that point was: (1) Houston Astros baseball games; (2) Hill Street Blues reruns with my dad; and (3) Beverly Hills, 90210 with my older siblings. By the time I was 14 or 15 though, I had become aware of this little show on NBC and had watched every episode on VHS tape (I really hope the people who read this blog know what VHS tapes are). We had recorded the episodes off reruns (another thing kids today don’t know much about), and I watched them with my friends, out of order of course, at least 5 times each.
By the time I was a junior in high school, Thursday nights were “the night” at my house. You, young people, may not remember this, but back in my day, people used to gather in large groups to watch TV other than the Super Bowl. Every Thursday night for my junior and senior years of high school, somewhere between 12-20 people would get together in my parents’ game room (where the big TV was, obviously), and we would all watch Friends together, as a communal experience.
When I went off to college in the fall of 2001, the show had started to show some growing pains. It’s not easy to do 234 episodes of sitcom television. And, that eighth season of Friends suffered as so many shows do when they’ve been on that long. Finding new, interesting stories became harder, these characters we came to know and love became cartoon-like, and all in all, the show became less funny. We had long story arcs of Joey being in love with Rachel and Chandler living in Tulsa, among other misfires. Even though the show slipped though, it always remained watchable and you never regretted spending time with your six closest TV Friends.
Friends was never a perfect show, but it did change the world. Just look at what happened after Friends premiered. Every year since that 1994 television season, each network has tried to duplicate what Friends had. But, the thing is, you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. To find 6 people that good looking, with that great of chemistry, and that impeccable of comic timing…How could you do it again? Though a couple shows have come close (Happy Endings being one of them), there will never be another Friends.
Along those lines, consider that the finale of Friends was watched by 53 million people! Just this year, another long running, well loved comedy, How I Met Your Mother, had it’s finale. You know how many people watched that episode? 12.9 million. And here’s the kicker: That is considered a massive, massive success. Friends was really the last of the shows that were appointment television for tens of millions of people each week.
As alluded to above, Friends is even more important to me on a personal level than for the television landscape as a whole. Friends is the show that started me down the path to television dork that I have landed on today (just as Snatch and Fight Club helped guide in my love for film). The connection I felt with Chandler Bing is likely still reflected in my personality as a grown man. The joy I saw that group of people getting out of television in my parents’ game room taught me that television has the power to do more than just entertain. Television can bring people together, and it can sometimes even teach us life lessons and make us think.
Friends episodes, each of the 234 (save the pilot) started with the trademark TOW (meaning either The One Where, The One With, or The One When) and were written as well as any comedy that came before it, and influenced so many comedies that would come after it. Everyone has a favorite Friends episode, although, choosing only one could be tricky. Maybe you love TOW Chandler in a Box? TOW The Blackout? TOW No One’s Ready? Or, are you a classic Friends fan, who says the only answer to this question is, TOW All the Embryos?
Regardless of which episode is your favorite, it’s likely that there are many moments from Friends that stick out in your mind as if it were just yesterday. That’s the mark of great television. Friends may be gone. But, it is certainly not forgotten. Friends made an immediate impact on the television landscape, and it’s fingerprints can still be seen all over the place today. Friends, like Seinfeld, Cheers, and The Cosby Show (to name just a few) is timeless, and it is among the first shows I plan on showing to my children one day.
My love of television can be directly traced back to two shows. The Sopranos, and the six hilarious people sitting on those couches at Central Perk every Thursday on NBC for 10 years, our Friends. Thank you David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Thank you for the memories, and thank you for showing me what television would come to mean to me throughout the rest of my life.
*Editor’s note – CJ may feel old, but he is really only 30. 🙂