“Friends” went off the air 10 years ago today (May 6), can you believe it? Can you also believe it premiered nearly 20 years ago? Yes, that does make me feel old.
But for a certain generation of TV viewers, it will go down in history as the greatest comedy of all time. I was in junior high when “Friends” premiered and was just starting to graduate from children’s programming to more adult programming when both it and “ER” came on the scene. I had never seen anything like either of them. I am now aware of the many legendary shows that came before them, of course, but I was too young to watch most of them when they were airing, so “ER” and “Friends” were my first foray into just how good television could be.
They were also my first foray into rabid fandom, especially “Friends.”
I never missed an episode, not one. When the phenomenon really took off and there were music videos made and soundtracks released and books published, I consumed everything I could get my hands on. I actually still have the “Friends” CD and a glossy coffeetable book (somewhere), plus I own every season on DVD.
Did you know on the soundtrack there are bits of “Friends” dialog in between the songs? It’s awesome.
Anyway, for my friends and me, we had never known comedy like this. It was witty, clever and sarcastic in a way we hadn’t really experienced yet, and it changed both our way of speaking and our senses of humor. Yes, “Seinfeld” was a great comedy and it certainly paved the way for “Friends,” but I was slightly too young to get in on “Seinfeld” until it had been on the air for a while. “Friends” is the quintessential comedy of my formative years.
With that, I present my Top 5 episodes (in chronological order, because I cannot choose between them). Yes, this list was hard to cull and yes, your list might be five completely different episodes. But these are my favorites, the ones I feel best exemplify what made “Friends” so great.
1. “The One With the All the Poker”
This is the episode where I first realized there was something special here. The main storyline is ensemble-based and every character is in top form. It’s an especially great Ross-Rachel episode (before that relationship grew very tiresome): “But look how happy she is.”
2. “The One Where No One’s Ready”
I think this one would make a lot of lists, it’s brilliant. Again, ensemble-based and full of hilarious and utterly quotable moments. “Hummus, I got the hummus!”
3. “The One With the Football”
The Ross-Monica relationship might be my favorite dynamic on the show and this episode beautifully puts it on display. It’s also my favorite of the awesome Thanksgiving episodes “Friends” did throughout its run.
4. “The One With the Embryos”
The “Friends” writers frequently utilized a device where the characters revealed secret facts about one another, whether it was from yelling out secrets in an effort to change the focus of a conversation or, as in this episode, the trivia game to see who knows whom better. The secrets were always a funny plot, but this was the best one.
5. “The One With the Proposal”
“There’s a reason girls don’t do this!” cries Monica. I hear you, girlfriend. I still can’t watch this scene without tearing up.