First Aired: 22nd September 1994
Jennifer Anniston Rachel Green
Courtney Cox Monica Geller
Lisa Kudrow Phoebe Buffey
Matt LeBlanc Joey Tribbiani
Matthew Perry Chandler Bing
David Schwimmer Ross Geller
Plot: Four friends office worker Chandler, aromatherpist Phoebe, struggling actor Joey and sous chef Monica are at the coffee place below the apartments were most of them live. They are joined by Monica’s brother Ross, who is distraught over his wife coming out and then divorcing him.
While everyone is well meaning, Ross points out that he just wants to be married again and a bride runs in, this being Monica’s high-school friend Rachel who has just skipped out on her wedding to orthodontist Barry.
At Monica’s apartment, the gang are watching spanish language TV while on the phone Rachel is trying to explain her actions to her father, this doesn’t go particularly well and she ends up cut off and staying in Monica’s spare room. Monica then goes on a date with Paul the wine guy while Joey and Chandler help Ross put up his new furniture. Paul the wine guy tells Monica about his divorce, including his being unable to perform with a woman in 2 years, this opening up enchants Monica while across town Ross is sinking into a post divorce depression.
Monica’s apartment the next morning Joey and Chandler are having breakfast with Rachel, when Paul the wine guy leaves Monica’s bedroom. Everyone goes to work, including Rachel who intends to get a job. At Monica’s job, she meets with colleague Fran who, when Paul is mentioned tells her the same story that Paul told Monica.
Embarrassed and angry, Monica is at the coffee shop later, everyone being sympathetic, but pointing out how she really should have known the two years thing was a line. Rachel arrives, no job but still spending money, very much in denial about being cut off. Later that night, the gang help her cut up her father’s credit cards and later than that Ross haphazardly asks Rachel out, the first high point for both of them in a long while and in the credits, it turns out that Rachel did eventually get a job, a waitress that the coffee place they are frequent.
Notes: Comedy is a genre I really enjoy in television, in particular sit-coms, with ther mix of ongoing story to sight gags and witty lines, they are a great showcase for good writing and comedy acting, which is often harder to pull off than drama. A drama can have many serious moments and continue quite well as a drama, but if a comedy mis-steps at a comedic beat, it can kill the episode dead. So I was cautious about actually writing notes on comedy, whilst not being myself particularly funny. Comedy is often more subjective than other criteria of entertainment and so what works for me, can often land flat for someone else. So I was less than thrilled when it came to actually write one of these things for a comedy at all, let alone one as famous and well known as Friends.
In many respects, I got lucky. Friends starts off very well, it’s part of that whole subsection of workplace-esque sitcoms with a group of friends, rather than colleagues. Many followed (Coupling, Rules of Engagement, Friends with Better Lives and How I Met Your Mother are on that list to) But friends really landing it’s format’s landing well enough from the start. The writing is, for the period solid. Each character has their own voice and distinct characteristics, from Monica’s uptight singleton, to Chandler’s incessant one liners and filter free responses. The recent loss of relationships for Ross and Rachel, paint those characters as sympathetic and you are quickly enough rooting for them. Only Joey and Phoebe seem to be short-changed here, but still get their own comedy moments here and there. The group have an easy chemistry together, acting as close friends from scene one, which never feels overly forced. Ross and Rachel have a bit of a rom-com chemistry, but it never takes away from the neurotic messes each of them are.
There being 6 friends split evenly along gender, it allows the group to do multiple stories per episode and show the male and female viewpoints, showcasing the character dynamics better, a clear understanding that we are different people around different people. It’s pacing is really good, the story moving along nicely without lingering anywhere for comedic effect, whilst still making almost all the jokes land. I enjoyed the banter between the friends, being a scouser I accept easily the idea that the people who give you the most abuse are the people who care for you the most. You buy completely that these people are friends, as the series went along, you end up grateful that they aren’t your friends.
This program went on for 10 years and made stars out of most of the cast, so many problems with jokes, stories and ideas in this program, mostly due to when it was made, but none of those problems are here in this pilot. This was a fun little program that was funny and charming.
Does it work? Yes avoiding the workplace tropes and concentrating on when they weren’t at work was a welcome change of pace and allowed for a more friendly cast.
Does much need fixing? Both Joey and Phoebe need to be actual characters and not just joke vessels, but it’s a big cast and 20 minutes only gives you so much room.
Does it stand up? Better than the subsequent seasons and this episode alone stood up fine as a product of it’s time.
Did I want to watch the next one? No, as I said, problems of tone and story would follow on and so I wanted to get out while I was enjoying it, rather than rewatch the whole thing.
Did I enjoy it? Yes I did, it was fun and charming and I remember enjoying it when it first started, so it was a nice bit of nostalgia.
Overall: 3 out of 5. A fun watch which was all that I wanted it to be.