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You're No Friends of Mine

One of the surest signs of a show's creative stagnation is the alternate-reality episode. Long a staple of sci-fi shows whenever they need to lay off the makeup department for a week, dramas and comedies have mined the "It's a Wonderful Life" conceit for any new material.

And last night, Friends just tapped out the vein.

For those of you who didn't watch the hour-long extravaganza, the show presented an alternate reality: Rachel was unhappily married, Joey was a successful soap star, Ross was also unhappily married, Chandler was a slacker comics writer, Phoebe was a distaff version of Gordon Gekko and Monica was an obese slob.

While there were some very deft touches -- Lisa Kudrow's performance showcased her range as an actress and Joey's back in his pimpin' digs from a few seasons ago -- the show stunk. It didn't stink because it wasn't well-thought-out. It stunk because most of the humor came at the fat girl's expense.

Possessed of a adenoidal whine, clad in threads only a John Waters character could love, and sporting a rat's-nest hairdo, the alternate Monica is a mess. She doesn't have an interesting or rewarding job. She dates a bore. She's always vacuuming up high-fat food. And, horror of horrors, she's a virgin until she and Chandler stumble into bed together.

Of course, the punch line in the relationship's consummation is that Chandler confuses a full-sized couch with Monica during foreplay.

Even after Monica finally gets carnal, a lot of jokes are made about her -- a fat woman! -- having a sex drive. Ha, ha, ha, fat women with libidos are funny! Not.

So thank you, Crane-Bright-Kaufman Productions, for teaching us the following lessons through humor:

  • Fat women don't deserve to dress nicely. In fact, they have no sense of style.

  • Fat women would rather stuff giant packs of Kit Kats in their nightgown pockets than shower and wash their hair.

  • Fat women deserve to date bores or losers, and should be grateful for the attention.

  • Fat women are not erotic objects, and therefore when they express a sex drive, it's a pathetic joke.

  • Fat women are valuable friends only if they act as insipid sounding boards for others.

  • Fat women are totally responsible for their own loser-like existence because they would rather stuff their face than have a rich and rewarding life.

Or, if you want to use this episode as an object lesson, we can conclude that fat girls can have personality quirks and friends who tolerate them, a successful boyfriend, a great job and a stunning wardrobe if she'd just get it together and lose 200 pounds.

I know there's a persistent current running through the media about how frighteningly thin some actresses are getting. I know that Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox Arquette are two of the actresses brought up repeatedly as examples of actresses who are a little too skinny. I haven't been watching the show that much this season because, frankly, it's a little unnerving to watch the formerly curvy Aniston looking like Karen Carpenter, and I can't even look at Cox Arquette without expecting her to lapse into ketosis on screen.

But if this episode was the producers' idea of flipping the bird to the critics, they bungled badly. If producers don't want their actresses' appearance to be an issue, then pretend it isn't. Ignore it. Refuse to acknowledge the issue. Kaufman-Bright-Crane Productions didn't do a damned thing last night to alleviate the persistent buzz around their stars' appearances. If anything, the contempt they display toward fat women goes a long way in explaining why Aniston and Cox Arquette look the way they do now.

Perhaps we'll see another alternate-reality episode, one in which women who are vibrant and comfortable in their own bodies take center stage. I somehow doubt it; perhaps my counterpart in an alternate reality can report on it, but I don't think I'll be able to.


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