With Friends Like These...
I first glimpsed Friends sometime during its freshman season, about 56 years ago. That was long before the show's female leads had dieted down to their birth weights, prior to any of the actors entering rehab, and when the entire cast still made less per episode than the gross national product of Belize. I was in high school and Thursday was still "Must See" TV for NBC.
The episode I saw had something to do with "laundry virgins" and featured Ross and Rachel (what a shock) together at a laundromat. At one point I believe one of the characters jumped in a laundry cart to claim it as their own. No, really, this was the pinnacle of the episode's story arc.
I may have been under the age of legal consent at the time, but I clearly saw that this show stunk -- and this was a judgment coming from someone who at age 14 thought that the Wings and A Different World double-feature made for a really enjoyable evening of TV viewing.
So, imagine my surprise when critics everywhere began to praise the silly series, and fans jumped on the Friends bandwagon in a big way. Well, I was an independent thinker, I still wasn't going to watch. Not even when the six superstars became ubiquitous. Not even when my hairdresser strapped me down and gave me the mandate-by-law "Rachel" haircut in 1995. Not when the show's cast declared that they were excited and honored that Friends was the favorite TV series of the O.J. Simpson jury. Now there's a group of Mensa potentials worth currying favor with.
Eventually, I relented and watched another episode. And it turned out that this misfit group of laundry virgins had actually become funny -- not Simpsons or Seinfeld funny, but amusing, make-you-smile, better-than-a-sharp-stick-in-the-eye funny. At least, except for the awful moments with Phoebe talking about her life as a street person or Monica wearing a fat suit.
So I started watching, telling myself I could stop any time I wanted. And Friends inexorably devolved. Once Rachel got a surprise positive result from a pregnancy test just in time for the season-ending cliffhanger, Friends was removed from our TiVo Season Pass list in a small ceremony.
Still, I couldn't help looking in on those six crazy kids every now and then, especially when the news came out that this would be Friends' final season, setting the stage for some wrap-ups of the show's never-ending storylines.
But forget about that. NBC has, for the sixth straight season, signed a "last-minute" deal with the cast to shower them with cash in exchange for more episodes. What went unmentioned in NBC's press release was a disclaimer informing viewers that the show, in fact, sucks. And will continue to suck until it's finally sent to the boneyard.
A fully-unfunny Jon Lovitz hooks up with new mom Rachel on a blind date while Chandler and Monica have sex in front of her child. In a remarkable coincidence found only on sitcoms, Phoebe confesses to mugging Ross when they were both teens. My Mother the Car had more subtext and believability.
Remember when they had to put Old Yeller down? Remember how sad you were? Well, Friends is just like that, except for the sadness and the regret and the lovable dog. It is, regardless of the money and the synergy and the ratings, time for Friends to go. Kill it during sweeps in a special 70-minute episode featuring Charo and the Solid Gold dancers if you must, but just kill it. At this point, I think viewers would be happy to pay these people a million bucks an episode not to appear on my TV screen once a week.
Sure, the ratings are good. No matter how ridiculous the show gets or how many times I groan at yet another feeble joke or insipid plot twist, it's like a train wreck -- I can't turn away. And neither can America. Because I know, in my heart of hearts, that the next time someone asks me about Jennifer Aniston's hair I want to be ready with an informed opinion.
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