This post contains several Friends spoilers. I’m including a disclaimer, even though the show started twenty-two years ago. Aren’t I nice? 🙂
Thanks to the differences in mine and my husband’s work schedules, I often find myself in an empty house with no sound there to keep me company aside from the meowing of the cat. Some experience peaceful side effects from silence, and I’m sure that once I become a mother, I will look back on these days with an almost lustful urgency, but as the issue rests now, I cannot abide a silent house. The absence of noise makes me feel so alone, so introspective, and the end of a busy day at work is not exactly the ideal time to examine the inner workings of my soul.
To drown out the noiseless void, I turn to my trusted friend, Netflix. While I go about my household chores, prepare dinner, and wind down from the day, I almost always have some kind of television show playing in the background of my life. Usually I choose a show with which I am already familiar, so I don’t have to pay too much attention to what’s going on. This practice is why I’ve managed to go through The Office, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, and Friends multiple times, while simultaneously writing novels and working and whatnot.
There’s a certain beauty to watching a show in the order it was meant to be watched in, even a sitcom like Friends, which aired in a time before Netflix, before television executives could expect viewers to catch every single episode. Theoretically, each episode is an island unto itself, able to be enjoyed a la carte, but I find there’s so much richness to be found when viewing them all in the proper sequence. Suddenly, character development is that much more evident. Suddenly, choices our on-screen friends make are tinged with that much more meaning.
I’ve moved on to Friends again for the second time after watching it with regular viewing habits. I’m sure many people think I’m crazy for cycling through the same shows over and over again, but I’ve found that this, also, adds a layer of depth to the stories the show wishes to tell us. Knowing the basic plot, the who ends up with who and the who does what, frees my mind to ponder deeper things. And surprisingly, even with a show as silly on the surface as Friends, there are deeper things to ponder in spades.
With this viewing, I’ve mostly spent my time thinking about what this show has to say about love–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Surprisingly, the messages to be found here are worthwhile.
If you’ve seen the show but aren’t exactly a diehard fan, you must think I’m losing it right about now. It’s no secret the show revolves around the exploits of six usually single friends, all of whom engage in casual relationships and sexual encounters without much thought to commitment (until the later episodes, of course). And that’s very true. Especially in the earlier seasons, almost every episode showcases one of Joey’s new conquests or one of Monica’s one night stands.
But what I love about this particular trope of the show is that these random, hit-and-run encounters, while often laughed off as a gag, are never depicted as fulfilling or satisfying. They never lead to long-term relationships or deep, emotional connections. And these characters, no matter how well their jobs or friendships are going, never stop looking for something that will satiate all that desire and thirst for love.
Initially, I could not stand Ross. He’s whiny and greedy and selfish and spoiled, and his “We were on a break!” nonsense had me convinced that he would never be equipped for another mature, long-term relationship, and I had mixed feelings when he and Rachel ended up together for good (That’s another blog post on its own.)
But a few weeks ago, I came across the episode that really made me rethink him.
Rachel, his recent ex-girlfriend, has broken her ribs and is in a great amount of pain. She asks Ross–who, unbeknownst to her, is scheduled to appear on a televised panel for the Discovery Channel–to help her get ready for a work party. When it becomes evident that she needs medical attention instead, she asks him to come with her to the hospital, and he agrees without one word of his prior engagement.
This moment, and this moment alone, made me a Ross-Rachel fangirl. Whatever he might say about her, however mad he might get, however many times he points the blame at anyone other than himself, this moment is the one that shows me he really loves her. This moment is what makes me know, deep down, he deserves her. Because that’s what love is. It’s saying to someone else, I will put your needs above my own needs. I will put your comfort above my own comfort. I will take care of you, no matter what. I’ll be there for you.
There are so many other moments I could explore that would get my point across. Phoebe serving as a surrogate for her brother and his wife, stifling her own urges for a chance at motherhood for the sake of their happiness. Chandler pushing aside the issues he had with his father’s abandonment and finally learning how to love Monica without mistrust or anger or fear. Monica letting go of her dreams for a huge, expensive wedding, because she realized what she wanted even more was a marriage. Ross telling Rachel to go to Paris, when all he wanted to do was hold her close and beg her to stay. I could go on and on and on.
Oftentimes, when I peel the layers of a television show back and look at the inner workings underneath, I rather wish I hadn’t. Some of them have no substance, and some have plenty, just of the wrong sort. But with Friends, I have a feeling that the more layers I pull back, the more insights into the human experience I will have. That, my friends, is good storytelling. I only hope one day to emulate it.