As shippers go, I’m fairly conservative. I usually stick to the canon, largely because real life is disappointing enough and I don’t need to set my heart on any more lost causes. But I do carry a torch for a few misfit couples (Toby/CJ, what you could have been!) – the ones that never really got there but I just can’t quit.
Rachel Green and Joey Tribbiani are #1 on that list. One of the reasons that Friends is my favorite sitcom of all time is that the writers developed a handful of 11th hour stories for our characters that changed the game, but still made sense. After years and years (and yeaaaaars) of Ross/Rachel drama and copy girls and “we were on a break,” the show managed to get me quickly and completely on board with Joey/Rachel. But then, they expected me to get off that ship just as quickly. I’m here to tell you that putting Rachel and Ross back together at the end of the series was sentimental and just plain wrong. Take away the fear of a fan uprising and the plans for a Joey spin-off, and the choice is clear: Joey and Rachel are the real soulmates.
Here are the top 7 reasons why I will go down with this ship:
1. The whole thing started with them getting to know each other better.
We’re not talking about friends who have suddenly found themselves attracted to each other after years of platonic intimacy here. Remember that Joey first hit on Rachel in the pilot. On her wedding day. And if you argue that point on Rachel’s side, I direct you to “The One That Could Have Been” for proof that she has been harboring a latent boy-girl thing for him.
So no, this isn’t about surprising sexual feelings or a drunken hook-up. (We’re not against drunken hook-ups here at Head Over Feels, whether they are of the televised OR personal variety. We have a drunken hook-up to thank for Mondler, after all.) How WONDERFUL is it that Joey and Rachel’s feelings for each other developed just because they got to know each other even better? Before Season 8, these two didn’t find themselves alone in storylines together very often. So, when they moved into Chandler and Joey’s old apartment together, there was plenty of new material to mine. I know from holding my ground in some bitter ship-battles that not everyone agrees, but to me, taking these characters down this path felt completely organic. Why? I’m glad you asked…
2. Rachel had FUN with him.
Rachel Green had the richest journey of any character on Friends, except for perhaps for Frank Jr. – husband, father, pyromaniac. By Season 8, she’s a self-sufficient professional on her way to being a single mom. But deep down, she’s still the popular, rich girl who had it easy in high school (aside from the “hermaphroditic cheerleader from Long Island” rumor) and isn’t always the most composed or mature person in the room…
…Except when Joey’s the only other person in that room. Rachel obviously loves Monica desperately – she is her person – but it must have been freeing for her to move from the land of 11 classifications of bathroom towels to Joey’s House of I Don’t Give A Shit. And it’s not just the loosey-goosey housekeeping rules that she loves about being “the hottest roommate” Joey’s ever had. They have the same sense of humor (“Erectus?” “No, homo!”) and a similar glass-half-full, go-with-the-flow quality. And don’t even try to substitute the steamed vegetables that come with your steak for a half-pound lobster if you don’t want to make Joey Tribbiani fall deeply in love with you.
I’ll say it again: Rachel is going to be a SINGLE MOM. She’s dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and the father of her child dating other women. Spending time with Joey allows her to focus on the good stuff, take things as they come, and be excited about her new life, instead of worrying. No wonder she’s so grateful to him.
3. Being in love changed Joey. And he was fine with it.
But really, this arc was Matt LeBlanc’s most Emmy-worthy work on this show. This is JOEY TRIBBIANI, as I screamed to Kim on Avenue A last night while talking about this post. Joey doesn’t share food, and he certainly doesn’t let himself be completely obliterated by his feelings for a girl. He doesn’t hold his best friend while she watches a scary movie, “terrified” of what’s going to happen. But if Barney Stinson can become a one-woman guy, why can’t Joey? He has even mushier insides than the Barnacle.
There are so many lovely sequences in the R/J episodes where Joey is trying to make sense of his feelings, either to himself, his friends, or a very cute dog. Joey is an innocent, which is why we found his womanizing endearing and not gross. We forgive it, because we can see that he’s just not ready. But he’ll get there. Way back in Season 5, he shows that growth for the first time. Joey sees Monica and Chandler cozily working on a crossword puzzle together and dreams about himself in Chandler’s place:
Monica: “But that’s good that you’re not in love with me, because you just want a girlfriend!”
Joey: “No, I don’t think it’s just about just getting a girlfriend. Y’know? I mean, yeah, I can get a girlfriend! Yeah, we could sit in the chair and do crosswords, but y’know are we ever going to have, y’know, the closeness like – like you guys have?”
Chandler: “Well y’know, Monica and I were friends before we started dating. So maybe – maybe that’s it?”
Joey: “Friends first? That’s interesting.”
Isn’t it, Joey? It is, indeed, very interesting.
4. It made Ross do this:
Ross, understandably, doesn’t know what to do with himself when he finds out that Joey and Rachel are making a go at a relationship. And his meltdown is just gorgeous.
*See “Pi-vot!”, “MY SANDWICH?”, and “Get off my SISTER!” for more evidence that an unhinged Ross is the BEST Ross.
5. Joey fell in love with a pregnant lady and then with her kid. Are you kidding me with this perfection?
Granted, Jennifer Aniston plays an incredibly radiant pregnant lady. BUT STILL, she IS preggers, and only getting more so. There’s nothing convenient for Joey about these circumstances. It’s messy, scary, and not at all glamorous. Joey is a family guy though, who will beat the shit out of anyone who hurts one of his many, many sisters and, if he had to, would pee on any one of us. He falls in love with Rachel AND with the idea of a family. He’s ready to give up all the things he loves about not being tied down to make her and Emma happy. Ross who?
6. It was hot.
The defense rests. Not really, but you know what I mean.
7. BECAUSE THERE IS NO VALID REASON IT SHOULDN’T HAVE WORKED.
Following the beautiful character development and all the sweet moments, the way that this storyline abruptly ended was nothing short of a crime. All I can remember is that, after weeks of sexual tension and some pretty steamy making out, Rachel and Joey decided out of the blue that it was too weird for them to be physical. And then they never spoke of it again. What?! Show, you cannot give me something this exquisite and then pull it away from me with no warning. Who do you think you are, Friends? Doctor Who?
I get that the Ross/Rachel seed was sown many moons ago and that some fans would feel betrayed if they didn’t get payoff in the finale. But wasn’t it enough? I was right there with you guys obsessively rewinding the kiss in Central Perk and crying through the first breakup. But after 10 seasons, those two were DIFFERENT PEOPLE than they were back in “The One with the Prom Video.” Maybe I just don’t believe in lobsters. Or maybe I think that Phoebe was wrong about which lobster belonged to Rachel.
I don’t know if I’ve changed any minds and hearts here today, but I do hope that I’ve at least explained myself clearly. Or maybe this opinion is a little more popular than I think. Rachel/Joey shippers, if you are out there, please make yourselves known! Or, if you think I’m completely off-base here, defend your undying support of Ross/Rachel in the comments. I’ll be there for you no matter what. (She did it! She said the thing.)