On September 22, 1994, Ross Geller, while sitting in a coffee shop with his friends said, “I just want to be married again!” and then Rachel Green burst through the front doors in her wedding dress. TWENTY YEARS AGO.
*Obligatory OH MY GOD I AM SO OLD moment*
I can’t remember a time where I didn’t love Friends. It’s become a part of my DNA in the twenty years since its premiere. I quote it in some capacity, be it a line, or saying something in Chandler-speak, on almost a daily basis. I know I’m in a REALLY bad place if a repeat on Nick at Nite can’t make me laugh. The mutual love Sage and I shared for this show became the very foundation of our friendship when our friend Angel looked at us and said, “You guys should team up for Friends trivia because you’re equally insane about it.” It’s my ultimate comfort show and it seems to be the same thing for so many of our readers, as all of our character appreciation posts rank among the most viewed on this site.
What is so special about Friends is that it is both a very specific slice of its decade (it is SO 90’s I can’t get over it) yet it also remains timeless in its stories and its themes and its characters. There’s a reason why Friends trivia is packed every time we go (and have our asses handed to us because there are people out there more fanatical that us, if you can believe it): everyone sees a bit of themselves in this show, be it in the characters or the situations they get themselves into. People will still be saying “Gum would be perfection” and “WE WERE ON A BREAK!!” when the fortieth anniversary rolls around. It’s that timeless.
When I first broached the idea for this anniversary post to Sage, we both thought it would be an impossible task to narrow down our list to twenty (you all witness the bloodbath when it came to picking our X-Files episodes after all). Turns out, it wasn’t that hard. While there were several episodes that we were sad to leave out (“All The Thanksgivings”, “The Kips”, and “The Cheesecakes” were on that list), we were very much of the same mind when it came to the best episodes of Friends. The best episodes ARE about the monumental and iconic moments of the series, but they are also the ones that fully utilized one of the best ensembles in TV history. We felt very strongly that each of our twenty had to showcase the entire cast well because as Joey proved, these six characters are best when they are together. So I’m not going to SAY that this list is the definitive one, but I’m going to strongly suggest it.
Screw it. These are the best twenty episodes, end of story. Deal with it.
20) “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” (7 x10)
You’ve got plenty of Thanksgiving episodes ahead of you on this list, but “Holiday Armadillo” is the only Christmas-themed episode to sneak into our Top 20.
If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably familiar with my opinion on early-series Ross. I’ll leave that version be for now. This list is a celebration, not a lecture. Instead, I’ll talk about how much I adore him at this level. At this level and in this armadillo suit.
Ross’s determination both to teach his son a few things about Hanukkah and to make sure he has a fun Christmas sets Monica’s apartment as the stage of “the Easter Bunny’s funeral.” The wardrobe department outdid itself with Ross’s “weird, turtle-man” suit, the armadillo get-up he re-classifies as “Santa’s representative to the Southern states aaaaannnnd Mexico!” He’s at his best when he’s at his goofiest, and the show takes this opportunity to mix in a little farce. The Holiday Armadillo is joined by Chandler’s constipated-looking Santa Claus, who does his part to get Ben to pay attention to the story of “theeee Maccabees!” and then eventually by Superman, who is less helpful.
The B-plot is less cartoonish than the A, but a solid usage of all the apartment-switching that goes on these later seasons. Phoebe’s apartment is ready for Rachel to move into, but Phoebe feels insecure about their plans when she sees what a blast her future roomie is having at Joey’s. This very plotline is why I don’t understand the anti-Rachel/Joey camp when they contest that the show laid no groundwork for the pairing. It may not be romantic at this point, but Rachel and Joey are clearly bonding in a new way. Matt and Jen are a fun pair to watch and always were. (See: sailing on the Mr. Beaumont.) Their responses to Phoebe’s “gifts” are a delight, from Rachel’s cool-girl reaction to the tarantula to Joey’s panicked fall off the drum set to their A-for-effort duet of the one song they know.
Phoebe was panicking for nothing; of course Rachel wanted to go live with her girlfriend. But plans change when they arrive at a fully renovated one-bedroom. Even the contractors ship it, people.
Phoebe: Monica and Chandler said that you were having so much fun here. And apparently no amount of drums or tarantulas is gonna change that.
Rachel: Did you get all this stuff for Joey to try and drive me out of the apartment? Honey, if you wanted to do that, you might as well just gotten him a fish. You know how fish freak me out!
19) “The One with Phoebe’s Wedding” (10 x 12)
Weddings gone awry is a classic trope that just about every sitcom has done and one that Friends visited three times over the course of its ten-year run (more on one of them later). The final season of Friends spent a good chunk of its time tying up all the loose ends of the series, making sure all of our beloved gang (except for Joey because of that stupid spin-off. #neverforget) got to the places in their lives where we would be happy leaving them, knowing that they are okay. What makes “Phoebe’s Wedding” so special is the way that the gang rallies around Phoebe (who more than any one of them, had relied on her friends as her family of choice) as she marries her perfect man in a ceremony that was traditional, yet so unique that it could ONLY be Phoebe’s wedding. There are wonderful callbacks to previous moments in the series, from Monica being Phoebe’s Maid of Honor, just as the girls planned out when Rachel got to be Monica’s (“Yeah okay, you laugh now, but she’s gonna be yours.”) to Joey still being ordained so that he can step in when the blizzard prevents the minister from getting there (stepping up from his position of Phoebe’s dad, which don’t get me started on that scene, cause I will short-circuit my computer from all my tears). I love how eventually the entire gang gets involved in the wedding, from Chandler walking Phoebe down the aisle (“Aren’t you cold?” “I don’t care, I’ll be my something blue!” “You look beautiful.” #cryingforever) to Ross escorting Rachel and Chappy in the procession. Because even if it wasn’t how Phoebe and Mike intended, it wouldn’t have been right if all five of Phoebe’s best friends, who had been there with her through so much, hadn’t all be involved in the wedding.
Let’s discuss that perfect man, shall we? While I always carried a secret torch for Joey and Phoebe (please, you did to), I recognized that it would be horribly clichéd if they ended up together. Friends was better than that. While Phoebe had some great suitors over the years (David, The Cop [till he shot a bird]), no man balanced out Phoebe Buffay like Mike Hannigan did. On paper, you would have never thought that these two would work. Mike was blue-blooded and a bit privileged (but with the soul of an artist) while Phoebe was daffy and free-spirited and had lived on the streets. Yet they lit each other up. Mike accepted everything about Phoebe at face value and embraced (and defended) her weirdness. He became her anchor and she helped him embrace his own quirks. He viewed every day with her as an adventure. There could have been no man more worthy of her wonderfulness.
But the best part about the episode is how the wedding ended up taking place in front of Central Perk, this magical coffeehouse where Phoebe Buffay found her true family and became the person that Mike fell in love with. Looking back, it couldn’t have taken place anywhere else.
Phoebe: So there’s no one to walk me down the aisle and… well, I would just really love it if you would do it.
Phoebe: Yeah, you’ve… you know, sort of been like a dad to me. I mean, you’ve always, you know, looked out for me and shared your wisdom…
Joey: I am pretty wisdomous.
Phoebe: So… what do you say?
Joey: Are you kidding? Phoebe, I would be honored.
Phoebe: Oh, thank you. I hope… I hope you know how much you mean to me.
Joey: Listen, I hope…that you know…I don’t want you to see your father cry, GO TO YOUR ROOM!
18) “The One where Mr. Heckles Dies” (2 x 03)
I should no longer be surprised that Kim and I share a brain, but I was pleased to see that she also put this unassuming little season two episode on her shortlist. So much went down that year, particularly with Ross/Rachel and Monica/Richard; and there a lot of “event” episodes, some of which we’ll run into later. But “TOW Heckles Dies” stands out as a character study on Chandler Bing: insecure, dissatisfied, emotionally stunted.
I could have done with years more of Mr. Heckles weirding out the entire building. He made a big impact in a small amount of screentime, and it’s obligatory Friends fan behavior to yell “HECKLES!” when one sees Larry Hankin in anything else. But Friends killed him off to give Chandler his A-ha moment. Oprah would be proud.
Heckles goes to the lord with a broom in his hand, presumably in the process of sending a message to “Noisy Girl 1” and “Noisy Girl 2.” Then he sends them another, more inscrutable message. He leaves the contents of his entire apartment to Monica and Rachel. And while they sort out the remnants of his life, Chandler notices some striking parallels. Kooky hermits aren’t born that way. Heckles wasn’t always alone. He used to be the funniest guy in the room too. Chandler projects, assuming that Heckles alienated himself. And then Chandler decides that if he doesn’t stop rejecting the women he dates out of pickiness, he’ll eventually have to trade women in for snakes.
Chandler: “If I’m gonna be an old, lonely man, I’m gonna need a thing, you know, a hook, like that guy on the subway who eats his own face. So I figure I’ll be Crazy Man with a Snake, y’know. Crazy Snake Man. And I’ll get more snakes, call them my babies, kids will walk past my place, they will run. ‘Run away from Crazy Snake Man,’ they’ll shout!”
Though Crazy Man With A Snake would have been a better Friends spin-off than Joey, this was not to be. As his girls counsel him, Chandler isn’t in any danger of ending up alone. He wants too badly NOT to be.
The rest of “Heckles Dies” consists of conflict between other Friends. Rachel and Monica clash over ownership of their apartment when Rachel wants to bring some of their dead neighbor’s kitschy aesthetic into Apartment 20. (“Is this tacky or what? We have to have this.”) And Phoebe delights in infuriating Ross by proclaiming her disbelief in evolution (“It’s a nice story, I just think it’s a little too easy.”) and later, gravity. (“I don’t know, lately I get the feeling that I’m not so much being pulled down as I am being pushed.”) She knows exactly what she’s doing and Ross is just begging to be knocked off his high horse. He thinks of himself as someone practical and grounded, but Ross is definitely not as in control of his emotions as she is. (“Is there blood coming out of my ears?”) And Bravo, Lisa Kudrow, because you can practically see the evil gleam in Phoebe’s eyes when she knowingly exploits that.
Rachel: Hey, Chandler. Monica broke my seashell lamp.
Chandler: NEAT. I’m gonna die alone.
Rachel: …Okay, you win.
17) “The One with All the Resolutions” (5 x 11)
When we first started putting this post together, much like we did with The X-Files and The Office, Sage and I independently made lists of episodes we would consider, exchanged them, and then pulled out all the ones we had listed in common (FORTY EPISODES #mindmeld) and then submitted episodes that we would fight for. “The One With The Resolutions” was on my list, and I was SO HAPPY when I got a text message from Sage during her rewatch saying “Yeah, I am with you one ‘Resolutions'”.
The premise of the episode is simple: the gang makes their New Year’s Resolutions (“JUST THE ONE DIVORCE IN ’99!!!”…which is hilarious considering the events of the season finale in Vegas). These resolutions vary in degrees of difficulty. Chandler vows not to make fun of his friends for a week. Rachel promises not to gossip. Ross vows to try something new every day. Joey decides to learn guitar. Phoebe decides to become a pilot. And once and for all proving that I am Monica and she is me, Monica promises to start taking more pictures of the gang. Where “TOW All the Resolutions” succeeds is in the execution of just how hard it is for the gang to keep their resolutions (“Hornswaggle? Oh, this must be killing you!”). Phoebe, much to Chandler’s chagrin and torment, is a terrible guitar teacher, from her “no strings policy” to her names for guitar chords (“Now, I don’t know the actual names of the chords but umm, I-I-I made up names for the way my hand looks while I’m doing them. So then, this is Bear Claw. Okay, umm, Turkey Leg and Old Lady.”). Rachel finds out about Monica and Chandler and then can’t tell anyone without breaking her no gossip rule (“All right, how about I go over there and I will walk into Chandler’s bedroom and I will see that thing that I think that I know is actually the thing that I think that I know!”). However, the shining moment of the episode comes from Ross and his Leather Pants.
I said it in my Ross Appreciation Post and I’ll say it again here: David Schwimmer never got enough credit for his brilliance as a physical comedian AND for the way he would use his voice to convey sheer and utter horror (I often wonder if they ACTUALLY put him in pants that were too small for him in this scene or if he was just ACTING like they wouldn’t come up. Thoughts?). Our favorite Ross is an unhinged Ross, and the way David builds Ross’ panic in this scene is fantastic. If you don’t have tears rolling down your face by the time Ross dejectedly comes out of the bathroom, clutching his balled up leather pants over his junk, you may want to reexamine your sense of comedy. Ross gets himself in ridiculous situations as the series progresses…the teeth bleaching, the spray tan…but the leather pants take the cake. Bonus points to Joey for being the voice of reason on the other end of Ross’ phone call.
Joey: Ross? You okay?
Ross: They’re still, they’re still not coming on man and the lotion and the powder have made a paste!
Joey: Really?! Uhh, what color is it?
Ross: What difference does that make?!
Joey: Well, I’m just—if the paste matches the pants, you can make yourself a pair of paste pants and she won’t know the difference!
He’s putting out fires everywhere, people.
Chandler: I can’t take it any more! So you win, okay? Pheebs? Flying a jet? Better make it a spaceship so that you can get back to your home planet! And Ross, phone call for you today – Tom Jones, he wants his pants back! And Hornswoggle? What? Are you dating a character from “Fraggle Rock”? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
16) “The One with the Jellyfish” (4 x 01)
It’s almost shocking how much of the dialogue in “TOW The Jellyfish” has become iconic. When season four opens, the gang are still out in Montauk, having had quite the eventful weekend on the beach. Now we get the fallout from the finale’s cliffhangers. Ross and Rachel are back on, if you pay no attention to the bald girl down the hall. Phoebe knows that her birth mother didn’t kill herself. She lives at the beach and – thanks to a genius bit of guest casting – is Teri Garr. The Phoebe of the ’80s, if you will. And for platonic-types, Chandler and Monica are spending an awful lot of time talking about what it’d be like if they were boyfriend/girlfriend. Looking back on it now, could they be more obvious?
The centerpiece of the episode is the jellyfish story, told under duress because the three parties involved just can’t live with their secret anymore. Matthew, Matt, and Courtney play their growing discomfort perfectly – even before we know “what the hell happened on that beach?”, we can guess that it was pretty gnarly. Thanks to a Discovery Channel documentary, Chandler, Monica, and Joey ended up in a three-way emergency pee situation which leaves them barely able to look at each other. (“LOOK IT’S PHOEBE. WE CAN TALK TO PHOEBE.”) You’ve got to love their sense of dramatic tension when they finally share what happened. (“I got stung. I got stung bad.”) Chandler’s shriek into his hands is unfailingly funny, and Joey’s declaration of friendly loyalty is both gross and touching. (“If I had to, I’d pee on any one of you!”)
Meanwhile, Ross and Rachel are dealing with the aftermath of their psuedo-reunion. While Ross broke up with Bonnie the Bald Girl, Rachel sat down and poured her heart out in a letter. Ross falls asleep reading it before he can get to the context of the last two crucial words. And his answer to that question is all Rachel wants before they move forward. So does it, Ross? DOES IT?
“It so does not!” though. Rachel’s letter asked Ross to take full responsibility for Chloe the copy girl, thereby ending the “We were on a break” debate once and for all. After trying and failing to keep his mouth shut while Rachel revels in his giving in, Ross loses it – gorgeously. Frankly, I’d rather watch Ross and Rachel have a knock-down drag-out than be a happy, well-adjusted couple. They just too good at it.
Ross: I fell asleep!
Rachel: You fell ASLEEP?
Ross: It was 5:30 in the morning, and you had rambled on for 18 pages. Front and back!! (they go into the living room, trapping Monica, Chandler, and Joey in the kitchen) (to Rachel) Oh-oh-oh, and by the way, Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E means ‘you are,’ Y-O-U-R means ‘your!’
Rachel: Y’know I can’t believe I even thought about getting back together again! We are so over!!
Ross: (fake crying) FINE BY ME.
Rachel: Oh, oh, and hey-hey-hey, those little spelling tips will come in handy when you’re at home on Saturday nights playing Scrabble with Monica!
Rachel: (to Monica) Sorry! (to Ross) I just feel bad about all that sleep you’re gonna miss wishing you were with me!
Ross: Oh, no-no-no don’t you worry about me falling asleep. I still have your LETTER.
15) “The One with the Proposal” (6 x 24-5)
In college, my apartment was always the gathering place for all of MY friends to watch Friends. Since we were theatre kids, I always set my VCR to record the episodes (God…remember having to do that? So much could go wrong!) and everyone would come over to my place to watch after rehearsal. I have such strong memories of the night we gathered to watch “The One with the Proposal” and holding hands with my friend Tevy through most of the episode as all the wheels seemed to come off the Monica and Chandler relationship. This is why “The Proposal” is so great as an episode…it genuinely creates a sense of peril, making the audience panic JUST before it resolves itself in an oh-so-perfect way. Chandler’s insecurity when it comes to Richard Burke is a well that Friends returned to many times over the latter years of the series, but usually it was just used to comic effect, as Chandler was clearly threatened more by the IDEA of Richard than Richard himself. But Richard was used as a perfect obstacle to Monica and Chandler’s happiness in this episode. Don’t get me wrong…I NEVER thought that Monica would actually run away with Richard when he decided to offer her all the things it seemed Chandler was not going to give. Monica Geller is not that kind of person (one of my favorite moments of the episode is when Monica rants “Fair? Please don’t even talk to me about fair! Fair would’ve been you wanting to marry me back then! Or fair would’ve been Chandler wanting to marry me now! Believe me, nothing about this is fair!”). What Richard’s return DID do was plant seeds of doubt in Monica’s head and had her questioning everything she thought she had been building towards. That doubt is scarier than any sort of sexy ophthalmologist ANY DAY.
Thankfully, the creators of Friends are not monsters and everything turned out just as it should be…with a little twist. I STILL cry the moment a despondent Chandler opens his apartment to see Monica surrounded by candles (NICE FAKE OUT JOEY). I cry harder when Monica gets down on one knee, because screw convention, this is the man she chooses and they have taken this journey together, so why shouldn’t she be the one to lead them on this next step? And I cry hardest when Chandler, crazy snake man no more, finally gets the words out and asks the love of his life to marry him in the most perfect way possible.
The B-Plots in this episode are stellar too, from Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe attending a silent auction (Sage and I scream “I WANT THE MR. BEAUMONT” at every auction we’ve ever attended) to Rachel and Phoebe fighting over which of them gets Joey and Ross as their back-up. But come on…you all know why this episode REALLY makes the list.
Monica: Chandler, in all my life, I never thought I would be so lucky (starts to cry) as to… fall in love with my best… my best… there’s a reason why girls don’t do this!
Chandler: I’ll do it. I thought…(Also starts to cry) Wait, I can do this. I thought that it mattered, what I said or where I said it. Then I realized, the only thing that matters is that you. You make me happier than I ever thought I could be. And if you let me, I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you feel the same way. (Pulls out the ring) Monica, will you marry me?
14) “The One with the Rumor” (8 x 09)
Bold declaration: this is my favorite thing that Brad Pitt has ever done.
“TOW The Rumor” is a little slice of the Brad and Jen era preserved forever, but that’s not the only reason I adore it. We get to mine new goodies from Ross, Rachel, and Monica’s high school experience with the arrival of Will, a newly slim and gorgeous former classmate. (“I think it would be better for my ego if we didn’t stand right next to each other.”) His presence at the Thanksgiving dinner table leads to several uncovered truths and one lie – the titular rumor. Ross and Will did found an “I Hate Rachel Green” club and recruit their school’s Thai exchange student as a member. (“No need to point, she knows who Ross is.”) Ross did make out with Mrs. Altman behind the card catalog. (“If you must know, Anita was very gentle and tender.”) Rachel was not born ambiguously gendered. And I’m not saying another word about that joke after this: 2001 was practically the dark ages as far as language about trans-individuals and gender identity was concerned. *Puts lid back on that box. Carefully.*
You have to figure that the cast was at least friendly with Brad by this time, and the familiarity shows. Ross regresses brilliantly. (“You know what? I’m back in the club!”) And Phoebe speaks for all of us watching at home when she begs Will to just “take off your shirt and tell us!” “The Rumor” doesn’t feature any higher on our list because we both felt that the most representative episodes of the series should be focused on the six. This episode doesn’t define characters or move the story forward. But it does succeed wildly in fulfilling its purpose. And that purpose is to stunt cast the crap out of a famous boyfriend and just let it ride.
Next to Hollywood’s Brad Pitt, the episode’s other MVP is Matt LeBlanc. Forever a big kid, Joey can’t stand the thought of a Thanksgiving without turkey. (“That’s like Friday with no two pizzas!”) So he boldly takes on the challenge of eating an entire 19 lb turkey by himself (“That’s like me when I was born!”) and defines a term that gets a lot of usage around my house every third Thursday in November. Halfway through the meal, you gotta excuse yourself and transition over to your “Thanksgiving pants.” The Tribbanis lead by example. They may not be world leaders or great speakers. They may not be able to run very fast or read all that much. But dammit, they can eat.
Will: Look at her holding those yams. Those are our two worst enemies, Ross – Rachel Green and complex carbohydrates.
13) “The One with Ross’ Wedding” (4 x 23-4)
Friends closed out its fourth season with a big, splashy on-location finale and THINGS HAPPEN. Ross says “Rachel!” Chandler and Monica do it! Joey meets Fergie and hooks up with Rosemary Cross! (What would Max Fischer say?) Jennifer Saunders wears a fascinator and glares at people!
Things had to go south eventually with Ross and Emily. Because Emily was boring as fuck. The show faked us out, as it is wont to do, by setting up the idea that Rachel would break up the wedding. But after an illuminating plane ride with a pre-House Hugh Laurie (!!), she realizes that she’d be acting selfishly in doing so. (“I’m going to have to agree with your friend, Pheebs….”) Poor Phoebe is stuck at home, but she does get some good stuff over the phone (“So if you don’t give me that number, then I’m going to come over there and kick your snooty ass all the way to New…Glocken…shire.”) and with Rachel before she heads off on her misguided mission:
Rachel: “Oh my–why didn’t you TELL me?”
Phoebe: “We thought you knew!”
Phoebe: “Yeah, we all know! We talk about it all the time!”
Instead, Ross sticks his foot in his mouth mid-vows, leaving us an entire summer to wonder if the slip was Freudian proof that he still loved Rachel or just a combination of nerves and the surprise of seeing her there. You guys know I think they went back and forth with R/R too many times, but I must admit that this one got me. My face looked kinda like these faces:
The other bombshell of the episodes comes the morning of the nuptials, when Chandler throws back his comforter to reveal his wedding hook-up: Monica. Maybe it’s unrealistic that a desperate, drunken night could turn into something so good, but I don’t know, it made sense for them. Chandler has made a habit of bringing Monica up when she’s down and reminding her how amazing she is. (“Then why would he say it?” “Because he’s crazy! He came up to me earlier and thanked me for my very moving performance in Titanic!”) This time it just…went a little further than the verbal buck-up. It didn’t quite make the list, but let’s appreciate his killer line in the missing moment we see in “TOW The Truth About London”: “You’re the most beautiful woman in…most rooms.” Bye.
Finally, as an Anglophile myself, I totally support and understand Joey’s joyful embrace of London. I mean…it’s London, baby! Westminster Abbey is also “hands down” the best abbey I’ve ever seen. I’d consider buying a goofy Union Jack hat if Richard Branson were selling it to me. And I was just there this January and definitely went “into the map” a few times. (“Going into the map” in 2014 is holding your phone in front of you while you walk and making sure the blue dot is going in the right direction.) But Joey is a simple soul and can only venture so far before needing to retreat to the familiar. He’s already feeling fragile after talking to Phoebe (“Aw, the babies miss me?”) and then it gets worse. Homesickness and the Cheers theme song are not a cheery pair. New York misses you too, Joe.
Joey: Everything’s different here. I want to go home. I…I miss my family. I miss the coffee house. I can’t even remember what Phoebe looks like.
Chandler: Joey, it’s been three days, okay? You’re just a little homesick. Okay, would you just try to relax. Just, just try to enjoy yourself.
Joey: You’re different here too. You’re mean in England!
12) “The One Where Joey Dates Rachel” (8 x 12)
The Joey and Rachel arc was a controversial one as we had been taught from the very beginning of the series that Ross and Rachel were meant to be together (“Even though they made each other miserable!” screams Sage on gChat). When the show was on the air, I was one of the fans screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING???” from my couch when they actually went there with Joey and Rachel. However, 12 years later I can look back and say that this pairing DID work, that the characters had matured to a point where they could realistically fall in love, and it was a bold move of Friends to acknowledge it (and conversely a chicken shit one to back off of it so quickly in season 10). Clearly, many of you agree about the Joey and Rachel pairing, as Sage’s “Rachel Should Have Ended Up With Joey” post is the 4th most viewed post in our entire two-year existence.
In the “Joey falls for Rachel” arc, Matt LeBlanc was given his best material over the course of the series and truly rose to the occasion and it resulted in his first Emmy Nomination for Leading Actor (He lost to Ray Romano for Everybody Loves Raymond *eye roll*). It’s an incredibly nuanced performance and you actually SEE the moment where everything clicks with Joey and the date stops being a game between two roommates and becomes something very very real. It’s lovely to watch.
The somewhat emotionally confusing A-Story (confusing in that you should be WHY DO I LIKE THIS SO MUCH?) is perfectly balanced by the silliness of the B-Story which revolves around Phoebe’s Ms. Pac-Man wedding gift to Monica and Chandler (“My hand is messed up!”). Who hasn’t taken a great delight in making their top scores in a video game dirty words? (“Hey wait a minute, this one isn’t dirty!” “It is when you put it together with that one.”) (A+ for the subtle blow job joke, show) This plot reminds me of the hours my friends and I would spend playing Goldeneye in college and how brutally competitive we would get with each other, so it makes me smile. And the moment where Phoebe lets loose a litany of curse words (overscored by an operatic aria cause of those bastards at Standards and Practices) right as Ben walks in the room? 12 years later it still makes me laugh so hard I cry.
Joey: Okay all right, so now you go.
Rachel: No, I don’t want to tell you.
Joey: Why not?
Rachel: Because it’s embarrassing.
Joey: More embarrassing than shiny raspberry lip balm?! (Rachel just looks at him.) I didn’t say raspberry before did I? All right just-just tell me Rach, just tell me!
Rachel: (laughs) Okay. All right, stand up. (They do so.) Well, when we’re at the door, I lightly press my lips against his, and then move into his body just for a second, and then I make this sound, “Hmmm.” Okay, I know it doesn’t sound like anything, but I swear it works.
Joey: (stunned and turned on) Yeah. Why—Yeah, that would work for ya…
11) “The One the Morning After” (3 x 16)
This episode HURTS. It was an incredibly bold choice to have Ross, the guy who had been built up for two and half seasons to be this PERFECT guy, do the unthinkable…cheat on Rachel. Yes, yes, I know. They were on a break. No matter where you fall on the “WE WERE ON A BREAK” debate, you have to admit that it was horrible that Ross had one hell of a time at his relationship’s wake by sleeping with Chloe the Copy Girl mere seconds after he thought his relationship with Rachel was over. Yes, cracks had begun to show in the relationship. Ross wasn’t able to handle Rachel’s newly found success at work and the schedule her job demanded. Ross wasn’t able to handle Rachel’s new work husband because he was just so insecure in his relationship with Rachel that he viewed any man as a threat (which really, is an insult to Rachel AND her love for him). The MINUTE Rachel suggests they take a step back, he goes out and sleeps with a RANDOM girl. And then makes up with Rachel WHILE said random is still in the apartment. AND THEN runs around the city all day, chasing the trail, trying to stop Rachel from finding out what he did (“Oh, that is so sweet. I think I’m falling in love with you all over again.”). It’s all so so so horrible and painful and real.
The heaviness of the episode was balanced perfectly by the comedy of Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, and Joey being trapped in Monica’s bedroom (thanks, Waxine) listening to Ross and Rachel fight. But even that comedy of being so hungry they start eating the wax falls away as they realize just exactly what is going on. They serve as the audience during the entire episode as they listen with incredulation that this happened in the first place (“Should we do something?” “Yeah, never cheat on Rachel.”). They are us as they cling to the fact that they will work it out (“They’re gonna get through this, aren’t they?” “Yeah, come on, it’s Ross and Rachel, they’ve got to.”). And they are us as they all stand silently crying at the door as they realize their friends aren’t going to make it after all. It’s such smart writing.
Ross: Okay, well here we are. Now we’re in a tough spot again, Rach. What do you want to do? How do you want to handle it? Huh? Do you wanna fight for us? Or, do you wanna bail? Look, I, I did a terrible, stupid, stupid thing. Okay? And I’m sorry, I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. I just can’t see us throwing away something we know is so damn good. Rachel, I love you so much.
Rachel: No Ross!! Don’t! You can’t just kiss me and think you’re gonna make it all go away, okay? It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t just make it better. Okay?
Ross: Okay, okay, okay.
Rachel: I think you should go.
Rachel: I really think you need to go now.
Ross: Okay, okay. This morning you said there was nothing so big that we couldn’t work past it together…
Rachel: Yeah, what the hell did I know!
Ross: Look, look, there’s got to be a way we can work past this. Okay, I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine my life without you. Without, without these arms, and your face, and this heart. Your good heart Rach and, and….
Rachel: No. I can’t, you’re a totally different person to me now. I used to think of you as somebody that would never, ever hurt me, ever. God, and now I just can’t stop picturing with her, I can’t, it doesn’t matter what you say, or what you do, Ross. It’s just changed, everything. Forever.
Ross: Yeah, but this can’t be it, I mean.
Rachel: Then how come it is?
Sage spoke about this at length in her Rachel Appreciation Post and I have to reiterate it here: the way Rachel stands up for herself here is astounding. The last scene of the episode is probably the strongest acting David and Jennifer did over the entire course of the series. In his desperation, Ross tries to twist it around to make it seem like Rachel is the one who broke the relationship but Rachel stands her ground and maintains that she is right about ending the relationship. It takes incredible strength to say no when the man you love is kneeling before you begging for your forgiveness. It would be very easy for Rachel to forgive him, because he is just THAT remorseful. But Rachel can not and will not be disrespected this way, so she says no. I applaud her conviction and admire it. We should all be so strong.
Ross: You can have the last piece, if you want.
Rachel: I should think so. You slept with someone.
And that’s episodes 20 through 11! We’ll be back on Monday, the actual 20th Anniversary of the pilot, with our top ten! Till then, leave your feels in the comments!