“Remember how crazy you used to be about Friends?” People ask me this, and I wonder who told them that anything’s changed.
Vulture recently did a series on the 1994 TV season – possibly the last great one for network TV. And I devoured every word of it, because that was the year that signed, sealed, and delivered my soul to the television gods. I was 11 years old the first time I saw Friends, and I was long gone before the episode even ended.
Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the little show that became a behemoth. The odds were against it from the start. Courteney Cox was barely a name – the other five actors, nobodies. And you thought Seinfeld was about nothing? Meet six people who hang out. And do stuff. Yet something about the show hooked itself to our insides and didn’t let go. Blame it on the unforseeable chemistry among the ensemble or the sharp, yet totally accessible writing. Friends was a juggernaut and a world we wanted to live inside of. Watching the show once a week wasn’t enough. We bought soundtracks and mugs and that awesome Windows 95 instructional CD-Rom. My Smelly Cat shirt was the crown jewel of my wardrobe.
I drove my entire family crazy with my wild-eyed commitment to never miss an episode. I still have VHS tapes filled with episodes that I can’t bear to throw away, even though I haven’t owned a VCR for five years. My grade school classmates printed in the school newspaper that in 15 years, I’d be playing Phoebe in the Friends movie. Well, the movie didn’t happen and I’d hope Lisa Kudrow would be back anyway, but I appreciate the thought. Two decades later and Friends still wrote the language that I use to relate to life and people around me. (“It’s like in that episode where Chandler…” has started many a conversation with someone I barely know.) The life I saw in the show and wanted for myself isn’t the only reason I stay in New York City, but it is one of the reasons I came. Friends wasn’t perfect, and few things worth loving with everything you’ve got are. We can analyze the places where it fell short without minimizing its impact, cause that’s how progress works. I don’t want to return to a world where network sitcoms are my only comedy options. But even if our options had been as varied then as they are now, Friends would have still risen to the top.
But you already know all this. That’s why you’re here. Today, on its platinum anNevadaversary (its anniVegasry), we give you our Top 10 episodes of Friends.
10) “The One with the Prom Video” (2 x 14)
I know, I know. “The One with the Prom Video” is one of the most iconic episodes of the series. Ross and Rachel finally get together for good. We meet the joy that is Fat Monica for the first time. Chandler and Joey become bracelet buddies. Rachel’s hair is at its Rachel-iest peak. So why is this episode, which is near the top of many other lists, ranked at number 10 for us? Because for most of the episode, Ross is a pretty big jerk.
And that’s not the Rachel/Joey shipper talking.
Don’t get me wrong. I pined for Ross and Rachel back in the day. I was devastated by the events in “The List” (More on that later) and I longed for those two crazy kids to get their shit together. But for someone who was supposed to be his Lobster, Ross didn’t always treat Rachel right or give her enough credit for being able to make her own choices. I do think Ross was driven by the fact that Rachel HAD fallen for him and he was so desperate to fix things between them that he often made them worse.
ROSS: I was saving you.
RACHEL: Saving, saving, saving me from the pleasant conversation with the interesting man, saving me?
ROSS: Oh, see from where I was sitting I uh. . .
RACHEL: OK, Ross, listen to me, I am not yours to save.
ROSS: But, you are.
ROSS: Uh, uh, well you’re, umm, you’re my lobster.
RACHEL: OK, you know what, are, are you being like, the blind date guy again?
ROSS: No no, you’re uh, you’re my lobster. See um, lobsters, uhh, in the tank when, when they’re old, uhh, they get with, uhh, they walk around holding the claws. In the tank, ya know, with, with the holding and. . . Uhh, Phoebs you wanna help me out with the, the whole lobster thing?
PHOEBE: Do the claws again.
ROSS: Rach. OK, forget, forget the lobsters OK. We’re, let’s talk, what about us?
RACHEL: Ross, there is no us, OK.
ROSS: No, but. . .
RACHEL: No, listen to me. I fell for you and I get clobbered. You then fall for me and I again, somehow, get clobbered. I’m tired of being clobbered, ya know, it’s, it’s just not worth it.
ROSS: Well, but, but. . .
RACHEL: NO but Ross. We are never gonna happen, OK. Accept that.
ROSS: E-except, except that what?
RACHEL: No, no, ACC-cept that.
I do think the ending is justified and wonderful. Ross had loved Rachel his entire life and the prom video made her realize that. Whose heart didn’t break for him when he turned the corner of the stairs, in his dad’s tux, clutching flowers, ready to take Rachel to the prom, only to see her running off happily with Chip (who we learn later was most definitely not worth Rachel Green’s love)? I love how you see everything click on Rachel’s face in that moment. Suddenly, none of the bad things Ross has done in the past when it comes to their relationship matters to her anymore. All she sees is a guy that was always willing to stand-up for her and love her even when she didn’t see it herself. So there is nothing left to do BUT kiss him. The kiss is both a “Thank you for loving me” kiss and it’s also an affirmation that she SEES him. She sees that she hurt him too in the past (even if she didn’t realize it) and she sees that maybe they should just stop hurting each other and just BE together already. I love the delighted screams of the audience as Rachel grabs his face and plants one on him. I am sure those screams echoed in every home that watched the episode that night.
I think Rachel’s reaction to the video is compounded by knowing that Ross couldn’t bear to watch the video with the gang, instead standing by the door wallowing in his impending humiliation. Because that’s what he expected. He expected all of them to laugh at Sad Sack Ross, rejected once again. He’s got it all wrong, of course, because he never gives his friends and his sister enough credit. Honestly, my favorite reaction after Rachel’s was Monica’s “I can’t believe you did that!”. Courteney delivers that line with such pride and you truly see that for all the ways he makes her crazy, Monica truly loves her big brother.
(It still doesn’t make the List okay, but that’s neither here or there when you’re a character on a sitcom)
On to the other less complicated aspects of this episode…I wrote at length in my Monica Appreciation post about how much I loved Fat Monica. I have to say again that it could have been very easy to make Monica a sad sack without a date to the prom. Instead, she’s joyous in her red taffeta polka dot gown (“Some girl ate Monica!”), clutching a sandwich and excited to go to the Prom with the guy who was in the paper for seeing Star Wars 317 times. Monica is the kind of friend who will also give up going to Prom, even after Roy touched her boob while pinning on her corsage, because her best friend’s date stood her up (“Oh, I’m gonna kick Chip’s ass!”). Everyone needs a Monica Geller in their lives.
One of the things I love so much about the early seasons of Friends is that such a great effort was made to give every plot thread great moments. The episode opens with Monica having to dirty talk her way through a job interview (“I think that fifth shower actually got the interview off me.”) which forces her to go to her parents for money (which is how the prom video gets to the apartment in the first place) and it also has the Joey/Chandler “Bracelet Buddies” (“THAT’S WHAT THEY’LL CALL US”) story. It’s a jam-packed episode.
To show the lasting impact of this episode, let me share with you what my sister gave her husband on their wedding day. She gave him a painting of a lobster, with the inscription “To MY lobster” painted on the back. You know…cause they mate for life.
Do the claws again.
Joey: How come you have two?
Chandler: Well this one’s for you.
Joey: Get out.
Chandler: No, I can’t. No no, listen, I, I know how much this means to you and I also know that this is about more than just jewelry, [puts bracelet on Joey] it’s about you and me and the fact that we’re best buds.
Joey: Wow, is this friendship? I think so. Check it out, we’re bracelet buddies.
Chandler: (to Rachel) That’s what they’ll call us!
9) “The One where They All Turn 30” (7 x 14)
30 seemed so distant when I first saw this episode. Now I can appreciate it in a new light. “TOW They All Turn 30” is a rare non-linear episode of Friends, bringing us snapshots of all our favorite characters hitting the milestone. Some take it on the chin; some get scha-wasted; and some had already been 30 for a full year. It was fitting for a show who counted “twenty-somethings” as being one of its few defining characteristics to mark the passing of each Friend into that next decade. I thought about it a lot on my 30th, particularly between the third and fourth shot. Kim can probably clarify this for me, but I might have yelled a Joey up to the heavens. “WHY, GOD?” (Note from Kim: Yes, she did. While singing “Walking in Memphis” at karaoke.)
Birthdays are a son of a bitch. They inspire you to impose ultimatums on yourself, even if your life is pretty damn good to begin with. Phoebe is distraught when she learns from her cold sister Ursula that she’s actually turning 31. She lost a year – a year in which she could have met some Portuguese people, went to sniper school, or had the perfect kiss. Would that we all had a hot, sweet friend like Joey to assist us in checking the one box that he can. (“Plus, uh, I’m 1/16th Portuguese.”) I won’t argue with Mike being The One for Phoebe (he’s Paul RUDD), but honestly, wouldn’t Joey have done in a pinch? (Let’s talk about that hand on the back of her head, pulling her in even closer. Guh.)
I was given a surprise party once and I spent the whole night stressing about how I wasn’t dressed for pictures. So I can identify with Monica, who is woefully unprepared for the fancy 30th Chandler’s thrown for her. Much like drunk Rachel Green, drunk Monica Geller is a total gem. The bus boys know it, Chandler knows it, and now the whole party knows it, cause she’s not exactly hiding it well (“I’m telling you, it’s like watching Bambi learn how to walk.”)
Rachel’s 30th spells the end of her and her cutie assistant Tag, whose thumbs up during his scooter ride is my favorite part of the entire episode. The candles and a poorly chosen card by an oblivious Chandler send her on a spiral about her biological clock. (“All you had to do was buy the card!”) Little did she know that a surprise pregnancy was coming her way soon enough. Who needs a timeline as long as condoms only work 97% of the time?
Best Line:Tag: Ms. Green would like to establish some ground rules before she comes out. She would appreciate it if you don’t use the words “old” or “downhill” or “they still look pretty damn good.”
Joey: They do!
8) “The One with Chandler in a Box” (4 x 08)
We very easily could have had nine Thanksgiving episodes on this list (Trivia Alert, the only season without a dedicated Thanksgiving episode is Season Two). The Thanksgiving episodes of Friends became one of the cornerstones of the series and an event episode every year. They are a big part of the reason that Thanksgiving has become my favorite Holiday because, like Monica, I cook every year for my friends.
So why “Chandler in a Box”? Let me count the ways….
1) Matthew Perry ACTUALLY spent the whole episode in the box. I’m sure he did some real good thinking in there.
2) Cutie-cute baby Micheal Vartan as Timothy Burke. He’s so cute, I would have wanted to shove the pen in my eye too. I have to side with the gang though…as cute as Timothy is, it’s super creepy that Monica attempted to go out with Richard’s son. Thank GOD it only went as far as a really gooooooooood kiss. However, Monica’s rant to all her friends about judging her is golden. And she DOES have a point…after all the wacky things her friends have pulled in the name of love, it IS a bit of a “throwing stones in glass houses” moment for the rest of them.
3) I love how the gang draws for Secret Santas and then immediately can’t keep things secret as they try to trade-off for who they really wanted to get gifts for.
4) The Secret Santa story also wrought a great Ross and Rachel conflict as Ross discovered that Rachel had exchanged most of the gifts he had given her over the course of the relationship. Ross and Rachel are always better when they are bickering and this argument was one of the rare times I came down on Ross’ side. I take gift-giving VERY seriously and I would be devastated to find out if the person I loved and picked the gifts out for returned them. (Of course, this would never happen because I have a gift when it comes to picking out presents.) Ross’ anger leads to some deliciously awkward moments around the dinner table…
Rachel: Ross, can you pass me the yams?
Ross: Sure! Oh, and Joey’s got the mashed potatoes if you want to exchange them.
Rachel: Would you stop?! What is the matter with you?!
Monica: Oh-ho-ho, we’ve got company.
Ross: There’s nothing the matter with me. See, I’m not completely devoid of sentiment, see I have feelings.
Rachel: Okay, fine. (She gets up and walks into her bedroom)
Rachel being Rachel though proves once again that Ross never gives her enough credit for being the wonderful person that she is when she storms BACK into the living room toting her memory box (She and Mindy Lahiri would get along SO WELL) filled with the sentimental mementos of their relationship.
Rachel: Don’t say that I have no sentiment! (Starts to show Ross what’s in the box.) This is a movie stub from our first date! This is an eggshell from the first time you made me breakfast in bed! (Holds up a bone) This is from the museum from the first time we… were together. Okay, maybe I exchange gifts sometimes, but I keep the things that matter!
Queen Rachel Green wins again.
5) The main reason we chose this episode is the Joey and Chandler conflict. The Ultimate OTP of the show, Joey and Chandler had squabbled over mundane things like armchairs but had never faced a true threat to their friendship until they both fell for Kathy. It was a pretty monumental moment for Chandler to kiss Joey’s girlfriend and even though he did the right thing by fessing up quickly (well…after trying to bribe Joey by refurbishing their recently robbed apartment, that is), Joey had still decided to punish Chandler for 5 years (“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”). It’s incredibly upsetting to see these two best buds at odds and the audience feels a genuine sense of peril that they may not be able to get through this after Joey runs into Chandler and Kathy at Central Perk. That is until Chandler gets in the box to prove to Joey how much he means to him.
Rachel: So now, what exactly is the point of the box?
Chandler: The meaning of the box is three-fold. One (holds a finger up through the air hole), it gives me the time to think about what I did. Two (holds up another finger), it proves how much I care about my friendship with Joey. And three (holds up a third finger), it hurts!
Of course, the box seems silly at first as Chandler doesn’t take his punishment seriously, cracking jokes by attempting to moon the gang and knocking on the box to make it seem like someone is at the door. However he shuts up when he realizes just how seriously Joey is taking this punishment, which is used to devastating effect when Kathy comes to take herself out of the picture. Chandler’s sad little finger waving goodbye to her is so heartbreaking and Joey, big-hearted lug that he is, finally realizes just what he is asking Chandler to give up. His tormented “OPEN THE BOX” makes my heart soar every time. And because he tries to maintain his cool guy facade, he plays off his reaction as his Secret Santa gift to Chandler. But we all really know why Joey lets Chandler out of the box. Because he wants HIS lobster to be happy.
Ross: He’s coming here for Thanksgiving!?
Rachel: I know, it’s sick.
Monica: Why is it sick?
Rachel: Because it’s Richard’s son! It’s like inviting Greek tragedy over for dinner!
Monica: Okay, if it were Greek, I’d be blind in both eyes. Come on! I like him because he’s handsome and he’s nice and he’s smart and…handsome. Come on, Phoebe, you understand don’t you?
Phoebe: Yeah, I can see where I’d be your best shot but, no. I’m sorry, but I think it’s twisted.
7) “The One Hundreth” (aka “The One where Phoebe Give Birth”) (5 x 03)
This is the episode that locked down the Emmy for Lisa Kudrow. See? There used to be some justice at that ceremony.
The show celebrated its hundredth episode (in season five, because network schedules are insaaaaane) with Phoebe giving birth to Frank and Alice’s triplets. We got a lot of mileage out of Phoebe being pregnant with her brother’s kids. (“I am so going to miss watching you freak people out like that.”) But her choice to do this for the family she worked so hard to find embodies everything that’s wonderful about Phoebe Buffay. She’s capable of great selflessness, and she doesn’t give a damn about what anybody thinks.
Before our hearts are ripped – still beating – out of our chests, there’s some really funny stuff in this episode. Phoebe’s actual doctor fell in the shower (“Oh my god, she’s so stupid!”) and her replacement has an interesting obsession. (“I’ll be back in a minute to do your internal, in the meantime, just relax because everything here looks great. And also, I love Fonzie.”) Joey ends up upstairs, holding Ross’s hand, and giving birth to kidney stones. (“They’re so small!”) Frank Jr. is nervous and endearing, as usual. And Chandler and Monica are forced to define whatever it is that they’re doing when Rachel procures her and Mon a date with some cute nurses. It takes Chandler a while to realize that he can’t screw up with Monica like he has with other girls. She knows him too well, and his awkward mis-steps are insignificant to her compared to his good intentions. It kills me to watch him realize it. You can actually pinpoint the moment he stops holding his breath.
Chandler: So, are you really gonna go out with that nurse man?
Monica: Well uh, you and I are just goofing around, I thought, why not goof around with him.
Chandler: Y’know, I don’t know if you’ve ever looked up the term goofing around in the dictionary… Well, I have, and the technical definition is, two friends who care a lot about each other and have amazing sex and just wanna spend more time together. But if you have this new fangled dictionary that gets you mad at me, then we have to, y’know, get you my original dictionary. I am so bad at this.
Monica: I think you’re better than you think you are.
Chandler: Really? Okay, so-
Monica: Know when to stop.
Phoebe is a friggin’ titanic spirit – she’s so, so strong. But still, her resolve wavers when the end of this grand experiment is in sight. She really is going to have to hand over these babies…unless she has some success with her crackpot, last-minute plan. (“I want to keep one.” “Ohhhh, I’m gonna be on the news…”) Of course the babies go home with Frank and Alice, who are elated (and making out in the waiting room, natch), and Phoebe deals with her heartbreak like she always does…by looking on the bright side. Frank and Alice have their children, she’s an aunt to three beautiful babies, and everything’s gonna be cool. The Fonz would be proud.
Phoebe: So, here you are. It seems like yesterday I was talking to you in that little petri dish. Everyone said labor was the hardest thing I’d ever have to do, but they were wrong, this is. Oh, I had the most fun with you guys! I wish I could take you home and see you everyday. Okay, I’ll settle for being your favorite aunt. I know Alice’s sister has a pool, but you lived in me. Okay, so we’re cool. Yeah, we’re gonna be great. Little high fives! (Imitates the high fives.) Ahh! Ahh! Ahh! (One of the babies begins to cry.) Well, if you’re gonna cry…
6) “The One where Ross Finds Out”/ “The One with the List” (2 x 07-8)
This episode was a formative experience for me. Yes, even I, Rachel/Joey shipper extraordinaire, was a total sucker for Ross and Rachel back in the early years. NBC had teased big developments in this one and I spent the week between the last episode and this one waiting very impatiently, reading and re-reading the TV Guide synopsis.
“TOW Ross Finds Out” kept us guessing until the very end. For 22 minutes, Ross and Rachel dance around each other and confess things and have a really hot fight. (You know it’s true.) And all that drama brought their simmering tension to a boiling point, complications be damned. It’s a good kiss. It’s a real good kiss.
I wrote at length in my Rachel Appreciation post about my affinity for Drunk Rachel Green. And this episode is perhaps her most shining moment. Who hasn’t spiraled out about a crush or an ex nesting? Rachel deals with her feelings by getting spectacularly drunk on a blind date with that guy from Ellen. She talks about Ross, Julie, and their cat the entire time; has trouble finding the word “fruit flies”; and forces a nearby diner to give her his phone so that she can obtain some “closure.” (“That’s what it is, that’s what I need. God, you’re brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?”)
Rachel: Ross, hi, it’s Rachel. I’m just calling to say that um, everything’s fine and I’m really happy for you…and your cat. Who, by the way, I think you should name Michael. And, you know, ya see there, I’m thinking of names so obviously, I am over you. I am over you and that, my friend, is what they call “ca-losure.”
In less emotionally fraught storylines, an unemployed Monica takes Chandler on as her fitness project. She’s an insufferably perky trainer (“We’re workin’, we’re movin’, we’re in the zone, we’re groovin’!”); Chandler is a lazy bum (“You know, I would, but that might get in the way of my lying around time.”); it was never going to last. And Joey coaches Phoebe through a new relationship where the guy just won’t put out. (“I like him a lot, y’know he’s really interesting and he’s really sweet and why won’t he give it up?”)
But really, the whole episode is about that one kiss. Ross and Rachel are canon. For half an episode at least. Until someone gets the bright idea to make a list…
Ross: You’re over me?
Rachel: Ohhhhhhhh God.
Ross: Wha… you’re uh, you’re-you’re over me?
Rachel: Ohh, ohh….
Ross: When, when were you…under me?
One of the most ingenious things Friends ever did was FINALLY giving us Ross and Rachel kissing (in real life) in “Ross Finds Out” but then IMMEDIATELY yanking it away from us in “The List”. The direct correlation between these two episodes is why, upon rewatching them, I texted Sage saying “This counts as a two-parter, right?”…because you can’t get the full impact of one episode without the other. Besides, this is our blog and we can fudge the rules if we want to.
What makes “The List” such a good episode is that it puts a legitimate obstacle in the Ross and Rachel relationship. In his struggle to decide between the girl he’s loved all his life and the sweet but boring Julie, we the audience can see that Ross’ choice is obvious. You choose Rachel. No list needed. But because Ross is Ross, he’s terrified of being the bad guy and that terror leads to him making bad choices, such as writing an ACTUAL pro and con list about Rachel and Julie. He lists off horrible things about Rachel…like she says…things you would never want to know that your boyfriend thinks about you but thinks that by saying is one “con” for Julie is the fact that she’s “not Rachel”. Or, as the list was printed out, “She’s not Rachum.”
DAMMIT CHANDLER. (Also, let’s all appreciate his short story skills: “It was summer. It was hot. Rachel was there”. There was something in that story that left you wanting more, yes?)
But seriously, even by saying that Julie’s not Rachel doesn’t make the list okay. Once again, you have to love how Rachel, a character that was made out to be nothing but a spoiled princess, KNOWS her self-worth and she stands up for it. (And really, Ross? You want to be with her IN SPITE of those things? You should have quit while you were ahead. Or at least less deep in the giant hole of crap you dug yourself into.)
Ross: Rach, come on, look, I know how you must feel.
Rachel: No, you don’t, Ross. Imagine the worst things you think about yourself. Now, how would you feel if the one person that you trusted the most in the world not only thinks them too, but actually uses them as reasons not to be with you.
Ross: No, but, but I wanna be with you in spite of all those things.
Rachel: Oh, well, that’s, that’s mighty big of you, Ross. [to the others] I said don’t go!
Ross: You know what? You know what? If, things were the other way around, there’s nothing you could put on a list that would ever make me not want to be with you.
Rachel: Well, then, I guess that’s the difference between us. See, I’d never make a list.
And she really wouldn’t. Queen Rachel Green would have never made a list. I love how the episode keeps you thinking that the conflict will be resolved…because come on! This is the relationship the show has been building up to for a season and a half! Surely, Ross requesting “Without or Without You” on the radio for Rachel will solve everything! Look! She’s picking up the phone…it’s all going to be okay!
Radio Announcer: Uh, we’ve just gotten a call from Rachel, and she told us what Ross did. It’s pretty appalling, and Ross, if you’re listening, I don’t wanna play your song anymore. Why don’t we devote our time to a couple that stands a chance? Avery, Michelle’s sorry she hit you with her car and she hopes you two will work it out.
And that is how you leave your audience hanging, folks.
Also, “Two Of Them Kissed Last Night” is one of my favorite (and most underrated) Phoebe songs. “He must decide, he MUST decide. EVEN THOUGH I MADE HIM UP, HE MUST DECIDE.”
Ross: I don’t know what to do. What am I gonna do? I mean, this, this is like a complete nightmare.
Chandler: Oh, I know. This must be so hard. Oh, no. Two women love me. They’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet’s too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight.
5) “The One with the Blackout” (1 x 07)
“TOW The Blackout” paired a clever set-up with a tight script and to become an early series classic.
There’s not much plot to speak of. New York is plunged into a blackout and the entire gang (except for Chandler) waits it out together in Monica’s apartment. Ross moons over Rachel; sex stories are swapped; and Phoebe writes another hit. Meanwhile, Chandler gets stuck in an ATM vestibule with Mrs. Harry Connick Jr. and doesn’t stop word vomiting until we’re all in love with him. It is a terrific use of voiceover. Chandler’s awkward attempts at conversation would be nothing without his own horrified reactions to them. (“Nice going, imp.”) Let’s hand it to Matthew Perry for completely killing this scene. Seven episodes in, and Chandler Bing is already a fully realized character.
While Ross shuffles around the apartment blaming Rachel for not reading his mind, Joey schools him on “the friendzone.” This is the actual definition, people. Not the one that’s been twisted to fit the needs of would-be rapists everywhere. Joey’s point is that Ross has to make his interest known. Rachel is completely oblivious to how he feels and will remain that way unless Ross mans up. Points for Ross, because he actually tries here. But there’s a cat and then there’s Paolo, huge crapweasel, and then the moment is gone. (P.S. Am I taking crazy pills? Because I don’t think that guy is sexy at all.)
The rest of the episode is filled with little revelations (Monica had a crush on Joey when he first moved in; Chandler got bitten by a peacock at the zoo), cameos (Heckles!), and one-off jokes. (“Pants and a sweater? Why, mom? Who am I gonna meet in a blackout? Power company guys? Eligible looters?”) We learn that Joey and Chandler have their own private language (“Put Joey on the phone!”) and that Ross and Carol are never again welcome at the Magic Kingdom. Plus, pretty people look even prettier in candlelight.
Jill: Would you like some gum?
Chandler: Um, is it sugarless?
Jill: Sorry, it’s not.
Chandler: Oh, then no thanks. (inner monologue) What the hell was that? Mental note: If Jill Goodacre offers you gum, you take it. If she offers you mangled animal carcass, you take it.
Chandler: You know, on second thought, gum would be perfection. (inner monologue) “Gum would be perfection”? “Gum would be perfection.” Could have said “gum would be nice,” or “I’ll have a stick,” but no, no, no, no. For me, gum is perfection. I loathe myself.
4) “The One where Ross Got High” (6 x 09)
Like all of its best episodes, Friends works the best when it is all six characters in one room, especially when each character has their own objective (which usually all the objectives clash, which makes for a great third act blow-out). “Ross Got High” benefits from the addition of Jack and Judy Geller (have we shouted out the SPECTACULAR casting of Christina Pickles and Elliot Gould yet? No?) into the group, which automatically ratchets up the tension on Monica’s Thanksgiving. Monica and Ross are at their best when their sibling rivalry comes out (see also: The Geller Cup) and naturally, with their parents there, this rivalry comes out in full force.
Like the best Thanksgivings, this is a Thanksgiving that is brimming with secrets that are begging to be exposed. Monica is hiding her relationship with Chandler from her parents (even though he freaking LIVES with her now) because they don’t like him. Ross is hiding the knowledge that the reason his parents don’t like Chandler is that he got high in college and told his parents it was Chandler. Chandler is desperately trying to win Jack and Judy over and is failing in spectacular “Gum Would Be Perfection” fashion. Phoebe is harboring a secret crush on Jack Geller (“I dreamt that he saved me from a burning building and he was so brave and so strong! And it’s making me look at him totally differently. Y’know, I mean he used to be just, y’know “Jack Geller Monica and Ross’s dad” and now he’s he’s ‘Jack Geller, dream hunk.'”).
Rachel: It’s a trifle. It’s got all of these layers. First there’s a layer of ladyfingers, then a layer of jam, then custard, which I made from scratch, [Joey and Ross make impressed faces] then raspberries, more ladyfingers, then beef sauteed with peas and onions, [Joey and Ross look like something’s wrong.] then a little more custard, and then bananas, and then I just put some whipped cream on top!
To Joey and Ross’ horror, as they just want to leave Monica’s to go introduce Jeanine and her hot dancer friends to the New World, they realize that thanks to some pages being stuck together (“CHANDLER!”), Rachel has made half a Trifle and Half a Shepherd’s Pie for the one and only dessert of the meal. This information adds to the mounting pile of secrets (everything is a proverbial powder keg of information) as Joey and Ross desperately try to get everyone else to just go along with it as not to hurt Rachel’s feelings.
Joey: If anyone needs help pretending to like it, I learned something in acting class, try uh, rubbing your stomach (Rubs his stomach) or uh, or saying “mmm” and uh, oh oh! And smiling (Smiles while pretending to eat), okay?
Chandler: Yeah, I’m not gonna pay for those acting classes anymore.
The moment where they all eat the trifle is so fantastic you think it’s going to be the climax of the episode. Everything from Monica taking Joey’s acting advice to the way that everyone avoids eating it to Ross wolfing down his to keep Rachel from tasting it and his whimpered “It tastes like feet!” is hilarious. And of course Joey would be the one to like it (“What’s not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Gooooood!”).
The episode masterfully builds up the tension until all of the characters (AND the audience) is begging for a release. How badly did the audience need a release? If you watch the DVD commentary of this episode, you will learn from David Crane and Marta Kauffman that they essentially had to stop after every confession in the episode’s climax (SORRY this is all getting very sexual and I am confused!) because the audience’s laughter was so completely out of control. It WAS a lot of information to get in 30 seconds after all.
Joey: Okay, look, I think we have to tell Rachel she messed up her dessert.
Ross: What?! What is with everybody? It’s Thanksgiving, not…Truth-Day!
3) “The One where Everybody Finds Out” (5 x 14)
Season Five is far and away my favorite season (we had to consciously decide to not let it dominate this list) and much of that is owed to the MASTERFUL way they played out the way Monica and Chandler kept their relationship a secret from their friends. Think about it…they had Monica and Chandler sneak around, really with only Joey knowing for most of the time, for 15 (counting the season four finale) episodes and it never felt stale or like they were dragging it out. Week after week we watched Monica and Chandler narrowly avoid discovery (often to Joey’s chagrin) and we saw in every episode that this relationship was increasingly becoming something very very real, which naturally scared the bejeezus out of both of them (more that Micheal Flatley Lord of the Dance). The more real the relationship got, the more terrified Monica and Chandler were of their friends knowing and messing things up…which brought things to a boiling point the day they decided to do it up against the window not knowing that Rachel, Phoebe, and Ross were across the street in Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment (which begs the question…did Ugly Naked Guy look into Monica’s apartment just as much as the Gang looked into his? Did he have his own stories of the observing the gang? Discuss).
What was brilliant about the way each member of the gang found out about Monica and Chandler was how they completely reacted in character. Joey had his patented wide-eyed realization when he put two and two together in “The One with the Kips” (can anyone widen their eyes to the comic effect that Matt LeBlanc can? I think not). Rachel’s accidental eavesdropping in “The Resolutions” led to her being hurt at first that her best friend wouldn’t share something this big with her…and then her acceptance that Monica would tell her in her own time (it helped that she overheard Monica telling Chandler that keeping it from her was killing her). But Phoebe? NATURALLY Phoebe would start screaming…and then decide that the only retribution would be to use this knowledge to totally mess around with Monica and Chandler. Think about it…Monica and Chandler probably would have carried on in secret for much longer had Phoebe not found out. Joey had grown accustomed to the burden of his secret (“I’ve got secrets of my own! You don’t know about Hugsy, my bedtime penguin pal!”) while Rachel would not have forced the issue without Phoebe’s evil genius encouraging to her to have a little fun.
Thus, the episode becomes a masterful game of cat and mouse as Rachel and Phoebe use their powers as The Roommate and The Seductress (“Okay, watch, learn, and don’t eat my cookie.”) respectively to try to force Monica and Chandler’s relationship out into the open. Of course Monica and Chandler figure out that Phoebe is messing with them (“Okay but what about y’know my pinchable butt and my bulging biceps—She knows!”) and so the messers become the messees.
Chandler: Hello Phoebe, I’ve been thinking about you all day. (He’s holding the phone so that Monica can hear it as well.)
Chandler: Well you know that thing you said before, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued.
Chandler: Yeah, listen, Joey isn’t gonna be here tonight so why don’t you come over and I’ll let you uh, feel my bicep. Or maybe more.
Phoebe: I’ll have to get back to you on that. Okay, bye! (Hangs up.) Oh my God! He wants me to come over and feel his bicep and more!
Rachel: Are you kidding?!
Rachel: I can not believe he would do that to Mon—Whoa! (She stops suddenly and slowly turns to point at Joey. Joey is avoiding her eyes.) Joey, do they know that we know?
Joey: They know you know.
Rachel: Ugh, I knew it! Oh I cannot believe those two!
Phoebe: God, they thought they can mess with us! They’re trying to mess with us?! They don’t know that we know they know we know! (Joey just shakes his head.) Joey, you can’t say anything!
Joey: I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
The respective messing with each other comes to a head as Phoebe and Chandler meet up for their sexual rendevous that becomes the ultimate game of chicken. Phoebe shows off her seductive dance moves (Mayhaps I should try those out next time I am seducing someone?). Chandler ups the ante by saying they should move into the bedroom. Phoebe then takes it one step further by saying she wants him to rub lotion all over her. Neither one of them are blinking. To speed things along so he can sit in his chair, Joey exposes Phoebe’s bra (“You didn’t rip off any buttons!” “It’s not my first time.”) because he knows Chandler is afraid of bras. “So,” Phoebe says, leading with her breasts. “This is my bra.” “It’s very very nice,” gulps Chandler. “I’m very glad we’re going to have all the sex.”
(I honestly don’t know how Lisa and Matthew got through this scene without dying laughing…you can see Lisa ALMOST break as Matthew goes in for the kiss. )
After he sees that there is no way Phoebe will back down, Chandler is the one to cry uncle and he does it by proclaiming that he’s in LOVE with Monica for all of his friends to hear. My favorite part of the episode is everyone’s REACTION to Chandler’s screamed “BECAUSE I AM IN LOVE WITH MONICA!’. I love how Phoebe laughs with surprise and how Joey and Rachel immediately swing the door open, their mouths agape. I love how Monica comes out of the bathroom with her eyes wide and a massive grin on her face. I love how Chandler keeps shouting that he’s in love with her until Monica stands before him and then he takes it to a very intimate confession between the two of them, and they kiss openly in front of their friends for the first time. “I just thought you guys were doing it! I didn’t know you were in LOVE,” Phoebe exclaims joyfully. Sage touches on this a bit later, but it truly is amazing how this group of friends can forget all the fun and games the moment they see the big picture. I love how IMMEDIATELY everyone is on board with Monica and Chandler as a couple, proving that their fears about everyone knowing were completely unfounded.
Well except for Ross. They’d appreciate him not knowing.
Chandler: Okay, listen, how far am I gonna have to go with her?
Monica: Relax, she-she’s gonna give in way before you do!
Chandler: How do you know?!
Monica: Because you’re on my team! And my team always wins!
Chandler: At this?!
Monica: Just go get some!
2) “The One where No One’s Ready” (3 x 02)
When we started telling our friends that we were working on a definitive list of Friends episodes, several people reminded us to include “TOW No One’s Ready.” My response, always? “Who do you think we are?”
“No One’s Ready” is less of a half-hour episode of a sitcom and more of a flawless, one-act play. More specifically, it’s an homage to French farce, with all the surprise entrances and door-slamming exits that come with it. It also takes place in real-time. Ross needs to get everyone in a cab within 22 minutes so they won’t be late to the museum benefit. (“We could not, would not, want to wait!”) The episode makes tremendous use of Ross’s anal-retentiveness and need for control. If he wants to be the dad, he’s gonna be the dad – to five equally distracted child kids.
Chandler and Joey are the most immature of Ross’s problem children. They get into an epic battle over an armchair, because no one ever told them that you have to call “fives.” The fight progresses from civilized (“Well Joey, I wrote a little song today. It’s called ‘Get Up.'”) to passive-aggressive (“Not touching, can’t get mad! Not touching, can’t get mad!”) and finally, to psychological (“Okay, you hide my clothes? I’m gonna do the exact opposite to you.” “What are you, what are you gonna show me my clothes?”) Even innocent bystander Phoebe can’t avoid the crossfire. Ross’s shining star is compromised by some flying hummus. (“Oh, you rotten boys!“) Chandler and Joey know exactly how to push each other’s buttons, and the showdown ends with an iconic moment: Joey shows up at the door wearing layers upon layers of Chandler’s clothes, just no underwear. (“Boy, it’s hot with all this stuff on. I better not do any, I don’t know, lunges.”) We have this episode to thank for introducing “going Commando” to the lexicon. So it’s also, you know, linguistically important.
At least a fraction of Joey and Chandler’s shenanigans are intended to torture Ross. Monica, on the other hand, is flipping out, with no ulterior motive. Fresh off her break-up with Richard, she hears a message from him on her machine and can’t figure out when it was recorded. (“Old or new? Old or new??”) The rest of the gang’s response should look familiar to anyone who’s tried to hit the sweet spot between supportive and enabling.
And then there’s Rachel, who’s only goal is to look great for boyfriend’s big night. (“Does this look like something the girlfriend of a paleontologist would wear?” “I don’t know, you might be the first one.”) The only thing that makes Ross’s behavior towards her in this episode in any way okay is that she totally lets him have it. Jen Aniston’s take on Rachel’s quiet fury is pretty terrifying (“No, I think I’m gonna catch up on my correspondence.”), and absolutely warranted. When Ross declared that he would drink the fat to prove to Rachel that he was sorry for humiliating her, the only person happier than me…was Joey. (“Yaaaay!”) I respect that the queen wouldn’t pour herself into that devastating mint green gown until a little groveling has been done. Still, Rachel let Ross off a little too easy, in my opinion. Again, and as always, I’m with Mr. Tribbiani. (“Let’s see what else he’ll do!”)
Monica: Yes. Well I got his machine and I left a message. But it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, because you know it was like a casual, breezy message. It was breezy! Oh God, what if it wasn’t breezy?
Phoebe: Well, how could it not be breezy, no, ’cause, you’re, you’re in such a breezy place.
Monica: Here, I got it. I will play my message for you guys, and you can tell me if it’s breezy enough.
Joey: Monica, how are you gonna do that?
Monica: I know the code to his answering machine.
Ross: Okay, Mon, I really don’t think this is the… Okay, you’re dialing, you are dialing.
Richard: (on machine) “Hi, this is Richard. Please, leave a message at the tone.”
Machine: “You have two new messages.”
Joey: Wow, what a cool job. (in a machine voice) “You have two new messages. Please, pass the pie.”
Monica: (on machine) “Hi, it’s Monica. I’m just checking in ’cause I got this message from you and I didn’t know if it was old or new or what. So, I’m just checkin’. So let me know, or don’t, whatever. I’m breezy!”
Joey: Hey, you can’t say you’re breezy, that, that totally negates the breezy!
1) “The One with the Embryos” (4 x 12)
In 2012, twelve years after it aired, The A.V. Club had a roundtable discussion about how “The One with the Embryos” epitomized ensemble comedy. Many of the panelists agree that the episode is not only one of the finest Friends ever did, but one of the best Modern Sitcom episodes ever. We have to agree. Unlike the other posts Sage and I have written together ranking our top episodes of a beloved series, there was never a moment’s debate between us regarding the number one slot. It was always “The One With The Embryos”.
Like our number two episode of The X-Files “Bad Blood”, “Embryos” came at the perfect time in the series. The actors were all so confident in their characters and their relationships that you truly believed that they would know all these minute details (Monica hating animals dressed as humans, Chandler having the bejeezus scared out of him by Micheal Flatley, Lord of the Dance) about each other and that they would want to spend an afternoon proving how much they knew about each other. Everything about the Trivia Game is gold, from Ross’ Quizmaster (“Don’t blame the questions”) to Monica’s extreme competitiveness (“RACHEL! USE YOUR HEAD) to Rachel’s outright refusal to move out of her lovely purple apartment (“Now *I* am the one with the steady hand!!”.
Ordinarily I would have qualms with Phoebe being so removed from the rest of the group, but as a panelist in the AV Club article points out, it makes sense that she’s not there, given the fact that she doesn’t live with any of the friends, nor is she related to any of them. To paraphrase “TOW the Kips”, she lifts right out. However, Phoebe’s story launches one of the best stories Friends ever told in her carrying Frank and Alice’s babies and that weighty story is a perfect counterbalance to the madness of the trivia game. I love the surrogate story because it shows just how kind and generous Phoebe Buffay is. It takes one hell of a person to be willing to put their body through a pregnancy for someone else and I love how Phoebe just thinks nothing of it…she just wants her brother and his wife to have their babies, and if she can do that for them then she’s going to. Her monologue to the tiny embryos is paralleled WONDERFULLY in the 100th episode as she holds the fruits of her labors in her arms. It’s truly masterful storytelling and such beautiful attention to detail.
Phoebe: Hello, tiny embryos. Well, I’m-I’m Phoebe Buffay, hi! I’m-I’m-I’m hoping to be your uterus for the next nine months. You should know, that we’re doing this for Frank and Alice, who you know, you’ve been there! Umm, y’know they want you so much, so when you guys get in there, really grab on. Okay, and-and I promise that I’ll keep you safe and warm until you’re ready to have them take you home, so… Oh! And also, umm next time you see me, if I’m screaming, don’t worry, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Lastly, if you’ve EVER been to a trivia night with me and Sage, you’d know that we can’t get through the night without quoting this episode. Every time the Trivia Host announces it’s time for the lightning round, you’ll hear a cry from our table. “I am SO GOOD at Lightening Rounds!!!”
We MAJORED in Lightning Rounds.
Monica: You guys are dead. I am so good at lightning rounds.
Chandler: I majored in lightning rounds, all right? We’re gonna destroy you.
Monica: Uh, wanna bet?
Chandler: Well, I’m so confused as to what we’ve been doing so far.
When this list was but a twinkle in our eyes, the episode at #1 was already a foregone conclusion.
What is it about “TOW The Embryos” that makes it so perfect? Is it the heightened emotions (and shrill hysteria) that the game brings out in both teams? Is it the perfectly in-character tidbits we get from Ross’s questions? (I fully accept that Weekend at Bernie’s is Rachel’s favorite movie.) The structure of the quiz definitely has a big role in the episode’s success. Whole chunks of “The Embryos” are nothing but setup-punchline, setup-punchline. The jokes come fast and furious, and all of them land. I love the idea that this episode might have come out of a bigger idea for the roommates to switch apartments and that this is the method they landed on to make it happen.
Everyone is on top of their game. Courtney revels in Monica’s ruthless competitive streak. (“You guys are dead. I’m so good at lightning rounds!”) Jen makes sure we know that Rachel is 5000% done with both the birds (“He gets the other one all riled up.”) and Monica pushing her around. (“Then play with some pepper, stop spending my money!”) Chandler and Joey are every bit the annoying boys next door, and whoever thought to photoshop “I regret nothing” onto that gif of Matt and Matthew riding the big, white dog into the apartment really gets it. And Ross’s bossiness and nerdity lend him to being the only choice for Quizmaster. David plays his commitment to the game masterfully. Ross would actually have been a fairly decent Bamboozled host, given the chance.
After pitting the gang against each other for the bulk of the plot, the episode ends with a massive group hug. Phoebe’s body defied the odds of modern medicine, and that’s all it takes to bring an end to the bickering. No matter what happens to these guys and how gleeful they are in exploiting each other’s embarrassing secrets, they’re always aware of the bigger picture. What’s life without friends who steal your TV Guide and remind you of your humiliating high school nicknames? Being polite and distant is overrated. And there’s no substitute for the people who really know you.
Rachel: Y’know what, you are mean boys, who are just being mean!
Joey: Hey, don’t get mad at us! No one forced you to raise the stakes!
Rachel: That is not true. She did! She forced me!
Monica: Hey, we would still be living here if hadn’t gotten the question wrong!
Rachel: Well it stupid, unfair question!
Ross: Don’t blame the questions!
Chandler: Would you all stop yelling in our apartment? You are ruining moving day for us!
Happy birthday, Friends! We wouldn’t be who we were (or writing this blog) without you.
What episodes are on your Top 10 lists, readers? Hit us with them in the comments!