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Is ''Friends'' on the way out?

Ken Tucker reviews the final super size episode and wonders how long the cast will keep it together

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Matt LeBlanc, Friends, ...
Friends: Chris Haston

Is ”Friends” on the way out?

Huffing and puffing, the final super size ”Friends” clocked its 40 minutes last night, and not a moment too soon: By the end, Joey was wearing a fat suit in a fantasy sequence about what it would be like to be married to chef Monica. Just before that, we heard Ms. Cox-Arquette do the Austin Powers ”Yeeeeaaahh, babeee!” phrase as a punchline, something too icky for words.

The best subplot involved Rachel babysitting the sweet young sprout who’s playing Ross’ son Ben these days. (David Schwimmer did double duty last night as Ross and the episode’s director.) Rachel taught the kid a lot of mean practical jokes, and the juvenile humor was a welcome contrast to the series’ increasing overreliance on cheap sex jokes. Joey’s ”Everybody knows I’m an ass man” was the night’s crowning moment in what used to be called the ”family hour.”

It’s interesting that Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe has become the show’s most extraneous character — this week, she had to be given her own self contained subplot, a bit about taking a headache medicine that rendered her hysterically hypochondriacal. Since Kudrow is the actor who’s carved out the most active extracurricular career in film, her increasing detachment as a plot initiator is starting to carry a whiff of self fulfillment.

Do you think the ”Friends” will remain united much beyond this season?