Friends To The End
Buddies carries too much of a male connotation. So does Pals. Chums sounds fishy (in the singular, it’s American slang for ”bait”; in the plural, it’s too limey). But Friends: Now, there’s a deceptively simple, useful word, applicable to both men and women, descriptive of a whole host of relationships, everything from casual acquaintances to lifelong, die-hard amigos.
In 1994, when creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman, working off zeitgeist concepts like Gen-X and yuppies, conceived what is now NBC’s longest-running, highest-rated sitcom, they weren’t envisioning a sitcom about friends among equals. Originally, they once told Entertainment Weekly, they had wanted Courteney Cox (at the time the show’s best-known face by dint of dancing in the dark with Bruce Springsteen in a music video) to play Monica as this Manhattan group’s den mother: a smart, slightly cynical young woman who’d keep the others in line and (get this) maybe start a romance with the dumb guy, Joey (Matt LeBlanc), just because it seemed so unlikely.
My oh my, how times have changed. Now, as the show barrels into its eighth and (likely) final season, Monica has…married Matthew Perry’s Chandler and long ago established that far from being cynical, she’s the most earnest, if neurotically neat-freak, Friend — and, of course, unless we missed an episode (and our Episode Guide proves we haven’t), that romance with Joey has never materialized.
That’s one of the great things about Friends: It’s such a perfect Rubik’s Cube of a sitcom, you never know which interlocked combination of characters is going to wind up loving, hating, or goofing on each other. The usual hit-sitcom formula introduces its protagonists’ behavioral tics and interpersonal relationships and then hews to them tenaciously, lest viewers get confused or put off. (You’d never have had, say, Morey Amsterdam’s and Rose Marie’s characters hook up on the old Dick Van Dyke Show — in fact, the universe shudders at the mere thought of it — and no way would Mad About You’s Paul ever give up his desire to be a filmmaker to be, say, an ice cream vendor.)
But on Friends, inter-Friend romances simmer for years and then bubble up, stirred by an artfully arranged inevitability. And the sextet can pull U-turns like Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe going from being a masseuse to a partner in Monica’s catering business without anyone at home snorting ”Yeah, like that’s believable!” Ditto Ross (David Schwimmer), Monica’s paleontologist big brother, marrying a woman who decides she’s gay. Ditto Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Monica switching apartments with Joey and Chandler. Because the minor miracle of Friends is that with these six people, you never know what’s going to happen next: who’s going to catch their eye (Rachel once fell for Bruce Willis doing a winkingly smarmy version of his bad self, for heaven’s sake), who’s going to succeed in business (well, almost: Wasn’t actor Joey on the verge of superstardom when he was cast as the lead in the TV pilot Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E.?), or even who’s going to get pregnant (flighty Phoebe has given noble birth to triplets, and as I write, Rachel is preggers, but by whom is the new season’s cliff-hanger to be resolved).