By EW Staff
Updated January 08, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Our guide to top ”Friends” eps from season 1

PLOT Joey falls for Ursula, Phoebe’s ditsy and bitchy identical twin — continuing Ursula’s lifelong habit of stealing all of her sister’s stuff. Ross goes to Lamaze class with both Carol and Susan; Chandler has to fire his office crush. CREATIVE CASTING First in a series of NBC Must See TV crossovers: ”Mad About You”’s Helen Hunt and Leila Kenzle drop by Central Perk and — get this! — mistake Phoebe for Ursula. CRITIQUE Flights of fancy do not suit this sitcom at all, and this installment is full of them — including Rachel dangling off the balcony tangled in Christmas lights, and the hackish split-screen gimmick when Phoebe and Ursula ”meet.” Even worse, the script boasts nary a laugh-out-loud joke. One redeeming factor: the setup of the subtle sweetheart dynamic between Joey and Phoebe. C+

PLOT The high jinks continue as an injured and uninsured Rachel (who twisted her ankle in Part 1) needles Monica into defrauding the hospital by letting Rachel use her insurance. Ross continues to grapple with impending fatherhood. CREATIVE CASTING Painful NBC crossover, Part D’oh: ”ER”’s George Clooney and Noah Wyle play two hunkalicious M.D.s whom Monica and Rachel date. HISTORIC MOMENT Phoebe and Joey kiss! (Of course, he thinks she’s Ursula.) CRITIQUE Far superior to the pallid Part 1 thanks to Monica and Rachel’s wickedly funny insurance-fraud-necessitated identity swap. (”See, I was supposed to get married, but I left the guy at the altar,” says Monica, as ”Rachel,” to the docs. ”Yeah, I know it’s pretty selfish, but hey — that’s me!”) Still, the gooey Marcel-in-peril ending is unforgivable schmaltz. B

PLOT The girls try to beat the guys at poker, while Ross keeps bluffing about his feelings for Rachel. HISTORIC MOMENT Rachel gets an interview for an assistant buyer spot at Saks Fifth Avenue. CREATIVE CASTING Beverly Garland as Monica’s Aunt Iris. BEST LINE ”Hello, Kettle? This is Monica. You’re black.” (Phoebe, when Monica calls Ross ”competitive”) CRITIQUE Besides being rife with genius Chandler comebacks (Rachel: ”Guess what?” Chandler: ”Uh, okay — the fifth dentist caved and now they’re all recommending Trident?”), ”Poker” proves the power of this ensemble; the six players spend almost the entire 22 minutes together, and it’s the best episode so far. A

PLOT The gang descends on the hospital when Carol goes into labor, but Ross and Susan’s constant bickering in the delivery room gets them tossed out — and eventually locked in a storage closet. Not that Rachel notices: She’s too busy flirting with the cute obstetrician. HISTORIC MOMENTS We learn Joey is 25; Chandler foreshadows his romantic future when he offers to have a baby with Monica if they’re both unmarried at age 40. CREATIVE CASTING Jonathan Silverman as the obstetrician; Leah Remini (”The King of Queens”) as a single mom Joey helps get through labor; June Gable (later cast as Estelle, Joey’s agent) as a nurse. BEST LINE ”I love them — each one’s like a little party in my uterus!” (Carol, after the doctor asks how she’s doing with the contractions) CRITIQUE Once again, ”Friends” delivers standard-issue sitcom devices (the locked-in-a-closet gag, the tearjerker ending) with exceptional charm and restraint. Schwimmer works his patented nebbishy anxiety to great effect, while Phoebe reminds us that she’s actually the most insightful Friend with a casually sweet observation of the squabbling Susan and Ross: ”Here’s this little baby who has, like, three whole parents who care about it so much they’re fighting over who gets to love it the most.” Dammit — we told ourselves we wouldn’t cry. A-