Why Friends is still iconic 25 years later: A timeless sitcom with a favourite character for every age group
(Editor's note: In 2019, FRIENDS is as popular as it is polarising. As FRIENDS turn 25 years old today, we present contrarian views about the definitive sitcom of the 90s. For the opposing view, by Karishma Upadhyay, click here.)
I am sure I am not the only one who chooses to revisit Friends, instead of watching the latest digital show, when I want to watch something while having dinner. You don't have to admit it, but I know.
Unlike the best shows of today, Friends did not need a cliffhanger at the end of every episode for the viewer to tune in to the next one. Every episode had a life of its own, and could be watched in isolation anytime. There was no pressure of following all the episodes in order to discover the big reveal. There was no big reveal in a sitcom like Friends. There were only relatable, quirky characters.
Friends was a character-driven show, like most of its successors, including How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, and The Big Bang Theory. The USP of these sitcoms was that they were slow poison yet had an instant connect with the audience, thanks to the inextricably linked writing and performances. The actors spent a considerable amount of time to live the characters, and embrace all their quirks, limitations, and strengths.
The only show that comes closest to Friends in terms of engagement through character development, for me personally, is HBO's Big Little Lies. The characters came alive because of the synchronised writing and acting. Though there was plot development in every season, it did not come at the cost of underwritten characters.
What is interesting is Friends did not need even that. Of course, longer attention spans and the lack of entertainment avenues made the show a raging success. But its unparalleled repeat value can only be attributed to its timelessness. The way season 10 ended forced us into a rabbit hole of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and what-could-have-beens. Re-watching Friends is not a case of pure nostalgia since the show continues to entertain the audience even in repeat viewings.
Friends has a character for every age group. I have watched the show multiple times at various ages while growing up.
I first watched it back in the first grade. My interest in the sitcom was inherited from my elder brother, who started watching it when he was in the sixth grade. I saw the final three seasons when they were being aired for the first time, on Star World in India. That time, I did not have the luxury of today to binge-watch the show as I had to wait a week for the next episode. At that time, I related the most to Joey (Matt LeBlanc). The extremely comical character, blessed with an inexhaustible appetite and cursed with a limited vocabulary, was an ideal refuge for a kid.
The first time I re-watched Friends, on my own accord, and not in company of my brother, was when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. It was the time I hit puberty and my hormones turned into a hurricane at the oh-so-lovely relationship of Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross (David Schwimmer). Though they were on a 'break' (debatable) for the longest time during the course of the 10 seasons, they did own up in the season finale that they wanted to be with each other.
"I got off the plane," Rachel announced in the final moments, much to the joy of Ross. Their longstanding relationship (with breaks and all), and their unflinching friendship (that often revealed their personal insecurities) was as real as it could get for me. It geared me to enter a relationship that is tumultuous and inconsistent, yet worth all the troubles in the end.
The third time I revisited all episodes was when I was in college, when Chandler's (Mathew Perry) sarcastic, often dark, humour came to my rescue. Unlearning was a huge part of my college days, and Chandler's ability to not take himself too seriously, crack jokes on himself, and resort to sarcasm came in handy.
Though I have watched the show multiple times in the past, the last time I re-watched it in entirety in sequence was very recently, when I started working. I have to admit the character I relate the most to now is Monica (Courtney Cox). She is a control freak, and immensely proud of it. She is meticulously organised yet manages to roll in some quirks within that strict framework of her character.
When I started working, I recorded a short clip of Monica and Chandler talking after sex, on my phone. "You're the best, Chandler," she tells her husband. "Oh no, you're the best," he returns the favour. After another round of back and forth, Monica cannot help but confess, "I am the best." Whenever I am down, either personally or professionally, I go back to this clip to remind myself how much I need to value myself. Monica and Chandler discovering partners in each other gave me great comfort that my inferiority complex can co-exist with a superiority complex.
Perhaps, 10 or 20 years down the line, I may feel more like Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). I may just want to take life a lot less seriously. I may just want to strum my guitar and sing 'Smelly Cat' with abandon, without paying any heed to how the audience feels. But that insane level of being immune to embarrassment may take its own sweet time.
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Updated Date: Sep 22, 2019 15:48:23 IST