“But I don’t want to be single. I just want to be married again!”, exclaimed an exasperated Ross and at the very next moment, a bride, drenched in rain, walks into the coffeehouse where her old high school chum was hanging out with her friends, having left her husband-to-be at the altar. The bride, that is, not the chum.
“And I just want a million dollars!”, says Chandler.
Those moments don’t just make for a moment of laughter and mirth but encapsulate all that happens on Friends—everyone is just hanging out, there is this innate chemistry between Ross and Rachel, and then Chandler sends the watching crowd into gales of laughter. Or someone else does. But it’s usually Chandler.
Perhaps it is only fitting that I am watching an episode of the show as I write this, and perhaps it indicates just how spectacularly transcendent the series has been—an Indian kid watching an American Sitcom (for the umpteenth time, mind!) 12 years after the show’s finale has aired. Maybe it is a cliché to say this, but every time I watch an episode I’ve already seen, I laugh just as hard as I did the last time; the build-up cracks me up, the anticipation of the punch-line delights me and then, when one of them finally delivers the line (to seamless perfection, too), there is a brilliant cathartic release of laughter. And I know this is true for most because I have spent enough time with people whose favourite past-time is watching re-runs and re-re-runs of episodes every time they get a chance.
How you doin’?
But catharsis is what the show is really about. A cathartic release of emotion, of all kinds—sadness, happiness, longing, desire, is a key theme of the show. To me, that is not a surprise, actually. Of course it is all about catharsis. Throw into a bright purple coloured room or a little coffeehouse a compulsive, obsessive chef, her geeko-saurus, insecure, married/divorced-thrice-(one of them was a lesbian!)-two-illegitimate-children brother, her old high school pal and her brother’s past/present/future crush and (briefly) wife and mother of one of his children (the other was the lesbian!), a closeted (in more ways than one, perhaps!), sarcastic, afraid-of-commitment, self-loathing man (?), a masseuse, “hippie”, vegan, metaphysical twin (who was also married to a gay guy!), and (the cherry on top!) the struggling actor, ladies-man with the intelligence of a 4-year old. I mean come on, THERE HAS GOT TO BE SOME SORT OF CATHARSIS! And I swear, all of that is just six people.
In many ways, Friends has formed the template upon which so many sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory have based and endeared themselves to the global viewership. I don’t believe that comedy is something that relies on formula; rather, it is a combination of subversion, spontaneity and the unorthodox. While most of the show is set around the romantic and the platonic-yet-romantic moments of meeting between Ross and Rachel, there is not a character on the show that is extraneous (no, people, neither Ross nor Pheobe are irrelevant). The love between Joey and the chick and the duck (yes, the animals) is just as beautifully portrayed, just like Gunther’s infatuation with Rachel and Janice’s desire for the “Chan-Chan man!”. All the characters have inspired replicas of themselves in the sitcoms that run even today. It wasn’t only to evoke laughter or pathos but to show each one’s idiosyncratic nature. While the characters are beautifully chiselled in the marble that is the sitcom, the show provides great flexibility for each one to grow as the show moves on. There is continual growth in the nature of Chandler’s jokes, how from being more immature and inconsiderate at times in the earlier seasons, they would grow to be impeccably timed, more effective and mature, as his relationship with Monica grows (again, spoiler alert!). Pheobe’s outlook toward dating changes—she embraces long-termism and does away with the one-night stands and the flings, a process that begins after she has her brother’s children (not in the Game of Thrones sense. This was more in vitro than incest). The surreal nature of the every character’s reality, the fact that we know we are seeing them in a virtual device and how it’s not real, is superseded by the lifelike portrayal of the characters. To me, Jennifer Aniston will always be Rachel, Matthew Perry always Chandler and Matt Le Blanc always Joey, regardless of how many UK based auto-shows he insists on destroying with Chris Evans.
“I take thee, ….Rachel…..”
There is just so much more I want to say about Friends and how wonderfully captivating and side-splittingly funny it is but I can’t say it. Actually, I can, but I don’t want to, because I would not want to take away the feeling one feels when s/he watches the show for the first time. How it makes you smile even when it’s the last thing you want to do, how it makes you yell at Ross and Rachel, through the course of ten seasons, to see some sense, and how it makes you admire Chandler for his quick wit. All of that is part of one of the greater gifts in life—Friends, and not just as a sitcom but also as the people around you. The sitcom is not just an emotional rollercoaster stuffed with so much comedy that it drips out the side when you bite into it, but is also a reminder of all that is delightful and endearing in life—friends. Through the adventures of six, largely misguided “co-dependent individuals who are screaming out ‘define me, define me’”, with every episode the show takes you on a ride infused with emotion, laughter and reflection, a ride that you will want to get on time and time again. So to everyone who has read this and has not watched the show, you have not lived life. Watch it, and then be sure to thank me. For all those who have, watch it again. Why? Because you can, and because it’s fucking Friends.