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Saturday, March 28, 2020

TV Rewind | Friends: The show that wasn’t always funny

Friends made stars out of its cast and catch-phrases out of its dialogues so even if it wasn't the funniest, it deserves applause for bringing generations together.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi | Published: September 22, 2019 7:50:37 am
tv rewind friends Friends is considered the most popular sitcom of the 90s.

Friends is possibly the most-watched show in the world and as it celebrates its 25th anniversary, we revisit the show and examine if it has aged well.

Friends first premiered in 1994 and in the past 25 years, the show has been on various platforms across the world, inspired many copies, and has influenced a generation into believing that this is possibly the best comedy that ever existed. But is that true?

Is Friends a good comedy?

Friends works on many levels but comedy is not its strongest suit. The show offers archetypes in the form of its six lead characters who make the show relatable for the audience. It has ample life struggles, relationship drama but what holds it together is its interpretation of friendship that makes the show aspirational.

tv rewind friends The friendship here is aspirational for the viewers and that is what brings them back over and over again.

As a comedy, there have been shows that are far better than Friends (The Office, Seinfeld) but this has not affected the show’s popularity. Of course, the show never got as tiresome as The Big Bang Theory but its later years (the Joey-Rachel track) strongly hinted that the showrunners were running out of new ideas to infuse in a group of six people who had been through enough ups and downs for over seven years.

Like many other shows from the same era, the critics of Friends have often blamed its laugh track for bringing down its appeal. Filmed on a stage, the show’s laughter track sounds more like a cue for the television audience to laugh, in case they miss the joke and this spoon-feeding is quite off-putting. This is a general criticism for most sitcoms that aired in the 90s and it’s hard to understand why it was a thing back in the day.

Characters defined by a single characteristic

Ross is whiny, Chandler is funny, Joey is dumb, Monica is bossy, Rachel is pretty and Phoebe is weird. These are the basic traits of these characters and for the most part of the show, these traits define their overall behaviour. So much so that after a while, their reactions are predictable and when they behave like their caricaturish-self, it looks like they are mimicking a wholesome character that probably existed in the first two seasons.

friends 25 years The characters became predictable towards the later seasons.

Have the jokes aged well?

A large part of the show’s audience is its repeat viewers who watch it for the comfort that comes with familiarity. Of course, you don’t always want to watch something that requires your undivided attention and watching the once loved shows give you that breather wherein even if you miss something, you don’t really miss anything. In fact, after numerous repeat viewings, you don’t even laugh at the jokes anymore.

But on playing close attention to the jokes (cued by canned laughter), it is obvious that not everything that made us laugh back in the day is politically correct. This awareness only comes with time so it wouldn’t be completely fair to blame the writers of the show for trying to elicit laughter from Monica being fat back in the day and Ross dressing up as a girl when he was a child. A lot of comedy makes sense with the social and cultural context and our hyper-aware self can now point out all the problematic jokes but let’s be honest, these were meant for a different audience in a different era.

friends comedy tv show It wouldn’t be correct to examine the jokes of Friends now knowing well that they were written and performed for a different era.

The ten seasons

Friends went downhill soon after its seventh season. The show was in its prime at the time and like many other comedies, the writing was starting to show fatigue towards the last couple of seasons. Their popularity rose with every season and for a show that was a ratings darling, it must have been hard to pull the plug.

It’s been 25 years since Friends first premiered and it’s a testament to the show’s success that even after fifteen years of its last episode, the fans are still talking about it. It made stars out of its cast and catch-phrases out of its dialogues so even if it wasn’t the funniest, it deserves applause for bringing generations together.

TV Rewind | The West Wing | Sharp Objects | Patrick Melrose | AHS Murder House | Arrested Development | Two and a Half Men | Girls | The Good Wife | Dead Set | Dexter | Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip | The Office | Parks and Recreation | Fringe | Broadchurch | Seinfeld | Lost | Mad Men | Sex and the City

Friends is streaming on Netflix.

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