I promise I’m not turning this into a Friends blog, but I also promised that I would write an occasional Friends post while working my way through all ten seasons for the first time, so now that I’m finished with Season One and a few episodes into Two, I thought I’d share some of my observations thus far.
I’ve been surprised by how smart the humor is and by my unexpected liking for all the main characters. I’ve been frustrated by the failures the show gets itself into because it’s trying to be two things: both a snappy, hilarious, almost sketch-based comedy and a realistic dramedy with relatable characters. Sometimes the combination just doesn’t work. For example, the running joke about how critical Monica’s mother is toward her (and how gamely Monica, though annoyed, puts up with this) is really off-putting to me. I think it would be a funny SNL sketch, but there’s no way this relationship would look this way in real life. In general, I dislike all the parents I’ve met so far; though I appreciate that the show portrays young adults having relationships with their parents, I feel like the parent characters are mostly guest-star vehicles who come across as less mature than their kids, who aren’t terribly mature themselves. An extreme eye-rolling example: the one where Joey’s mom is not only okay with his dad having an affair but actually tells him to go back to his mistress because he’s supposedly (or “supposably,” as Joey would say) easier to live with when he’s got a woman on the side. Please. But on a more positive note regarding guest stars and secondary characters, I really liked Phoebe’s sweet physicist boyfriend David (played by Hank Azaria), and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him when he gets back from Minsk.
The funniest gag I’ve seen on Friends so far? While I laugh out loud almost every episode, for this, I have to go with the scene in which Chandler convinces Joey to use “Joseph Stalin” as his stage name. (Joey, later: “Apparently there’s already a Josef Stalin. You’d think you’d have known that.”)
And this brings me to the main topic of my post today: Chandler. I really like him, and I think I’m a lot like him. I started to realize this last night when I watched The One Where Heckles Dies, early in Season Two. Mr. Heckles, the cranky downstairs neighbor, dies and leaves all his possessions–basically a pile of hoarder junk–to “the loud girls upstairs” (Monica and Rachel). While the gang is going through his stuff, Chandler starts to realize he resembles Heckles not only in harmless ways, such as the geeky clubs he belonged to in high school, but also in more serious ones, like the petty criticisms he comes up with as excuses to break up with women. He starts to worry that he will die alone like Heckles and resolves to change his ways. Although this awakening is played for laughs like nearly everything on Friends (as it should be–the show gets clunky when it tries to be serious), while watching it, I felt a strong sadness and empathy for Chandler.
Because, you see, I’ve broken up with guys for stupid reasons. I worry about driving people away with my critical spirit–not just potential romantic partners, but potential friends and other potentially important people. I have a fear of commitment (which, on Friends, is portrayed as a male trait but I think is more related to personality than gender). And do I use humor as a coping mechanism? Have you read this blog? (See, I even emphasize words like Chandler.) If the blog isn’t enough to convince you, my students and colleagues think I’m hilarious because I go straight to humor when I’m feeling uncomfortable or don’t know how to present myself to new people. It’s also a great way to keep people at arm’s length (back to that fear of commitment).
The show typically offers pretty realistic, if overly simplified, psychological reasons for why the characters do the things they do (kind of like that jerk psychiatrist Phoebe dated for one episode), and the reason given for why Chandler does all the things in the above paragraph is that his parents got divorced when he was a kid. That didn’t happen to me, so there must be some other reason why I have trouble getting close to people, and this blog is not the place to explore it. In fact, I’m going to stop here before this gets too personal. Did I make you laugh? Good. That’s what I do.