Posted May 21 2004 - 04:25 PM
Here is an article that appeared in Newsday by the great TV columnist we have, Diane Werts, that pretty much sums up my feelings on friends:
10 years later, I still don't get their appeal
May 2, 2004
Flashback to some know-it-all Newsday TV critic writing in September 1994 about a new singles sitcom:
"NBC tries to skew its Thursdays a little younger with this twentysomething take on the way life unfolds oddly and careens out of control. . . . The creators of "Dream On" focus on six young adults in search of a future and who look for it mostly in a New York coffee house and in acquaintances' beds. If this show doesn't get a whole lot smarter very fast, there's major trouble, although its familiar TV faces could carry it awhile . . . ("Friends") feels too much like a stock sitcom, with predictable situations and a studio audience shrieking to distraction . . .."
So I didn't see it coming. "Friends"-mania was a shock to me. That was the season of "Seinfeld" knockoffs with young adult pals hanging out and doing essentially "nothing" - Fox's "Living Single" and "Wild Oats," ABC's "Blue Skies" and "These Friends of Mine" (renamed "Ellen"), and, finally, NBC's "Friends" ensemble. TV critics were frankly much more interested in 1994's face-off of freshman medical dramas - Michael Crichton's "ER" vs. David E. Kelley's "Chicago Hope." (I got that one right, bucking the critical tide to favor "ER" over its "strangely unmoving" competitor.)
Yet "Friends" was a quick cultural phenomenon, a fast Top 10 Nielsen draw, its stars instant supermarket- tabloid fodder. Could it be any bigger a hit in syndication, too, where before long it started airing seemingly around the clock? (It's now on weeknights at 7 and 11 on WPIX/11, as well as 7:30 on TBS.) "Friends"-themed books, CDs and eventually DVDs have sold like crazy. Fans don't seem to get enough.
And I still don't get it.
Even rewatching the series pilot recently on DVD (seven seasons are out from Warner Home Video) hasn't enlightened me to the overwhelming affection for a sort of satisfactory show. Since the characters now are so familiar, I can certainly appreciate how that initial half hour nailed their basic characteristics in efficient fashion. Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe is not only cleaning friends' auras, she's already got that off-center clarity, reaching beyond New Age stereotype. Rachel's dithery bride-not-to-be is rich enough to establish Jennifer Aniston's offbeat charm. Matthew Perry's Chandler confidently spits sardonic one-liners.
But Courteney Cox Arquette is forced to spit coffee in a spit-take that probably wasn't fresh when Danny Thomas did it in the 1950s. Matt LeBlanc, despite glimmers of sweetness, is handed one dim, lascivious note to play. David Schwimmer gets only a short-shrift chance to moon over Aniston amid lots of standard moping. The actors do a valiant job selling the set-up, their timing unusually sharp, yet the episode doesn't take off for me. The series' start is by no means dreadful. But it's no great shakes, either.
That's pretty much how I've felt about "Friends" as a whole. It's never been a show I'd go out of my way to watch. If it happens to be on, it's a pleasant enough way to pass the time. The actors and their characters are likable. The writing is bright, but I wouldn't say clever. This just isn't a hugely distinctive show.
But maybe that's the point. It's shrewdly comfortable. Amusing. Unchallenging. And so dexterously delivered you feel you aren't wasting your time. Thursday has definitely been the right night for these friends, as you're sliding toward the weekend and wondering what yours might be up to. And if you've got too many adult responsibilities to focus on playtime, this sitcom can take you back to a time when you didn't.
The same reason "Friends" never impressed me may be the reason why it's such a favorite of so many. The characters are of adult age, yet they never seem grown up. Where it's hard for me to feel engaged by their travails, it's easy for others to feel entertained, and even empathetic, free from real-world consequences. For these six unshakable friends, even life-changing events exist on essentially the same storyline level as poofy hair, drunken dinners and bad eyebrow waxings.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not the kind of TV that fascinates me.
So I still don't get it. And there's nothing wrong with that, either.