Dating Denise John Richards Stamos

An Extremely Long Season-By-Season Look At Friends...

2017.12.31 01:27 namkcuR An Extremely Long Season-By-Season Look At Friends...

Hello! I’ve never posted on this reddit before but have been watching Friends, my favorite sitcom ever, for 20 years. I’ve recently been re-watching some of it for the umpteenth time and I’ve been observing a certain trajectory to the show as a whole, season by season. I like to write, so I started writing an admittedly long-winded season-by-season commentary, focusing mainly on overarching plots - when they're there, when they're not, when they're good, when they're bad, etc - and using this to create a certain trajectory, with peaks and valleys and all, for the show. This is going to be very long, and I’m thinking no one is going to finish it, but I hope at least some of you will take the time to read it...  
Season 1: The Beginning, Rough Around the Edges
Everything has to start somewhere. The first season of Friends, while funny, is a show that doesn’t know quite what it is yet, whose characters are more first-draft than final draft. Phoebe is more hippy, Joey is more New York-Italian-tough-guy, Ross is more serious than he would become later, Rachel is less assertive, etc. The show on the whole also has, at least to me, a more cynical outlook at times in comparison to the more sentimental one it would soon take on; a little more of an early-90s vibe as opposed to the mid-late-90s vibe the show is largely known for. At times, I said.  
It’s got its share of memorable episodes, of course - The Pilot, TOW The East German Laundry Detergent, TOW Underdog Gets Away, TOW The Monkey, TOW Rachel Finds Out, etc. TOW The Blackout is probably the first bonafide ‘classic’ Friends episode.  
In terms of over-arching plot, Ross’s unstated love for Rachel is about all there is. The show would get much more intricate and purposeful with its plotting down the road, more polished as a whole, and its characters would become more fleshed out, but for this first season, it was rough around the edges, and at times felt almost like a different show than what came later.
Season 2: The Show Finds Its Identity While Having Growing Pains
Season 2 felt more polished right from the start, with Chandler and Joey’s haircuts, and a somewhat tighter focus on plot. I say somewhat, because while Rachel’s lusting for Ross while he’s with Julie is the main overacting plot for the first half of the season, that first half also contains a lot of standalone stuff - Heckles dying(TOW Heckles Dies), Phoebe’s ice-dancer husband(Steve Zahn)(TOW Phoebe’s Husband), Chandler and Joey babysitting - and losing - Ben(TOW The Baby On The Bus), etc. It’s good stand-alone stuff, but they still haven’t mastered the art of plotting. Nor the pacing of a season.  
The whole first half of the season leads to the TOW Ross Finds Out/TOW The List twofer. This is a significant event and the first time Friends hinted at being something other than just another sitcom. R&R come thisclose to getting together and then the list blows it. And this where the pacing issue comes into play. After this twofer, the next episodes are TOW Phoebe’s Dad(Christmas episode) and the TOW Russ(still one of the weirdest episodes of the show imo). After this is TOW The Lesbian Wedding, which is sort of a stand-out event, and is to be applauded as such a thing was very progressive for 1996. And after that? TOA The Superbowl 1&2.  
This was kind of just a big commercial for the show. Stunt-Cast-A-Palooza. It was probably significant in showing that Friends had made it and was here to stay, both just in the fact that it got a post-Superbowl episode, and in the fact that they got the kind of star power they did to participate in it. It’s like a time capsule of 1996 with Van Damme(a superstar in the 90s), Julia Roberts(already one of the biggest movie stars of all time and in her prime then), and Brooke Shields(also in the prime of her celebrity). Still, it has little baring on and makes little reference to anything that had been going on in the show(other than Marcel). It’s almost like it’s out of the timeline.  
So after TOW Ross Finds Out/TOW The List, five episodes - and when it aired, two-and-a-half months - stood between it and TOW The Prom Video. This matters because for me, not just this episode, but the whole run from TOW The Prom Video to, maybe the end of the season, but certainly to TOW Eddie Won’t Go, is the first time Friends fully realizes its identity, and the first time it really becomes great. The prom video itself is the first introduction of Fat Monica, Rachel with her old nose, and Ross with a fro and mustache, all of which would be hallmarks of flashbacks going forward. Ross and Rachel finally get together, Monica dates and falls in love with Richard, Dr. Drake Ramoray and Days Of Our Lives become part of the show, and Chandler and Joey get their recliners for the first time. It just feels like after taking steps towards finding its identity, the show starts really resembling itself all at once.  
So season 2 is a big step up from season 1, but it would be better if it didn’t have the five-episode patch of just kind of waiting between TOW The List and TOW The Prom Video, and if it ended stronger. Its last two episodes are one of the least effective instances of stunt-casting in the show’s history(TOW The Chicken Pox, Charlie Sheen) and one of the shows most lackluster, uneventful season finales in TOW Barry And Mindy’s wedding.
Season 3: The Show Refines its Identity, Approaches Peak
If the show found its identity in season 2, it refined it in season 3. On the heels of season 2’s second half, season 3 became even more plot-heavy while also offering more classic individual episodes than ever before. The first third of the season focuses on Ross and Rachel’s steady relationship and Chandler and Janice’s relationship(the only time in the series Maggie Wheeler would be around for an extended arc) and contains classics like TOW No One’s Ready(one of a handful of Friends episodes that transcend the show to be simply one of the greatest sitcom episodes of all time), TOW The Football(in the upper echelons of Thanksgiving episodes), and TOW The Flashback(essentially a 20-minute prequel to the entire series).  
The first third of the season ends with TOW Rachel Quits, which sets up the second third of the season, which focuses mostly on the events leading up to Ross And Rachel’s breakup. It all leads up to TOW Ross And Rachel Take A Break and TO The Morning After, a seismic event in the Friends universe and maybe the most dramatically heavy episodes in the show’s history(though Ross was an idiot to jump into bed with another woman so quickly). They’re well-done, and sad to watch. This part of the season concludes with TOW The Ski Trip, an interesting look at what happens in a group of friends when two of them break up.  
The reason season 3 isn’t quite up at the top of my rankings is because its third third is, on the whole, not as strong as what came before. It deals with the fallout from Ross and Rachel’s breakup, Monica and Pete’s relationship(i.e. Jon Favrau’s arc), and Joey and Kate’s almost-relationship. It’s tricky getting people to feel invested in relationships any of the main cast has with guest actors, because those relationships are nearly always doomed. Guests will only ever be around for a finite amount of time, so they always come down with what I call guest-lover-itis, where a sudden reason must be found for them to no longer be suitable. In this case, it’s that Pete wants to be an ultimate fighter and that Kate gets a job in LA. Pete’s arc leads to some genuinely funny moments(“See this circle I’m making? That’s my zone of terror.”), but it’s also silly on its face that software engineer with no fighting history would ever do that. Kate’s arc never really goes anywhere and ends up being somewhat forgettable.  
The season ends with TOA The Beach, where the main goings on are that Ross finds out Rachel still loves him, and Phoebe meets her birth mother, Phoebe Sr. The cliffhanger finds Ross having to decide whether to go into Rachel’s room or his new girlfriend Bonnie’s room. There isn’t much drama in this cliffhanger for me because there’s no way I believe Ross would think for even a second about not going into Rachel’s room. With Emily the following year, that relationship was built up over half a season at least, but the amount of screen time Bonnie had prior to the moment in question could probably be measured in scenes rather than episodes. So the tension they’re trying to create doesn’t quite work for me. So while it’s better than the previous finale, I’d say the show hadn’t yet figured out how to end a season with a bang.  
So, season 3 was very strong on the whole, refining the identity it had found by the end of season 2, developing the characters further, both regular and non-regular(Janice and Frank Jr. are given more time and we are introduced to Alice and Phoebe Sr., and also the chick and the duck), and taking big steps in terms of getting more plot-heavy. It gave us some of the series’ most memorable episodes(TOW No One’s Ready, TOW The Football, TOW Ross and Rachel Take A Break, TOW The Morning After), but relatively speaking, fizzles out a bit toward the end.  
It’s probably in the upper echelon of Friends seasons, but is still only approaching the peak.
Seasons 4-5: The Peak
Season 4, imo, is Friends’ greatest season. The characters finish the journey from the first season’s ‘first drafts’ to fully-realized final drafts. They got most of the way there in season 3, but the finishing touches are put on in this season. “How you doin’” is born for Joey. Ross and Rachel settle into their post-relationship selves. Phoebe’s hippiness is reduced down to the level it would remain at for pretty much the rest of the series. Monica’s OCD reaches 100%(showing up at The Dirty Girl’s apartment to clean, going all out when she’s living in the guys’ apartment). Chandler’s sarcasm starts thawing a little bit.  
What really makes it the greatest though is all the plots. The plotting was never more intricate and dense than it was in this season. There is just so much going on. First, in the second episode, TOW The Cat, Chandler and Joey are robbed. This is a plot point to set up Chandler’s big gesture of emptying his savings to replenish their furniture later on. But those few episodes where they’re sitting on patio furniture and in the canoe have a unique flavor of their own.  
Then comes the ChandleKathy/Joey arc. It’s not often any of the individual friendships on the show were really challenged, so it was interesting see this dynamic between Chandler and Joey. It was a good story. I recall Paget Brewster being pretty popular with everyone, and I think Cox/Aniston/Kudrow actually tried to get the writers/producers to let her stay around more, but it wasn’t possible, so Kathy gets guest-lover-itis and cheats on Chandler.  
In amongst all of this, Monica gets the Alessandro’s job that she’d have for most of the remaining series. Just thought I should mention that.  
Phoebe has her pregnancy storyline, and it’s probably the best storyline the character ever had. It added depth to the character, allowed for many funny situations, allowed Frank Jr and Alice to have their biggest chunk of screen time(I love them), and if nothing else, was the impetus for TOW The Embryos, which joins TOW No One’s Ready as one of those episodes that’s bigger than Friends.  
The apartment swap is so much fun, allowed for several great stories to be told, and again, those episodes when the guys are living in the big apartment, everyone eating off the foosball table, have a unique flavor to them that places them instantly at a specific point in the timeline.  
Finally, there’s Ross and Emily and Rachel and Joshua. I feel like Ross and Emily had a believable whirlwind romance, which was given half a season to develop, while Rachel and Joshua’s wasn’t as believable, but it wasn’t supposed to be either. It served it’s purpose of making Rachel realize how upset she was about Ross and Emily.  
If there was one thing Friends hadn’t been able to do in previous seasons, it was to finish out the season in a way that put an exclamation mark on everything that came before, to have the whole season building towards something big. They figured it out this time, expanding the finale to one hour, which would be the standard going forward. TOW Ross’s Wedding, which could just as well be called TOI London, is one of the series’ greatest finales(imo only TOW Monica and Chandler’s Wedding can compete) with one of the more memorable sitcom cliffhangers ever when Ross says Rachel. Yet, as big as that was, it was the episode’s C Story(the B Story was Chandler and Joey’s fight, I think) that really turned the show on its head. When Monica popped out from the covers and said ‘Do you think he knew I was here?’, it is a pivot point for the entire series.  
Season 5 picks up right where season 4 left off, in more ways than one, as the high-level plotting continued. This season doesn’t have as many plotlines as the previous one, but it’s got enough, between Monica and Chandler sneaking around, Joey helping them, and Ross trying to save his marriage after saying the wrong name and then dealing with the fallout when he can’t save it. Emily was made much bitchier this season, but it had to be, as Helen Baxendale needed to make an early exit due to her real life pregnancy. So Ross ends up kind of losing everything - his marriage, his apartment, and then his job after having a meltdown over his sandwich. He ends up homeless and unemployed, living with Chandler and Joey for awhile. This whole ordeal loosens the character up in a way that would become permanent. It’s good character writing, imo.  
Monica and Chandler sneaking around is a celebrated plot, but while I enjoy it, I do feel like it strains credulity at times. Like, the others should’ve figured it out way earlier. Are they really buying Monica’s having to go back for her jacket thing when she and Chandler get to the hospital for Phoebe’s labor after the others? And when Joey puts it together and starts freaking out and yelling and pointing and then they drag him into the bedroom, are Rachel and Phoebe, sitting right there, not asking what is going on? Also, after Rachel finds out and point blank confronts Monica about it and Monica lies, does she really think Rachel is buying it? It’s a fun storyline for sure but it could’ve been a little more believable.  
So everything kind of culminates with TOW Everybody Finds Out, which joins TOW No One’s Ready and TOW The Embryos as one of those episodes that is very famous outside of Friends. They go through a whole charade with very memorable word play(They don’t know we know they know!) and Monica and Chandler finally admit to everyone that they’re in a relationship.  
Around this same time, Ross has just won Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment and is getting back on his feet(the process of his moving in gives us highly memorable moments like naked Ross, Ross getting the cold shoulder from his neighbors for not giving money to the super, the absolutely classic ‘PIVOT’ plot in TOW The Cop, Ross pretending to be watching TV and surfing, Joey mistaking Ross’s apartment for Hot Girl’s apartment, and Ross screaming GET OFF MY SISTER!).  
So by the time the season is two-thirds over, the two major plots have sort of wrapped up. There is, I think, a general consensus that seasons 6 and 7 had a wheels-spinning feeling about them, that the writers were starting to run out of ideas, and that the plot stagnated to a certain degree as a result. I think there is an argument to be made that this started in the last third of Season 5. Once Monica and Chandler are out of the closet as a couple and Ross is moved into his new place, there’s a sort of leveling off that occurs after all the activity of season 4 and the first two-thirds of season 5.  
This last part of the season focuses mostly on Chandler and Monica growing closer after going public(One year anniversary, getting past the all-over-each-other phase), Michael Rapaport’s arc with Phoebe, and the Vegas story that closes the season. I like the Phoebe/Gary arc mostly because Rapaport probably makes the character funnier than he is on paper, and it gave us TOW The Ride-Along, which is one of the high points of the season, but the character catches guest-lover-itis when he shoots a bird and Phoebe has to end it, so the whole thing is of not much consequence.  
The whole Vegas thing…I’m not wild about that finale. It’s a big set piece where nothing much happens. Joey finds a hand-twin. Phoebe gets in a feud with an old lady over a slot machine. Ross and Rachel draw on each other and get drunk. Monica and Chandler have a stupid fight over Richard, gamble, and almost get married. Ross and Rachel do get married in what in hindsight feels like a stunt of a cliffhanger. I don’t know. It’s not bad. It’s funny in a lot of places, but it’s the first time the show feels a little bloated, a little unfocused.  
This is, for the most part, a magnificent two-season peak, but it ends with a feeling of wheels spinning and plot stagnation that would pervade the following two seasons.
Seasons 6-7: Plot-Stagnation, Leveling Out
From the way I’ve titled this, you might think I’m pretty negative on these seasons. I’m not. These seasons are funny more often than not, but my whole point writing all this is to point out the ebb and flow of the show in terms of plotting, and these seasons are, I think few would argue, lacking in that department, especially compared to the two seasons that preceded them.  
From the dissolution of Ross and Rachel’s relationship in season 3 to ChandleKathy/Joey to Phoebe’s pregnancy to Ross and Emily to Ross saying Rachel to Monica and Chandler sneaking around and Ross falling apart, the show had been a rollercoaster for the better part of three very plot-heavy seasons. But now, the focus was firmly on the advancement of Monica and Chandler’s relationship, and that plot was essentially a straight line from moving in with each other to engagement to marriage, with no real conflict. The other characters aren’t given much in terms of overarching plot either(except for Ross becoming a professor), and so you end up with a high occurrence of stand-alone - sometimes pretty random - plots, and an increasing reliance on big-name guest stars and other stunts.  
Season 6 had the Elle McPherson arc, the Reese Witherspoon two-parter, the Bruce Willis arc, the polarizing “TO That Could Have Been” two-parter, and Tom Selleck’s return in the finale(more on that later). All together, that makes up about half the season. I’m not trashing these things by any means(though I do usually skip TO That Could Have Been) - the Bruce Willis stuff is great fun and I don’t mind Elle McPherson’s arc at all(I know some have strong negative feelings about it, but she’s gorgeous and Joey is hilarious with her, the only bad part is she comes down with one of the lamest cases of guest-lover-itis when she just decides she hates Monica and Chandler), but it does illustrate the point that this type of stuff was being leaned on in lieu of meatier over-arching plots.  
Still, the season has some great stuff going for it. TO On The Last Night is a great bottle episode that gives the transition from Monica+Rachel/Chandler+Joey to Monica+ChandleJoey+(eventually)Rachel the import it deserves. It is indeed “the end of an era” and the show was right to make a deal out of it.  
TOW Ross Got High is the series’ greatest Thanksgiving episode imo, with an almost operatic structure where peoples frustrations and mistakes throughout the episode all come out in a rising crescendo after which Judy and Jack Gellar address all of them one by one. It’s so, so good.  
TOW With The Routine and TOW With Unagi are other classics as well.  
TOW The Proposal is a good finale but not a great one. It’s a major event, but every time I watch it, the Richard stuff and the Chandler misleading Monica stuff seems more and more contrived. I feel like it should’ve been more about what a major thing it was for the character of Chandler to be ready to propose marriage but instead he has to almost lose her so that they can do the ‘Tom Selleck returns’ stunt. I don’t believe that Monica would be seriously thinking about leaving that quickly just because Richard showed up out of nowhere nor do I believe Richard would suddenly want kids four years after he didn’t. But it’s still a great moment when Monica and Chandler finally do get engaged.  
Season 7 sees an even larger reliance on guest stars and stunts. During February sweeps, they aired four “super-size” episodes - TOW Rosita Dies, TOW They All Turn Thirty, TOW Joey’s New Brain, and TOW The Truth About London. These are mostly entertaining, particularly the latter’s insight into what happened the night Monica and Chandler hooked up for the first time, and TOW Joey’s New Brain, featuring Ross and his bagpipes, which is absolutely classic what with Phoebe singing along and Aniston unable to keep it together. TOW They All Turn Thirty, however, is problematic with regards to timeline issues, plus the ‘lift and slide’ thing seems like a re-hash of ‘PIVOT!’.  
This season contains more guests than any other. Eddie Cahill as Tag is the only “arc” of the season and he’s pretty boring, a pretty nothing relationship for Rachel, which to her credit she realizes and ends. But the amount of one-offs is staggering.  
Kristen Davis in TOW Ross’s Library Book as Joey’s love interest is cute but ultimately not too memorable.  
Jason Alexander in TOW Rosita Dies as essentially a suicidal version of George Costanza that Phoebe talks off the ledge, and is funny because Alexander is funny.  
Susan Sarandon(and her daughter Eva Amurri) in TOW Joey’s New Brain as the DOOL actress he’s replacing is effective and memorable, because Sarandon is a really great actress.   Gabrielle Union in TOW The Cheap Wedding Dress is fun, not so much because of her, but because her plot leads to a classic Ross/Joey scene where they do each other’s dirty laundry in front of her(“Where do you think we lost her?” “Probably somewhere around gonorrhea”).  
At this point, two of the most egregious cases of stunt casting in the show’s history come back-to-back. Denise Richards in TOW Ross and Monica’s Cousin does very little aside from tossing her hair in a pretty dumb episode. Winona Ryder in TOW Rachel’s Big Kiss is more entertaining but still just a big gimmick. They’re just killing time with these episodes.  
The best part of the season by far is the end. Whereas some of the above is clearly stunt-casting, Kathleen Turner was an absolutely inspired casting decision for Chandler’s often mentioned but never seen cross-dressing father. TOW Chandler’s Dad is one of my favorite Monica/Chandler relationship stories because it shows her pushing him to do something he’s uncomfortable with and sort of afraid of but should do. It’s kind of touching when his dad says “I wouldn’t miss it for the world”. BTW, Mark Consuelos is yet another one-off guest appearance in this episode.  
TOW Monica And Chandler’s Wedding is one of the series’ best finales. Really the only bad part about it is that I don’t really believe Chandler would ever really leave Monica at the altar, but he gets talked out of that pretty quickly, so it’s fine. Aside from this, it’s great. A whole season severely lacking in plot was entirely about the lead-up to this event, so it needed to deliver, and it did. It features the return of Kathleen Turner(and Morgan Fairchild) as well as the last of the season’s long list of guest stars in Gary Oldman. Joey and Oldman spitting at each other is much funnier than it has any right to be. They two of them really sell it. Turner and Fairchild together is damn near magic. “Aren’t you a little old to be wearing a dress like that?”/“Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that” is one of the funniest exchanges of dialogue there is in the show. The whole thing with no one believing Ross could kick Chandler’s ass is great too, and Joey’s performance as minister cracks me up every time.  
Dramatically, they nailed the emotion when Monica and Chandler are saying their vows, and their love for each other really comes through.  
It’s a great moment for a couple that had been together for three years and hinted at on the periphery for four years before that, and it sort of brings to end that period the show that was all about their journey from friends to husband and wife. But as with the C story in TOW Ross’s Wedding, the B(perhaps C again?) story in this one turns the show on its head again. Phoebe and Rachel find a positive pregnancy test in Monica’s trash can. That’s all it was. So Monica is pregnant, we’re made to think. Chandler overhears Phoebe and Rachel talking about it and thinks so too. But at the very end, Aniston, with just a nervous facial expression and an unsure reading of the word ‘yeah’, blows everything up again just like Monica popping out of the covers three years earlier blew everything up. It’s one of the show’s best cliffhangers.
Season 8: Rejuvenation and a Would-Be Ending If you were a fan of the show in the summer of 2001, you know that that cliffhanger had created a buzz around the show that hadn’t been there since at least season 5, if not season 4. Was Rachel really pregnant? Who’s the father? I remember, leading up to the premiere, there was an ad set to Enya’s “Only Time” where it was suggested that Tag, Joey, or Ross could be the father.  
Once the season started, the show’s ratings were higher than they’d been in a while. Rachel’s pregnancy had given the show an overarching plot with a focus it hadn’t had in years. As a result, the show was being praised by critics in a way it hadn’t been in years.  
It must also be mentioned that this is the season that started airing just two weeks after 9/11. The country was in need of good escapism, so the timing+renewed focus on a high-profile plot rejuvenated the show with fans and critics alike. It’s inarguable that this season was seen as a comeback, and it’s easily the best of the later seasons imo.  
I should mention that, while this season relies far less on stunt casting than the previous one, there are some instances: Sean Penn’s two-episode arc as Ursula/Phoebe’s boyfriend, Alec Baldwin’s one-off(ok, he cameos at the end of the previous episode as well) as Phoebe’s boyfriend, and of course, probably the most famous guest spot in Friends history, Brad Pitt’s appearance in TOW The Rumor(This is a fun episode, but Pitt seems somewhat out of place).  
Still, those instances are far fewer than in season 7, as this season doesn’t need them as much. The first part of the season with the slow reveal of Rachel’s pregnancy to her friends, then of who the father is, then to Ross, then how it happened in TOW The Videotape and onward is so good. The way the whole thing complicates their lives from a dating perspective and from the perspective of the two of them being in each other’s orbit more intimately again is done slowly, gradually, and really well. Examples are when Rachel tries to date in TOW Rachel’s Date and Ross’s arc with Mona. Mona was one of the most likable guest lovers the show ever had, and her case of guest-lover-itis was one of the best - that she just couldn’t handle the situation. And who could blame her after meeting Dr. Greene(in his greatest appearance imo, I’m always dead when Ross gets the message about the stripper) and then Rachel moving in with Ross?  
Anyway, moving on…  
Joey and Rachel is a polarizing subject, and a lot of people hate the pairing. I’ll be clear - I basically hate it too. However, I actually like the initial arc from TOW Joey Dates Rachel to TOW The Tea Leaves. That arc works for me, because it’s really good character work for Joey, it allows him some growth. it is totally plausible to me that after living with Rachel for two years, he might develop feelings for her. It is totally implausible to me that she would ever reciprocate those feelings, and the fact that she turns him down without hesitation is why the arc works. I have no problem with it. Literally everything after this arc involving that relationship, I hate. But we’ll get there.  
The latter part of the season keeps things going strong with episodes like TOW The Baby Shower, where Rachel freaks out about being a mom, and also featuring the classic “Bamboozled” B story, and TOW Rachel Is Late, which features a really great comedic performance from Aniston. It all leads up to a kiss between Ross and Rachel as she goes into labor.  
The finale is one of the better ones, and even with the nothingburger Phoebe/Joey story with the guy with the broken leg, would rank higher if not for that cliffhanger. The episode balances comedy - all those women, including Janice, coming and going while Rachel is stuck in the early stages of labor - and drama - the emotion of Rachel giving birth to Emma - very well, and it’s a very satisfying episode. Until the end.  
Ok, I’m just going to say this: As the years go by, I become more and more sold on the idea that the show should have ended with this episode. Season eight should’ve been it. Seasons 9 and 10 shouldn’t have happened.  
Ross and Rachel growing slowly back together had been happening all season and it led to that kiss as they were leaving for the hospital, and then another one after Emma was born. All they had to do was say, ‘ok, we’re together now’, and it would’ve felt like a totally organic, non-contrived, satisfying conclusion. Ross and Rachel would be together, Monica and Chandler would be happily married, and it would be a great ending. What would we lose there that we gained from the last two seasons? We wouldn’t get to see Monica and Chandler become parents and we wouldn’t get Phoebe’s happy ending with Mike. I could live with that. Maybe they could’ve brought David back for Phoebe at some point in the season.  
The cliffhanger is just so frustrating. Phoebe has convinced Ross that he and Rachel should be together, he’s on his way, and then Joey accidentally proposes? Come on. The idea of an accidental proposal is dumb enough, but then Rachel accepting it? Her self-esteem was never that low. The whole thing is just so, so contrived. The Joey/Rachel thing was over, why bring it back?  
Making Rachel pregnant in the first place was sort of the last card the writers had to play, a hail mary, a masterstroke that bought the show back to relevance and won it its only Best Comedy emmy. It was a triumph. But when they had Joey accidentally propose and Rachel accept, it was the signal that they were out of ideas. The show should have ended with Ross walking in that room and the re-uniting with Rachel.
Season 9-10: Overstaying The Welcome
I don’t want to come off as too harsh on these final seasons. It’s Friends, so it’s still going to be funny fairly often. But not as funny as it once was, and the over-arching plots, which is what this whole thing is about, were just not very good. A lot of the time, not all the time, but a lot of times, in these final seasons, it felt as if the vitality had been taken out of the show, like it had run out of creative gas. Friends is so beloved in its afterlife because it’s a warm show, it’s like comfort food most of the time. But in these final seasons, it feels less warm more often than not. It feels strained. It feels, at times, like the people making it were just cashing checks, biding time. Like a show past its prime.  
We can’t know how Season 9 would’ve turned out if it’d been the last one as originally planned, if the network hadn’t gotten on its knees during the holidays and begged for one more season. There was some tension with Ross withholding that message from Rachel and Rachel getting upset enough about it to move out. If season 9 was the last, then the Joey/Rachel storyline from TOW Rachel’s Dream to TOW Ross’s Tan would never have happened. From this perspective, Season 10 was definitely a mistake, and season 9 would’ve been stronger if it’d been the last.  
But even then, the gymnastics they had to do to have Ross and Rachel not get together after Emma’s birth but wait another year are just a bridge too far after years of waiting. The whole thing with Ross being thisclose to getting back with Rachel and then backing out because ‘When you thought Joey was proposing, did you say yes?’ was so dumb. The only good thing to come out of that was the slapstick between Ross and Joey in TOW Emma Cries. On top of that, the Tulsa storyline was very meh as well. This was all the early part of the season and would have happened even the season had been the last.  
Once they knew season 9 wouldn’t be the last, things really take a turn. The character of Charlie is introduced, and while I’m a fan of Aisha Tyler, I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy her being attracted to Joey. The Dumont Mulroney arc happens too, which I’m really really not a fan of.  
They do the infertility thing with Monica and Chandler. I think that that subject matter was a bit too heavy for Friends, and I think they kind of skirmished around it rather than diving in. I get that they needed to move Monica and Chandler’s storyline forward and they didn’t want to do another pregnancy storyline, but this felt rushed and half-baked, and the John Stamos drop-in is dumb.  
I said earlier that the initial Joey/Rachel arc in season 8 worked because Rachel didn’t reciprocate. This is why the storyline at the end of season 9 and beginning season 10 is so bad. It’s never believable that she would fall for him. Watching the writers try to dumb her down to make her fit with Joey, like when she laughs at some dumb thing only Joey would laugh at in Barbados, is insulting to the character, and painful to watch. She may not have been an intellect like Ross, but she had a head on her shoulders and was never anywhere near that immature. Just terrible.  
Barbados is my least-favorite of all the finales. A huge set piece where the only things that happen are that Rachel kisses Joey and Phoebe chooses Mike, which are both bad for me(I like Paul Rudd, but I’m a Phoebe/David shipper).  
I feel like I’m being too negative, so I will pause to say that of course there are good and even great moments in these final seasons. Like I said before, the slapstick in TOW Emma Cries is gold and Gunther cracking up in the background ever Ross gets punched and fractures his hand in the space of ten seconds kills me every time.  
Christina Applegate’s appearances in TOW Rachel’s Other Sister and TOW Rachel’s Sister Babysits are great, the best guest spots of the last two years pretty easily.  
TOW The Lottery is a great bottle episode that has a real old-school Friends vibe to it. Season 9 was getting bashed pretty heavily by the fandom as it was airing, but everyone seemed to like this episode.  
TOW The Memorial Service is a lot funnier than it probably should be with all the pranking and the ridiculous premise of staging your own fake memorial service. Somehow, it works really well.  
Monica singing with her boobs showing was pretty funny, and there were some good Phoebe/Mike moments too, even I was rooting for David.  
In season 10, as has been mentioned many times, Schwimmer’s performance in TOW Ross Is Fine is great and the only thing I ever want to watch from that storyline. TOW The Cake is a fun little standalone episode. Phoebe’s wedding is pretty in the snow and well-done(although Monica is OTT there). It hits you in the feels to see a character you love get a happy ending, even if it’s not the happy ending you wanted.  
Unfortunately there are some issues in season 10 as well…obviously the Joey/Rachel stuff at the beginning, but also a pretty weak Thanksgiving episode and the Devito appearance which felt like an SNL skit.  
So…the last run of episodes. Look, they’re well done, with the Anna Faris arc and Rachel leaving both leading up to TOW Rachel’s Going Away Party and The Last One. It’s just that it feels too late for R&R. It’s well-acted, and the emotion is there, but I just…the last-minute airport dash thing is sort of cliched, and the whole thing ends up not feeling all that authentic to me after the two prior seasons of just keeping them apart at all costs when they so obviously should’ve been together from Emma’s birth on.  
I don’t understand why they were so insistent on keeping them apart on until literally the very last minute. Look at a show like Frasier - Niles and Daphne were allowed to be together and it ended up being a beautiful love story. People didn’t stop watching because they were together. The story didn’t end because they were together. It will forever be the biggest mistake, the biggest error in judgement, the writers ever made - to keep R&R apart for so long, that is.  
They could’ve re-united when Ross didn’t get the annulment at the beginning of season 6. This could’ve been an opportune time to put them back together. Early in season 5, Rachel told Ross that she still loved him, but he was still trying to make his marriage to Emily work. Now, maybe enough time has passed that he’s ready. Except they finally confront each other and she says ‘But that was different, I was in love with you’, and instead of admitting he has feelings, he just says ‘Yeah, RIGHT….you’re right, it’s different’ etc. They could’ve gotten back together right then and then the Vegas finale would’ve had more long-term meaning. But of course that couldn’t happen.  
They could’ve re-united after Emma was born. That would’ve been even better. Their reunion could’ve been more powerful and their love story elevated. Instead of any of this, we’re left with a cliched airport dash and we don’t even get to enjoy them together. And Joey and Rachel trying to make out had to be endured before that.  
All this said, Schwimmer and Aniston delivered from an acting standpoint and that’s what nearly saves it. Monica and Chandler becoming parents is also a nice moment, but somehow not as emotional as it would’ve been if Monica had been giving birth(I understand why they couldn’t do that). The Last One is a well-done episode, but it’s a little overwrought, really sad, and I find it difficult to watch.  
These last two seasons have their share of funny and touching moments, but on the whole they’re not enough imo to make them feel wholly necessary, the overarching plots are very lacking more often than not, and I remain of the opinion that season 8 would’ve been a higher note to go out on and a more satisfying way to re-unite R&R. I don't mean to be so negative about the final seasons. I really don't hate them. I just think they're of a considerably lower quality, which the exception of some episodes, than what came before.  
So, that concludes my commentary. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you got something out of it.
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2017.12.31 00:08 namkcuR An Extremely Long Season-By-Season Look At Friends...

Hello! I’ve never posted on this reddit before but have been watching Friends, my favorite sitcom ever, for 20 years. I’ve recently been re-watching some of it for the umpteenth time and I’ve been observing a certain trajectory to the show as a whole, season by season. I like to write, so I started writing an admittedly long-winded season-by-season commentary, focusing mainly on overarching plots - when they're there, when they're not, when they're good, when they're bad, etc - and using this to create a certain trajectory, with peaks and valleys and all, for the show. This is going to be very long, and I’m thinking no one is going to finish it, but I hope at least some of you will take the time to read it...  
Season 1: The Beginning, Rough Around the Edges
Everything has to start somewhere. The first season of Friends, while funny, is a show that doesn’t know quite what it is yet, whose characters are more first-draft than final draft. Phoebe is more hippy, Joey is more New York-Italian-tough-guy, Ross is more serious than he would become later, Rachel is less assertive, etc. The show on the whole also has, at least to me, a more cynical outlook at times in comparison to the more sentimental one it would soon take on; a little more of an early-90s vibe as opposed to the mid-late-90s vibe the show is largely known for. At times, I said.  
It’s got its share of memorable episodes, of course - The Pilot, TOW The East German Laundry Detergent, TOW Underdog Gets Away, TOW The Monkey, TOW Rachel Finds Out, etc. TOW The Blackout is probably the first bonafide ‘classic’ Friends episode.  
In terms of over-arching plot, Ross’s unstated love for Rachel is about all there is. The show would get much more intricate and purposeful with its plotting down the road, more polished as a whole, and its characters would become more fleshed out, but for this first season, it was rough around the edges, and at times felt almost like a different show than what came later.
Season 2: The Show Finds Its Identity While Having Growing Pains
Season 2 felt more polished right from the start, with Chandler and Joey’s haircuts, and a somewhat tighter focus on plot. I say somewhat, because while Rachel’s lusting for Ross while he’s with Julie is the main overacting plot for the first half of the season, that first half also contains a lot of standalone stuff - Heckles dying(TOW Heckles Dies), Phoebe’s ice-dancer husband(Steve Zahn)(TOW Phoebe’s Husband), Chandler and Joey babysitting - and losing - Ben(TOW The Baby On The Bus), etc. It’s good stand-alone stuff, but they still haven’t mastered the art of plotting. Nor the pacing of a season.  
The whole first half of the season leads to the TOW Ross Finds Out/TOW The List twofer. This is a significant event and the first time Friends hinted at being something other than just another sitcom. R&R come thisclose to getting together and then the list blows it. And this where the pacing issue comes into play. After this twofer, the next episodes are TOW Phoebe’s Dad(Christmas episode) and the TOW Russ(still one of the weirdest episodes of the show imo). After this is TOW The Lesbian Wedding, which is sort of a stand-out event, and is to be applauded as such a thing was very progressive for 1996. And after that? TOA The Superbowl 1&2.  
This was kind of just a big commercial for the show. Stunt-Cast-A-Palooza. It was probably significant in showing that Friends had made it and was here to stay, both just in the fact that it got a post-Superbowl episode, and in the fact that they got the kind of star power they did to participate in it. It’s like a time capsule of 1996 with Van Damme(a superstar in the 90s), Julia Roberts(already one of the biggest movie stars of all time and in her prime then), and Brooke Shields(also in the prime of her celebrity). Still, it has little baring on and makes little reference to anything that had been going on in the show(other than Marcel). It’s almost like it’s out of the timeline.  
So after TOW Ross Finds Out/TOW The List, five episodes - and when it aired, two-and-a-half months - stood between it and TOW The Prom Video. This matters because for me, not just this episode, but the whole run from TOW The Prom Video to, maybe the end of the season, but certainly to TOW Eddie Won’t Go, is the first time Friends fully realizes its identity, and the first time it really becomes great. The prom video itself is the first introduction of Fat Monica, Rachel with her old nose, and Ross with a fro and mustache, all of which would be hallmarks of flashbacks going forward. Ross and Rachel finally get together, Monica dates and falls in love with Richard, Dr. Drake Ramoray and Days Of Our Lives become part of the show, and Chandler and Joey get their recliners for the first time. It just feels like after taking steps towards finding its identity, the show starts really resembling itself all at once.  
So season 2 is a big step up from season 1, but it would be better if it didn’t have the five-episode patch of just kind of waiting between TOW The List and TOW The Prom Video, and if it ended stronger. Its last two episodes are one of the least effective instances of stunt-casting in the show’s history(TOW The Chicken Pox, Charlie Sheen) and one of the shows most lackluster, uneventful season finales in TOW Barry And Mindy’s wedding.
Season 3: The Show Refines its Identity, Approaches Peak
If the show found its identity in season 2, it refined it in season 3. On the heels of season 2’s second half, season 3 became even more plot-heavy while also offering more classic individual episodes than ever before. The first third of the season focuses on Ross and Rachel’s steady relationship and Chandler and Janice’s relationship(the only time in the series Maggie Wheeler would be around for an extended arc) and contains classics like TOW No One’s Ready(one of a handful of Friends episodes that transcend the show to be simply one of the greatest sitcom episodes of all time), TOW The Football(in the upper echelons of Thanksgiving episodes), and TOW The Flashback(essentially a 20-minute prequel to the entire series).  
The first third of the season ends with TOW Rachel Quits, which sets up the second third of the season, which focuses mostly on the events leading up to Ross And Rachel’s breakup. It all leads up to TOW Ross And Rachel Take A Break and TO The Morning After, a seismic event in the Friends universe and maybe the most dramatically heavy episodes in the show’s history(though Ross was an idiot to jump into bed with another woman so quickly). They’re well-done, and sad to watch. This part of the season concludes with TOW The Ski Trip, an interesting look at what happens in a group of friends when two of them break up.  
The reason season 3 isn’t quite up at the top of my rankings is because its third third is, on the whole, not as strong as what came before. It deals with the fallout from Ross and Rachel’s breakup, Monica and Pete’s relationship(i.e. Jon Favrau’s arc), and Joey and Kate’s almost-relationship. It’s tricky getting people to feel invested in relationships any of the main cast has with guest actors, because those relationships are nearly always doomed. Guests will only ever be around for a finite amount of time, so they always come down with what I call guest-lover-itis, where a sudden reason must be found for them to no longer be suitable. In this case, it’s that Pete wants to be an ultimate fighter and that Kate gets a job in LA. Pete’s arc leads to some genuinely funny moments(“See this circle I’m making? That’s my zone of terror.”), but it’s also silly on its face that software engineer with no fighting history would ever do that. Kate’s arc never really goes anywhere and ends up being somewhat forgettable.  
The season ends with TOA The Beach, where the main goings on are that Ross finds out Rachel still loves him, and Phoebe meets her birth mother, Phoebe Sr. The cliffhanger finds Ross having to decide whether to go into Rachel’s room or his new girlfriend Bonnie’s room. There isn’t much drama in this cliffhanger for me because there’s no way I believe Ross would think for even a second about not going into Rachel’s room. With Emily the following year, that relationship was built up over half a season at least, but the amount of screen time Bonnie had prior to the moment in question could probably be measured in scenes rather than episodes. So the tension they’re trying to create doesn’t quite work for me. So while it’s better than the previous finale, I’d say the show hadn’t yet figured out how to end a season with a bang.  
So, season 3 was very strong on the whole, refining the identity it had found by the end of season 2, developing the characters further, both regular and non-regular(Janice and Frank Jr. are given more time and we are introduced to Alice and Phoebe Sr., and also the chick and the duck), and taking big steps in terms of getting more plot-heavy. It gave us some of the series’ most memorable episodes(TOW No One’s Ready, TOW The Football, TOW Ross and Rachel Take A Break, TOW The Morning After), but relatively speaking, fizzles out a bit toward the end.  
It’s probably in the upper echelon of Friends seasons, but is still only approaching the peak.
Seasons 4-5: The Peak
Season 4, imo, is Friends’ greatest season. The characters finish the journey from the first season’s ‘first drafts’ to fully-realized final drafts. They got most of the way there in season 3, but the finishing touches are put on in this season. “How you doin’” is born for Joey. Ross and Rachel settle into their post-relationship selves. Phoebe’s hippiness is reduced down to the level it would remain at for pretty much the rest of the series. Monica’s OCD reaches 100%(showing up at The Dirty Girl’s apartment to clean, going all out when she’s living in the guys’ apartment). Chandler’s sarcasm starts thawing a little bit.  
What really makes it the greatest though is all the plots. The plotting was never more intricate and dense than it was in this season. There is just so much going on. First, in the second episode, TOW The Cat, Chandler and Joey are robbed. This is a plot point to set up Chandler’s big gesture of emptying his savings to replenish their furniture later on. But those few episodes where they’re sitting on patio furniture and in the canoe have a unique flavor of their own.  
Then comes the ChandleKathy/Joey arc. It’s not often any of the individual friendships on the show were really challenged, so it was interesting see this dynamic between Chandler and Joey. It was a good story. I recall Paget Brewster being pretty popular with everyone, and I think Cox/Aniston/Kudrow actually tried to get the writers/producers to let her stay around more, but it wasn’t possible, so Kathy gets guest-lover-itis and cheats on Chandler.  
In amongst all of this, Monica gets the Alessandro’s job that she’d have for most of the remaining series. Just thought I should mention that.  
Phoebe has her pregnancy storyline, and it’s probably the best storyline the character ever had. It added depth to the character, allowed for many funny situations, allowed Frank Jr and Alice to have their biggest chunk of screen time(I love them), and if nothing else, was the impetus for TOW The Embryos, which joins TOW No One’s Ready as one of those episodes that’s bigger than Friends.  
The apartment swap is so much fun, allowed for several great stories to be told, and again, those episodes when the guys are living in the big apartment, everyone eating off the foosball table, have a unique flavor to them that places them instantly at a specific point in the timeline.  
Finally, there’s Ross and Emily and Rachel and Joshua. I feel like Ross and Emily had a believable whirlwind romance, which was given half a season to develop, while Rachel and Joshua’s wasn’t as believable, but it wasn’t supposed to be either. It served it’s purpose of making Rachel realize how upset she was about Ross and Emily.  
If there was one thing Friends hadn’t been able to do in previous seasons, it was to finish out the season in a way that put an exclamation mark on everything that came before, to have the whole season building towards something big. They figured it out this time, expanding the finale to one hour, which would be the standard going forward. TOW Ross’s Wedding, which could just as well be called TOI London, is one of the series’ greatest finales(imo only TOW Monica and Chandler’s Wedding can compete) with one of the more memorable sitcom cliffhangers ever when Ross says Rachel. Yet, as big as that was, it was the episode’s C Story(the B Story was Chandler and Joey’s fight, I think) that really turned the show on its head. When Monica popped out from the covers and said ‘Do you think he knew I was here?’, it is a pivot point for the entire series.  
Season 5 picks up right where season 4 left off, in more ways than one, as the high-level plotting continued. This season doesn’t have as many plotlines as the previous one, but it’s got enough, between Monica and Chandler sneaking around, Joey helping them, and Ross trying to save his marriage after saying the wrong name and then dealing with the fallout when he can’t save it. Emily was made much bitchier this season, but it had to be, as Helen Baxendale needed to make an early exit due to her real life pregnancy. So Ross ends up kind of losing everything - his marriage, his apartment, and then his job after having a meltdown over his sandwich. He ends up homeless and unemployed, living with Chandler and Joey for awhile. This whole ordeal loosens the character up in a way that would become permanent. It’s good character writing, imo.  
Monica and Chandler sneaking around is a celebrated plot, but while I enjoy it, I do feel like it strains credulity at times. Like, the others should’ve figured it out way earlier. Are they really buying Monica’s having to go back for her jacket thing when she and Chandler get to the hospital for Phoebe’s labor after the others? And when Joey puts it together and starts freaking out and yelling and pointing and then they drag him into the bedroom, are Rachel and Phoebe, sitting right there, not asking what is going on? Also, after Rachel finds out and point blank confronts Monica about it and Monica lies, does she really think Rachel is buying it? It’s a fun storyline for sure but it could’ve been a little more believable.  
So everything kind of culminates with TOW Everybody Finds Out, which joins TOW No One’s Ready and TOW The Embryos as one of those episodes that is very famous outside of Friends. They go through a whole charade with very memorable word play(They don’t know we know they know!) and Monica and Chandler finally admit to everyone that they’re in a relationship.  
Around this same time, Ross has just won Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment and is getting back on his feet(the process of his moving in gives us highly memorable moments like naked Ross, Ross getting the cold shoulder from his neighbors for not giving money to the super, the absolutely classic ‘PIVOT’ plot in TOW The Cop, Ross pretending to be watching TV and surfing, Joey mistaking Ross’s apartment for Hot Girl’s apartment, and Ross screaming GET OFF MY SISTER!).  
So by the time the season is two-thirds over, the two major plots have sort of wrapped up. There is, I think, a general consensus that seasons 6 and 7 had a wheels-spinning feeling about them, that the writers were starting to run out of ideas, and that the plot stagnated to a certain degree as a result. I think there is an argument to be made that this started in the last third of Season 5. Once Monica and Chandler are out of the closet as a couple and Ross is moved into his new place, there’s a sort of leveling off that occurs after all the activity of season 4 and the first two-thirds of season 5.  
This last part of the season focuses mostly on Chandler and Monica growing closer after going public(One year anniversary, getting past the all-over-each-other phase), Michael Rapaport’s arc with Phoebe, and the Vegas story that closes the season. I like the Phoebe/Gary arc mostly because Rapaport probably makes the character funnier than he is on paper, and it gave us TOW The Ride-Along, which is one of the high points of the season, but the character catches guest-lover-itis when he shoots a bird and Phoebe has to end it, so the whole thing is of not much consequence.  
The whole Vegas thing…I’m not wild about that finale. It’s a big set piece where nothing much happens. Joey finds a hand-twin. Phoebe gets in a feud with an old lady over a slot machine. Ross and Rachel draw on each other and get drunk. Monica and Chandler have a stupid fight over Richard, gamble, and almost get married. Ross and Rachel do get married in what in hindsight feels like a stunt of a cliffhanger. I don’t know. It’s not bad. It’s funny in a lot of places, but it’s the first time the show feels a little bloated, a little unfocused.  
This is, for the most part, a magnificent two-season peak, but it ends with a feeling of wheels spinning and plot stagnation that would pervade the following two seasons.
Seasons 6-7: Plot-Stagnation, Leveling Out
From the way I’ve titled this, you might think I’m pretty negative on these seasons. I’m not. These seasons are funny more often than not, but my whole point writing all this is to point out the ebb and flow of the show in terms of plotting, and these seasons are, I think few would argue, lacking in that department, especially compared to the two seasons that preceded them.  
From the dissolution of Ross and Rachel’s relationship in season 3 to ChandleKathy/Joey to Phoebe’s pregnancy to Ross and Emily to Ross saying Rachel to Monica and Chandler sneaking around and Ross falling apart, the show had been a rollercoaster for the better part of three very plot-heavy seasons. But now, the focus was firmly on the advancement of Monica and Chandler’s relationship, and that plot was essentially a straight line from moving in with each other to engagement to marriage, with no real conflict. The other characters aren’t given much in terms of overarching plot either(except for Ross becoming a professor), and so you end up with a high occurrence of stand-alone - sometimes pretty random - plots, and an increasing reliance on big-name guest stars and other stunts.  
Season 6 had the Elle McPherson arc, the Reese Witherspoon two-parter, the Bruce Willis arc, the polarizing “TO That Could Have Been” two-parter, and Tom Selleck’s return in the finale(more on that later). All together, that makes up about half the season. I’m not trashing these things by any means(though I do usually skip TO That Could Have Been) - the Bruce Willis stuff is great fun and I don’t mind Elle McPherson’s arc at all(I know some have strong negative feelings about it, but she’s gorgeous and Joey is hilarious with her, the only bad part is she comes down with one of the lamest cases of guest-lover-itis when she just decides she hates Monica and Chandler), but it does illustrate the point that this type of stuff was being leaned on in lieu of meatier over-arching plots.  
Still, the season has some great stuff going for it. TO On The Last Night is a great bottle episode that gives the transition from Monica+Rachel/Chandler+Joey to Monica+ChandleJoey+(eventually)Rachel the import it deserves. It is indeed “the end of an era” and the show was right to make a deal out of it.  
TOW Ross Got High is the series’ greatest Thanksgiving episode imo, with an almost operatic structure where peoples frustrations and mistakes throughout the episode all come out in a rising crescendo after which Judy and Jack Gellar address all of them one by one. It’s so, so good.  
TOW With The Routine and TOW With Unagi are other classics as well.  
TOW The Proposal is a good finale but not a great one. It’s a major event, but every time I watch it, the Richard stuff and the Chandler misleading Monica stuff seems more and more contrived. I feel like it should’ve been more about what a major thing it was for the character of Chandler to be ready to propose marriage but instead he has to almost lose her so that they can do the ‘Tom Selleck returns’ stunt. I don’t believe that Monica would be seriously thinking about leaving that quickly just because Richard showed up out of nowhere nor do I believe Richard would suddenly want kids four years after he didn’t. But it’s still a great moment when Monica and Chandler finally do get engaged.  
Season 7 sees an even larger reliance on guest stars and stunts. During February sweeps, they aired four “super-size” episodes - TOW Rosita Dies, TOW They All Turn Thirty, TOW Joey’s New Brain, and TOW The Truth About London. These are mostly entertaining, particularly the latter’s insight into what happened the night Monica and Chandler hooked up for the first time, and TOW Joey’s New Brain, featuring Ross and his bagpipes, which is absolutely classic what with Phoebe singing along and Aniston unable to keep it together. TOW They All Turn Thirty, however, is problematic with regards to timeline issues, plus the ‘lift and slide’ thing seems like a re-hash of ‘PIVOT!’.  
This season contains more guests than any other. Eddie Cahill as Tag is the only “arc” of the season and he’s pretty boring, a pretty nothing relationship for Rachel, which to her credit she realizes and ends. But the amount of one-offs is staggering.  
Kristen Davis in TOW Ross’s Library Book as Joey’s love interest is cute but ultimately not too memorable.  
Jason Alexander in TOW Rosita Dies as essentially a suicidal version of George Costanza that Phoebe talks off the ledge, and is funny because Alexander is funny.  
Susan Sarandon(and her daughter Eva Amurri) in TOW Joey’s New Brain as the DOOL actress he’s replacing is effective and memorable, because Sarandon is a really great actress.   Gabrielle Union in TOW The Cheap Wedding Dress is fun, not so much because of her, but because her plot leads to a classic Ross/Joey scene where they do each other’s dirty laundry in front of her(“Where do you think we lost her?” “Probably somewhere around gonorrhea”).  
At this point, two of the most egregious cases of stunt casting in the show’s history come back-to-back. Denise Richards in TOW Ross and Monica’s Cousin does very little aside from tossing her hair in a pretty dumb episode. Winona Ryder in TOW Rachel’s Big Kiss is more entertaining but still just a big gimmick. They’re just killing time with these episodes.  
The best part of the season by far is the end. Whereas some of the above is clearly stunt-casting, Kathleen Turner was an absolutely inspired casting decision for Chandler’s often mentioned but never seen cross-dressing father. TOW Chandler’s Dad is one of my favorite Monica/Chandler relationship stories because it shows her pushing him to do something he’s uncomfortable with and sort of afraid of but should do. It’s kind of touching when his dad says “I wouldn’t miss it for the world”. BTW, Mark Consuelos is yet another one-off guest appearance in this episode.  
TOW Monica And Chandler’s Wedding is one of the series’ best finales. Really the only bad part about it is that I don’t really believe Chandler would ever really leave Monica at the altar, but he gets talked out of that pretty quickly, so it’s fine. Aside from this, it’s great. A whole season severely lacking in plot was entirely about the lead-up to this event, so it needed to deliver, and it did. It features the return of Kathleen Turner(and Morgan Fairchild) as well as the last of the season’s long list of guest stars in Gary Oldman. Joey and Oldman spitting at each other is much funnier than it has any right to be. They two of them really sell it. Turner and Fairchild together is damn near magic. “Aren’t you a little old to be wearing a dress like that?”/“Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that” is one of the funniest exchanges of dialogue there is in the show. The whole thing with no one believing Ross could kick Chandler’s ass is great too, and Joey’s performance as minister cracks me up every time.  
Dramatically, they nailed the emotion when Monica and Chandler are saying their vows, and their love for each other really comes through.  
It’s a great moment for a couple that had been together for three years and hinted at on the periphery for four years before that, and it sort of brings to end that period the show that was all about their journey from friends to husband and wife. But as with the C story in TOW Ross’s Wedding, the B(perhaps C again?) story in this one turns the show on its head again. Phoebe and Rachel find a positive pregnancy test in Monica’s trash can. That’s all it was. So Monica is pregnant, we’re made to think. Chandler overhears Phoebe and Rachel talking about it and thinks so too. But at the very end, Aniston, with just a nervous facial expression and an unsure reading of the word ‘yeah’, blows everything up again just like Monica popping out of the covers three years earlier blew everything up. It’s one of the show’s best cliffhangers.
Season 8: Rejuvenation and a Would-Be Ending If you were a fan of the show in the summer of 2001, you know that that cliffhanger had created a buzz around the show that hadn’t been there since at least season 5, if not season 4. Was Rachel really pregnant? Who’s the father? I remember, leading up to the premiere, there was an ad set to Enya’s “Only Time” where it was suggested that Tag, Joey, or Ross could be the father.  
Once the season started, the show’s ratings were higher than they’d been in a while. Rachel’s pregnancy had given the show an overarching plot with a focus it hadn’t had in years. As a result, the show was being praised by critics in a way it hadn’t been in years.  
It must also be mentioned that this is the season that started airing just two weeks after 9/11. The country was in need of good escapism, so the timing+renewed focus on a high-profile plot rejuvenated the show with fans and critics alike. It’s inarguable that this season was seen as a comeback, and it’s easily the best of the later seasons imo.  
I should mention that, while this season relies far less on stunt casting than the previous one, there are some instances: Sean Penn’s two-episode arc as Ursula/Phoebe’s boyfriend, Alec Baldwin’s one-off(ok, he cameos at the end of the previous episode as well) as Phoebe’s boyfriend, and of course, probably the most famous guest spot in Friends history, Brad Pitt’s appearance in TOW The Rumor(This is a fun episode, but Pitt seems somewhat out of place).  
Still, those instances are far fewer than in season 7, as this season doesn’t need them as much. The first part of the season with the slow reveal of Rachel’s pregnancy to her friends, then of who the father is, then to Ross, then how it happened in TOW The Videotape and onward is so good. The way the whole thing complicates their lives from a dating perspective and from the perspective of the two of them being in each other’s orbit more intimately again is done slowly, gradually, and really well. Examples are when Rachel tries to date in TOW Rachel’s Date and Ross’s arc with Mona. Mona was one of the most likable guest lovers the show ever had, and her case of guest-lover-itis was one of the best - that she just couldn’t handle the situation. And who could blame her after meeting Dr. Greene(in his greatest appearance imo, I’m always dead when Ross gets the message about the stripper) and then Rachel moving in with Ross?  
Anyway, moving on…  
Joey and Rachel is a polarizing subject, and a lot of people hate the pairing. I’ll be clear - I basically hate it too. However, I actually like the initial arc from TOW Joey Dates Rachel to TOW The Tea Leaves. That arc works for me, because it’s really good character work for Joey, it allows him some growth. it is totally plausible to me that after living with Rachel for two years, he might develop feelings for her. It is totally implausible to me that she would ever reciprocate those feelings, and the fact that she turns him down without hesitation is why the arc works. I have no problem with it. Literally everything after this arc involving that relationship, I hate. But we’ll get there.  
The latter part of the season keeps things going strong with episodes like TOW The Baby Shower, where Rachel freaks out about being a mom, and also featuring the classic “Bamboozled” B story, and TOW Rachel Is Late, which features a really great comedic performance from Aniston. It all leads up to a kiss between Ross and Rachel as she goes into labor.  
The finale is one of the better ones, and even with the nothingburger Phoebe/Joey story with the guy with the broken leg, would rank higher if not for that cliffhanger. The episode balances comedy - all those women, including Janice, coming and going while Rachel is stuck in the early stages of labor - and drama - the emotion of Rachel giving birth to Emma - very well, and it’s a very satisfying episode. Until the end.  
Ok, I’m just going to say this: As the years go by, I become more and more sold on the idea that the show should have ended with this episode. Season eight should’ve been it. Seasons 9 and 10 shouldn’t have happened.  
Ross and Rachel growing slowly back together had been happening all season and it led to that kiss as they were leaving for the hospital, and then another one after Emma was born. All they had to do was say, ‘ok, we’re together now’, and it would’ve felt like a totally organic, non-contrived, satisfying conclusion. Ross and Rachel would be together, Monica and Chandler would be happily married, and it would be a great ending. What would we lose there that we gained from the last two seasons? We wouldn’t get to see Monica and Chandler become parents and we wouldn’t get Phoebe’s happy ending with Mike. I could live with that. Maybe they could’ve brought David back for Phoebe at some point in the season.  
The cliffhanger is just so frustrating. Phoebe has convinced Ross that he and Rachel should be together, he’s on his way, and then Joey accidentally proposes? Come on. The idea of an accidental proposal is dumb enough, but then Rachel accepting it? Her self-esteem was never that low. The whole thing is just so, so contrived. The Joey/Rachel thing was over, why bring it back?  
Making Rachel pregnant in the first place was sort of the last card the writers had to play, a hail mary, a masterstroke that bought the show back to relevance and won it its only Best Comedy emmy. It was a triumph. But when they had Joey accidentally propose and Rachel accept, it was the signal that they were out of ideas. The show should have ended with Ross walking in that room and the re-uniting with Rachel.
Season 9-10: Overstaying The Welcome
I don’t want to come off as too harsh on these final seasons. It’s Friends, so it’s still going to be funny fairly often. But not as funny as it once was, and the over-arching plots, which is what this whole thing is about, were just not very good. A lot of the time, not all the time, but a lot of times, in these final seasons, it felt as if the vitality had been taken out of the show, like it had run out of creative gas. Friends is so beloved in its afterlife because it’s a warm show, it’s like comfort food most of the time. But in these final seasons, it feels less warm more often than not. It feels strained. It feels, at times, like the people making it were just cashing checks, biding time. Like a show past its prime.  
We can’t know how Season 9 would’ve turned out if it’d been the last one as originally planned, if the network hadn’t gotten on its knees during the holidays and begged for one more season. There was some tension with Ross withholding that message from Rachel and Rachel getting upset enough about it to move out. If season 9 was the last, then the Joey/Rachel storyline from TOW Rachel’s Dream to TOW Ross’s Tan would never have happened. From this perspective, Season 10 was definitely a mistake, and season 9 would’ve been stronger if it’d been the last.  
But even then, the gymnastics they had to do to have Ross and Rachel not get together after Emma’s birth but wait another year are just a bridge too far after years of waiting. The whole thing with Ross being thisclose to getting back with Rachel and then backing out because ‘When you thought Joey was proposing, did you say yes?’ was so dumb. The only good thing to come out of that was the slapstick between Ross and Joey in TOW Emma Cries. On top of that, the Tulsa storyline was very meh as well. This was all the early part of the season and would have happened even the season had been the last.  
Once they knew season 9 wouldn’t be the last, things really take a turn. The character of Charlie is introduced, and while I’m a fan of Aisha Tyler, I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy her being attracted to Joey. The Dumont Mulroney arc happens too, which I’m really really not a fan of.  
They do the infertility thing with Monica and Chandler. I think that that subject matter was a bit too heavy for Friends, and I think they kind of skirmished around it rather than diving in. I get that they needed to move Monica and Chandler’s storyline forward and they didn’t want to do another pregnancy storyline, but this felt rushed and half-baked, and the John Stamos drop-in is dumb.  
I said earlier that the initial Joey/Rachel arc in season 8 worked because Rachel didn’t reciprocate. This is why the storyline at the end of season 9 and beginning season 10 is so bad. It’s never believable that she would fall for him. Watching the writers try to dumb her down to make her fit with Joey, like when she laughs at some dumb thing only Joey would laugh at in Barbados, is insulting to the character, and painful to watch. She may not have been an intellect like Ross, but she had a head on her shoulders and was never anywhere near that immature. Just terrible.  
Barbados is my least-favorite of all the finales. A huge set piece where the only things that happen are that Rachel kisses Joey and Phoebe chooses Mike, which are both bad for me(I like Paul Rudd, but I’m a Phoebe/David shipper).  
I feel like I’m being too negative, so I will pause to say that of course there are good and even great moments in these final seasons. Like I said before, the slapstick in TOW Emma Cries is gold and Gunther cracking up in the background ever Ross gets punched and fractures his hand in the space of ten seconds kills me every time.  
Christina Applegate’s appearances in TOW Rachel’s Other Sister and TOW Rachel’s Sister Babysits are great, the best guest spots of the last two years pretty easily.  
TOW The Lottery is a great bottle episode that has a real old-school Friends vibe to it. Season 9 was getting bashed pretty heavily by the fandom as it was airing, but everyone seemed to like this episode.  
TOW The Memorial Service is a lot funnier than it probably should be with all the pranking and the ridiculous premise of staging your own fake memorial service. Somehow, it works really well.  
Monica singing with her boobs showing was pretty funny, and there were some good Phoebe/Mike moments too, even I was rooting for David.  
In season 10, as has been mentioned many times, Schwimmer’s performance in TOW Ross Is Fine is great and the only thing I ever want to watch from that storyline. TOW The Cake is a fun little standalone episode. Phoebe’s wedding is pretty in the snow and well-done(although Monica is OTT there). It hits you in the feels to see a character you love get a happy ending, even if it’s not the happy ending you wanted.  
Unfortunately there are some issues in season 10 as well…obviously the Joey/Rachel stuff at the beginning, but also a pretty weak Thanksgiving episode and the Devito appearance which felt like an SNL skit.  
So…the last run of episodes. Look, they’re well done, with the Anna Faris arc and Rachel leaving both leading up to TOW Rachel’s Going Away Party and The Last One. It’s just that it feels too late for R&R. It’s well-acted, and the emotion is there, but I just…the last-minute airport dash thing is sort of cliched, and the whole thing ends up not feeling all that authentic to me after the two prior seasons of just keeping them apart at all costs when they so obviously should’ve been together from Emma’s birth on.  
I don’t understand why they were so insistent on keeping them apart on until literally the very last minute. Look at a show like Frasier - Niles and Daphne were allowed to be together and it ended up being a beautiful love story. People didn’t stop watching because they were together. The story didn’t end because they were together. It will forever be the biggest mistake, the biggest error in judgement, the writers ever made - to keep R&R apart for so long, that is.  
They could’ve re-united when Ross didn’t get the annulment at the beginning of season 6. This could’ve been an opportune time to put them back together. Early in season 5, Rachel told Ross that she still loved him, but he was still trying to make his marriage to Emily work. Now, maybe enough time has passed that he’s ready. Except they finally confront each other and she says ‘But that was different, I was in love with you’, and instead of admitting he has feelings, he just says ‘Yeah, RIGHT….you’re right, it’s different’ etc. They could’ve gotten back together right then and then the Vegas finale would’ve had more long-term meaning. But of course that couldn’t happen.  
They could’ve re-united after Emma was born. That would’ve been even better. Their reunion could’ve been more powerful and their love story elevated. Instead of any of this, we’re left with a cliched airport dash and we don’t even get to enjoy them together. And Joey and Rachel trying to make out had to be endured before that.  
All this said, Schwimmer and Aniston delivered from an acting standpoint and that’s what nearly saves it. Monica and Chandler becoming parents is also a nice moment, but somehow not as emotional as it would’ve been if Monica had been giving birth(I understand why they couldn’t do that). The Last One is a well-done episode, but it’s a little overwrought, really sad, and I find it difficult to watch.  
These last two seasons have their share of funny and touching moments, but on the whole they’re not enough imo to make them feel wholly necessary, the overarching plots are very lacking more often than not, and I remain of the opinion that season 8 would’ve been a higher note to go out on and a more satisfying way to re-unite R&R. I don't mean to be so negative about the final seasons. I really don't hate them. I just think they're of a considerably lower quality, which the exception of some episodes, than what came before.  
So, that concludes my commentary. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you got something out of it.
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