I never pursued writing on this topic because I was never able to fathom a way in which to do complete justice to the iconic, trend-setting sitcom, FRIENDS. I am not certain if this piece achieves that goal, but the show literally changed my life and there seems to be no better means to celebrate that.
This American TV series was the brainchild of Marta Kauffman and David Crane who first developed the show under the working titles Insomnia Café and Friends Like Us. The plot is set in Manhattan, New York, and revolves around a closely knit group of six friends- Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Phoebe Buffay, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing and Ross Geller. Rachel and Monica were friends in high school and they began living together in Monica’s apartment when Rachel left her fiancé Barry at the altar. Ross, Monica’s elder brother, was best friends with Chandler since college. Joey was a struggling actor who shared an apartment with Chandler and Phoebe was a musician and masseuse by profession. Central Perk, the coffee house, was where their friendship grew over time. The show ran for ten straight years from September 22, 1994 to May 6, 2004.
It has been over ten years since the finale episode aired on television and over twenty years since the magic began, but the show left behind a string attached. It has been my personal antidepressant ever since I watched it for the first time. Those six lives were weaved into a story that is a little like everyone’s own. Enveloped in humour, the storyline, the characters’ realities- all appear to be things we might have witnessed at some point in our lives- weight issues, unemployment, heartbreaks, failed marriages; or the dream jobs, the perfect soul mates, kids and of course, friends for life. The show offered so much that there was always a little something for everyone to enjoy.
The success of any show primarily rides upon the writing and there is absolutely no doubt how well crafted FRIENDS was. However, in my opinion, it was the perfect ensemble cast that immortalised the show. Each actor gave more than a hundred percent to their job, adding personal touches to bring those characters to life. Their comic timing was impeccable and their real life friendships made the on-screen chemistry look remarkably organic. I had mentioned earlier that this show changed my life. That was because I began looking at things through the eyes of the characters, only to realise how much they were leaving behind for us to cherish retrospectively. (Yes! That is how obsessed I am with FRIENDS.)
Monica Geller, played by Courteney Cox, is perhaps the most relatable character on the show. Overcoming an obnoxious amount of weight, falling in love with a man who was as old as her father, chasing her life-long dream of becoming a chef, marrying her best friend and being a mother to twins- a trail of events that pushes one to be patient and realise that letting things take their natural course is the best possible option because sooner or later, it will all begin to make sense. A hygiene freak, a fierce competitor and a meticulous organiser, Monica was, in ways more than one, the glue that held the group together. A sister, a wife, a mom, a chef and a friend- Monica Geller Bing.
Rachel Green- the naive, scared, young woman who transformed herself into a confident professional- came across as any girl next door, looking for a window of opportunity to do something worthwhile with her life. Her evolution into a somebody from a nobody gives us all the courage to never give up. Jennifer Aniston played this role to perfection. An independent woman, a single mother and the best roommate- Rachel “Gorgeous” Green.
Someone who had an incredible zest for life and an indomitable spirit was Phoebe Buffay. In her unique, unpredictable ways, she teaches us to never back down and to never give up on one’s friends. Her eccentric songs added flavour to life. Lisa Kudrow eternalised Phoebe’s character. A musician, a dreamer, a matchmaker and a true friend- Phoebe “Smelly Cat” Buffay.
You know how women are attracted to men with a good sense of humour, right? Chandler Bing was apparently aware of it too. Even so, he was stuck with Janice for a very long time. (Oh. My. God.) Could life be more cruel?! Played by Mathew Perry, Chandler was a guy’s guy and a man’s man. Overcoming one’s fears and mustering the courage to pursue something one truly loves, even at an uncertain age, is a good idea, is what he taught us. The best boyfriend, the best husband and the guy with the best one-liners on the show- Chandler Muriel Bing.
Matt LeBlanc played the character of Joey Tribbiani- the charming lad who made being clueless so much fun. Picking up a fight with someone who made his friend cry, gobbling up the leftovers from the Thanksgiving dinner and being the ladies’ man, were all his departments. The huggable, adorable and magnetic young man looking for food? That is Joey “Hugsy” Tribbiani.
Are you in high school and in love already? Do not tell the girl just yet. Wait till you complete your education. Get a PhD. Get married, and then get divorced. Have a child with your ex-wife. Then finally, tell your high school sweetheart that you like her. Date her for a couple of months. Break up with her. Get drunk with her and marry her. Get the marriage annulled. Have a kid with her. Encourage her to follow her dreams and move to a new country. Then go all the way to the airport the night that she is leaving and tell her you love her. Crazy enough? That is Ross Geller for you. His tragedies aside, through Ross, one learns how rewarding it is to keep the needs of others before those of one’s own, to be kind and to be passionate about what one does. The dad, the older brother, the son, the ex-husband (three times over) and the best man- Dr. Ross “Dinosaur” Geller.
For a decade, these six friends gave all their loyal fans (over 50 million viewers who watched the finale episode, if you wish to know the exact numbers) a reason to believe in people and the bonds they forged with them over the years; and the power of these bonds to stand the test of time. They gave us hope for a better tomorrow; they taught us to hold on to our loved ones in the worst of times and the best. Life is full of highs and lows and one can never really tell what turn it decides to take the next minute. This is what the journey of FRIENDS was about. It reached greater heights with every passing season and progressed from being a regular sitcom to a show that touched millions of lives and redefined the meaning of friendship. Ross and Rachel came a long way from falling in love with each other to having a baby together; Monica and Chandler set benchmarks for couples world over, Joey developed a dynamic personality from being a mere struggler to rising as a soap opera star and Phoebe, from being all over the place to finally finding her ground and settling down in life, showed us what growing up is all about.
This popular TV series became one of the most loved shows ever not only because of its stellar performances, but also because of the many illustrious faces that adorned it. Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Charlie Sheen, Reese Witherspoon, Bruce Willis and Hugh Laurie, among many others, were part of this epic package. It is hard for me to believe that a set of six people completely unfamiliar with each other were able to strike the perfect chords from day one. Much went about in the lives of these real life stars that had its impact on the show. Courteney Cox married David Arquette, the director of the show, and had a daughter with him, named Coco. Interestingly, Courteney Cox made Jennifer Aniston Coco’s Godmother. Aniston married Brad Pitt in an extravagant ceremony during the course of the show. Lisa Kudrow was actually pregnant with her first child which is why the story was streamlined to incorporate her pregnancy. Mathew Perry underwent rehabilitation while David Schwimmer ended up directing a few episodes of the show himself. Matt LeBlanc bagged a TV series titled Joey when FRIENDS ended. In all these years, their friendship has remained intact and they are often pictured together and are found guest starring on each other’s shows.
All this makes me wonder, how often does one come across a show telling us that it is okay to make mistakes, that people will come and go but the ones that are meant to be will stick around regardless of everything, that money and fancy jobs are relative things which wouldn’t even matter if one did not have the right people to celebrate their victories with, that choosing love over career is an incredibly brave thing to do and that overcoming inhibitions becomes much easier when one has their true friends by their side? Not very often, I believe.
At this moment, if you’re bombarded with memories from watching the show, consider yourself blessed, because you cried with the to-be Bings when Monica proposed to Chandler, because you did feel bad for Phoebe when she couldn’t mother her brother’s triplets, because you strangely agreed when Joey explained why it was all just a “moo point”, because you loved it when Joey and Chandler decided to pet the chick and the duck, because shopping in a sale with your girlfriends reminds you of the episode where Monica picks out her wedding dress, because you shed tears of joy when Rachel “got off the plane”, because you witnessed the myriad hues of life in 236 episodes. But if you have no thoughts flooding your minds and you have not understood the references made, you have my sympathies, for you did miss out on a slice of life itself.
To the six friends who changed my life.