The Rewatch: Friends - Season 2

Unlike a lot of other shows (and even some other sitcoms), Friends might not have much of a "seasonal" feel to it. That is to say, aside from a few major plot events, an episode from Season 4 may seem almost identical to an episode from Season 7. I'll have to circle back around to this hypothesis when I'm deeper into the Rewatch, but for now, my guess is that there isn't much to say about the "identity" of Season 2. Everyone's personality was pretty much developed in Season 1, so now what we've got is just a collection of episodes.

That's not a complaint, per se. There's something to be said for finding a groove and sticking to it. I just mean that unlike shows like The Golden Girls and Scrubs, whose episodes can generally be pinned to a season once I've seen a few minutes, Friends is more of a jumble for me. Finding a groove does have a downside, though. It means that episodes can run together in a kind of milquetoast mishmash.

Maybe that's not entirely fair, because it's likely a side effect of binge-watching. People seeing Friends live would have a week's break between instances of Ross' morose obsessiveness, but they came fast and furious for me. Also, though there were several news stories at the time about how the show was a true ensemble, in which all six stars were treated equally, Season 2 is where it begins to become apparent that Friends is shifting into becoming Rachel and These Five Other People.

No offense to Jennifer Aniston, whom I generally like, as long as she's in her wheelhouse. It's not her fault that the character of Rachel got so Mary-Sued. All five of the other main characters get to have foibles. They get to have flaws. Rachel, on the other hand, spends Season 2 becoming the center of the universe. Everyone is in love with her (witness "The One After the Superbowl", in which Jean-Claude Van Damme is instantly drawn into her thrall). Everyone does everything in their power to make her happy (witness "TOW The Two Parties", where she gets two birthday parties so that she can keep her bickering parents apart). Even other people's weddings are all about how the event is affecting Rachel ("TOW Barry and Mindy's Wedding"). I won't be happy if this trend continues, though I suspect it's going to.

Other goings-on during this season: Gunther takes his first steps towards being a regular secondary character, Carol and Susan get married in appropriately hideous clothing, Phoebe tries to work up the nerve to go meet her father, and Joey begins his tenure as Dr. Drake Ramoray on Days of Our Lives.

Notable Guest Stars: Lauren Tom, who is beloved to me as Amy Wong in Futurama, is utterly wasted here (see below). Tom Selleck fares better as Richard, Monica's older boyfriend, who brings a lot of charm to his limited screen time. Adam Goldberg is his usual self as Eddie, Chandler's batshit roommate. "His usual self" is not a compliment, by the way. Season 2 also serves as a convenient sandbox for celebrities to come and play in by chewing as much scenery as possible. This is possibly the first and last time you'll hear that of Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, and Charlie Sheen, the latter gives the most normal, restrained performance.

What's Keeping Ross and Rachel And Their Apparently Greatest Love in the History of the Earth Apart This Time: First, there's Julie (Lauren Tom), whom Ross meets and starts dating just as Rachel develops feelings for him. It's unacceptable for this relationship to work out, a problem that the show solves by making Julie as boring and useless as possible. She has absolutely zero personality, because we wouldn't want the audience to actually dislike Ross for dumping her, so the easiest way around that is by making her a cipher. Once she's dispensed with, there's THE LIST, on which Ross has written the pros and cons of dating Rachel. She discovers it and is angry enough for it to keep them apart for a few more episodes. It's kind of a silly obstacle, but I can't be entirely mad about it, as it does lead to one of the funnier scenes in Season 2. After the list debacle is behind them, Ross and Rachel do finally start dating, and end the season as a happy couple.

Best Episode: An honorable mention has to go to "TOW Five Steaks and an Eggplant". The B-story is dumb, but I liked the main thrust of the episode, in which the three main characters who make a comfortable living (Ross, Monica, and Chandler) square off against the three (Phoebe, Rachel, and Joey) who are living more hand-to-mouth. This show didn't deal with economics often or well, and this is one of the rare times that it addressed the issue of pay disparity in a group of friends without forgetting that it's a comedy. Of course, in the same episode, it's a given that Hootie and the Blowfish is a rocking band, so take everything with a grain of salt. The best episode, though, has to be "TOW the Prom Video". This is the episode that brings Ross and Rachel together, and it's one of the few instances of their relationship being treated with anything approaching subtlety. The flashback to the characters' teen days provides tons of laughs, and then goes for the gut with an emotional punch that pays off in spades.

Worst Episode: There are a few that aren't great, but "TOW Eddie Moves In" falls the flattest, and it's easy to see why. I mean, there's Adam Goldberg, whom I...don't enjoy, even on the best of days. But even with him around, there's a much bigger problem. Phoebe's off-putting songs work best when they are a throwaway side joke; opening a scene with her caterwauling for five seconds about some inappropriate topic can be pretty funny. But devoting a huge chunk of an episode to a music producer wanting to record (?) and make a music video (?!?!) for the tuneless "Smelly Cat" is patently ridiculous, and every drop of humor is viciously beaten out of the whole idea.

People often accuse Friends of being mindless pabulum, a position that until now, I shrugged off as condescending snobbishness. But now I've got to admit that while Season 2 was pretty good, it's starting to set off a couple of alarm bells. I'm looking forward to seeing if Season 3 brings Friends back to having more of a voice, or if it sinks into the blandness its harsher critics insist it had all along.


Post a Comment

Copyright © Slice of Lime