The Rewatch: Friends - Season 3

Honestly, I'm shocked. The only shows that I deem worthy of The Rewatch are ones that I remember as being pretty terrific, and that benefit from multiple viewings. As I make my way through Friends, at least so far, I'm finding that it just hasn't aged as well as I figured it would. As I mentioned in the entry for Season 2, this may have something to do with the binge-watching. Maybe if I let the episodes breathe a little more, I'd be enjoying them more.

Or maybe I'd find Ross just as irredeemable as I do now. You guys, seriously. It's not (entirely) David Schwimmer's fault, but Season 3 Ross is a monster. If the theme of Season 2 was Rachel is Perfect, the theme of Season 3 is Ross is Awful. He's smug and jealous and possessive and petty and whiny and about three millimeters shy of bigoted. He's finally attained Rachel as a girlfriend, but the show just couldn't live without that on-again, off-again spark, I guess, because they had to figure out a way to break the two of them up. And the way they hit upon was by turning Ross into a giant douche.

Rachel finally snaps, and proposes the famous "Break" that will be part of the show's DNA from here on out. And as terrible as I find Ross' behavior throughout the season, I don't fault him for sleeping with someone else while he and Rachel were separated. You don't get to cut romantic contact with someone and then maintain a say in their emotional and sexual behavior, so my issues with Ross are in no way a moral scolding. But the show would like us to think he's a terrible person for this, and not for the "hilarious" jealous fits and suffocation of Rachel when he thinks her coworker Mark is interested in her. Rachel does eventually forgive Ross, but by that point, he's dating Bonnie (Christine Taylor), and we leave the season on a cliffhanger wondering which of them Ross will choose. Yawn.

Oh, the other four characters? They're part of the season too, I GUESS. Monica is going through her usual romantic woes, trying to balance her residual feelings for Richard (Tom Selleck) and new love interest Pete (Jon Favreau). Phoebe is distracted by family issues, including her brother (Giovanni Ribisi) wanting to marry a much older woman (the always wonderful Debra Jo Rupp). Chandler is still into Janice (Maggie Wheeler), but she's still involved with her ex-husband. And Joey falls for an actress (Dina Meyer) in one of his plays, and it's drawn out for way too long, given that she has the personality of a celery stalk.

The best and worst episodes are mentioned below, but I wanted to single out "TOW No One's Ready" first, because people are always pointing to it as a classic bottle episode that really gives the six main characters a chance to exemplify their traits. I heartily disagree with this argument, and it's a good thing, too, because in a weird inverse of the season as a whole, Ross is the only one to act like a reasonable human being. He's trying to get everyone out the door so they can be on time at a museum event that is very important to him, and they all ignore him to focus on their own selfish motivations. I find "The One With the Football" (which is the Thanksgiving episode) to be a far more effective bottle episode, and makes the characters measurably more likeable.

Notable Guest Stars: Jon Favreau is better than I remember as Pete, the tech titan who almost lands Monica, before a contrived plot point gives her a reason to jettison him. Teri Garr is similarly good as Phoebe Abbott, a friend of Phoebe's parents who carries mysterious secrets about the family. Steven Eckholdt is a pretty milquetoast presence, but I suppose I should bring him up since he's so important to the seasonal arc (see below). Other familiar faces include David Arquette (meh), Christine Taylor (meh), and Isabella Rossellini (yaaaay). Fellow sufferers of Queer as Folk will also recognize Matt Battaglia and Robert Gant as guys vying for Phoebe's affections, but they're unfortunately far more dressed in this show than they were on cable. And finally, there are two very famous comedians who drop by to help ruin a terrible episode (see below).

What's Keeping Ross and Rachel And Their Apparently Greatest Love in the History of the Earth Apart This Time: Well, there's poor Mark (Steven Eckholdt), who works with Rachel, and who Ross is convinced is trying to steal her away, using it as an excuse to treat Mark like shit. Speaking of Rachel's job, the fact that she has a new one that she loves in the fashion industry makes Ross insanely mopey, because she no longer spends all her time falling all over him. Him having to rush off to the museum at a moment's notice is fine. Her working late means she's a terrible girlfriend. Sigh. When she finally tells him they need to take a break from each other, he sleeps with a copy shop (remember those?) employee named Chloe (Angela Featherstone), and that really puts the nail in the relationship coffin for a while. And as I mentioned above, just when it looks like they're about to recover, Ross begins dating Bonnie.

Best Episode: Ross is a lot better in "TOW a Chick and a Duck", and the aforementioned guys-fighting-over-Phoebe storyline is part of a very good one called "TOW Ross' Thing", but I think top prize has to go to "TOW Monica and Richard are Just Friends". It combines some actually acceptable character-building (Monica working out her attraction to Richard), some fun friend interaction (Joey and Rachel reading Little Women and The Shining, respectively), and wacky dates (Phoebe seeing a guy whose balls keep falling out of his shorts).

Worst Episode: This is a tough choice. In one corner we have "The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel". If you thought the march of time would lessen the gay panic jokes Friends indulges in, you're in for a long wait. This one has Ross tearing his hair out because Ben wants to play with a Barbie doll. And for added fun, it's also one of Ross' whiniest "Raaaaaaachel doesn't have any tiiiiiime to spend with meeeeeeee" episodes. It's excruciating. But in the other corner, we have "The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion". This is the plot contrivance that has Pete suddenly wanting to be an ultimate fighter, which makes no sense for his character. It also opens with a painfully unfunny scene featuring Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, the latter almost destroying the Central Perk set with his scenery chewing. I'll have to give the dishonor to "The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel", because it's the height of the season as far as wishing Ross would suffocate in his own hair gel.

The season isn't a total washout, of course. This is still a comedy, and there are plenty of funny jokes sprinkled throughout the show. When it sticks to setup-joke, setup-joke, setup-joke, I enjoy Friends quite a bit. But as they try to impose emotional and romantic stakes for the main characters, it's worsening by the episode.


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