The Rewatch: Friends - Season 5

At the end of the Season 4 Rewatch, I wondered if the show could keep hitting homeruns as it moved on to Season 5. Well, here we are, and I can now report that while homeruns were sadly absent, the show managed to hit some solid base runs, and was (mostly) able to avoid striking out.

OK, enough with the baseball analogy. I've been finding that the more Friends focuses on the romantic relationships between its leads, the less I like it. For a show that was ostensibly a comedy, they sure spend a lot of time on overwrought boyfriend/girlfriend drama. Season 5 was definitely over-dependent on those scenes, leaving the jokey ones to languish. Though at least the scenes that did go for romance are developed between Chandler and Monica, rather than another rehash of Ross/Rachel, for which we can all be grateful. We desperately needed a break from the Ross and Rachel Grand Romance, and we thankfully got one, although that trend of ending the season on a cliffhanger devoted to them is still in place, I see.

Putting the seasonal focus on Chandler and Monica's secret relationship yielded some good fruit, but by the same token, it left characters like Joey and Phoebe with relatively little to do. What they did get was done well, though. "The One Hundredth" closes out Phoebe's pregnancy arc with a lot of laughs, and Joey actually gets a pretty meaty arc in relation to Chandler and Monica's relationship, as his attempts to protect their secrets drive him steadily insane. Rachel, when she gets to be free of storylines requiring her to be obsessing over Ross, gets to have some fun interactions in her quest for a new job, from accidentally kissing a prospective employer to pretending to smoke so she can get in good with her tobacco-addicted supervisor. Ross is similarly freed, getting a chance to show off his awkward dating, work, and neighbor interactions.

But back to Chandler and Monica. This is really their season, which is both a compliment and a criticism. Stretching out the length of time it takes for the other friends to discover their relationship was a good idea. Them trying to keep it a secret leads to some really funny scenes, and allows for each of the others to have their own reaction scenes upon discovering what's really going on. Slowing down their storyline also makes it seem a lot more organic than the other relationships these six characters are always jumping in and out of. Things can't go well all the time, though, and while I'm fine with Chandler and Monica encountering obstacles, the ones they put forth are pretty contrived. They get into a fight on a weekend out of town because he's too inattentive and she's too obsessive, and they both come off as shrill. She has a secret lunch with Richard, which she would never do, and was just put in so they'd have something to fight about. His cluelessness about how to conduct an adult relationship can be amusing, but can come off as eye-rollingly irritating too. Overall, though, the Chandler/Monica focus wasn't a bad hook to hang the season from.

Notable Guest Stars: There are some returning favorites, like Elliott Gould, Christina Pickles, and Maggie Wheeler. Michael Rapaport is great as a cop who has a short-lived relationship with Phoebe, and Bob Balaban is perfect as the father who abandoned her. Though she isn't given much material to work with as Rachel's smoking boss, I'm also always happy to see Joanna Gleason pop up in anything.

What's Keeping Ross and Rachel And Their Apparently Greatest Love in the History of the Earth Apart This Time: Not much this go-round, actually! Ross spends several episodes trying to reconcile with Emily (Helen Baxendale), which leads to some fighting with Rachel, but it's mostly about their friendship. When the reconciliation doesn't work out, Ross and Rachel are able to settle into a platonic friendship that I enjoy far more than their love story. Right up until the season finale, which pushes us back into the pool by having them get drunkenly married in Vegas.

Best Episode: Honorable mention goes to "TOW All the Thanksgivings", which flashes back to terrible Thanksgivings in everyone's pasts. I didn't realize before the Rewatch how well Friends is able to nail their Thanksgiving episodes. It's like Roseanne and their Halloween episodes. "TOW Phoebe Hates PBS" is also really good, but the best episode has to be "TOW Everyone Finds Out", in which the lid is finally blown off the Monica/Chandler relationship.

Worst Episode: Two episodes run neck-and-neck for this ignoble honor. First, there's "TOW the Inappropriate Sister", in which a guy that Rachel has been awkwardly pursuing needs to be gotten rid of, so the writers dispatch him by making him almost incestuously friendly with his sibling. It's lame, and the B-stories involving Phoebe collecting donations and Ross helping Joey with a screenplay don't help much. The other stinker is "TOW the Girl Who Hits Joey", which is shame, because the titular girl is played by Soleil Moon Frye, who deserves better. This episode also has some of that contrived Monica/Chandler fighting nonsense I mention above. It's not a good episode, but is somewhat redeemed by Ross immediately getting off on the wrong foot with his neighbors, so let's give Worst Episode to "TOW the Inappropriate Sister". Friends was not able to keep up the amazing stretch of episodes that Season 4 gave us. But Season 5 wasn't bad at all; I'd give it a solid B. Each season's quality seems to have absolutely no relation to the season that came before or after it, so I have no idea what to expect in Season 6. Let's forge on and find out.


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