Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 19, 2003)
When Warner Bros. finally released the complete first season of Friends on DVD in April 2002, I thought they’d ended their string of “greatest hits” packages. Nope! Though WB continues to put out the full season sets, they’ve decided to repackage more “best of” groupings for those who don’t like the show enough to splurge for the bigger packages.
Frankly, this doesn’t bother me one bit. As long as the full seasons exist, they can reassemble all the other shows however they’d like. The whole thing seems a little cynical, but it remains no skin off of my nose.
Prior Best of Friends releases accumulated episodes from throughout the series’ run. This first greatest hits salvo of 2003 concentrates solely on Season One. We get five shows chosen by the series’ creators. Because each episode includes a little extra footage not included during the original broadcasts, the running times vary. I’ve included the length of each program in parentheses next to the title.
The One With the East German Laundry Detergent (23:35) develops the Ross (David Schwimmer)/Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) relationship a little more. They do laundry together, and a moment of glee leads her to impulsively kiss him. While that happens, Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) break up with their significant others. Phoebe’s split goes hilariously easily, but Chandler has a very tough time dumping whiny Janice (Maggie Wheeler). In the meantime, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) wants to get back with Angela (Kim Gillingham), a former girlfriend who he ditched, but she’s dating Bob (Jack Armstrong). Joey decides to use Monica (Courtney Cox) to help split them up, and she does this without adequate foreknowledge.
A lot of this year’s episodes went for themes, and obviously this one emphasized the various stages of relationships. This topic became a little heavy-handed at times, but it still seemed like a fairly good program. It’s our first glimpse of Janice, who became a fun running character, and it’s amusing to watch Chandler’s struggles with her. Not a great episode, “Laundry” still manages some good laughs.
The One Where Underdog Gets Away (23:35) gave us the series’ first Thanksgiving episode. Those would offer highlights of future seasons, but this one seemed average at best. Actually, it features more plot complications than usual, all of which relate to the different friends’ holiday plans. Ultimately, these conspire to keep them all in town with each other for the big day.
Much of this felt forced, since the story had to work so hard to keep the friends together. However, some good gags still emerged, mainly through a photo gig landed by Joey. He does this for a public health campaign and finds himself shunned when it turns out to be about VD. They’re cheap laughs, to be sure, but they’re laughs nonetheless.
The One With the Stoned Guy (24:00) provided a decent but somewhat flat episode. Chandler experiences a career crisis. His boss offers him a big promotion, but he doesn’t want to remain in such a mundane career. A massage client of Phoebe’s named Steve (Jon Lovitz) plans to open a new restaurant, and Monica auditions to be head chef. Unfortunately, he arrives baked on pot. Lastly, Ross’ new girlfriend Celia (Melora Hardin) wants some dirty talk, but he needs some help to master this art.
“Stoned” went for too many broad laughs. Some of these worked – like the cheap but funny scene in which Joey tries to teach dirty talk to Ross – but the whole Lovitz part seemed lame. All in all, the show had its moments but didn’t rise above the pack.
The One With the Birth (23:15) offered another “event” episode, though it managed to hold things back from becoming excessively lame. Carol goes into labor so everyone heads for the hospital. Ross competes with Susan for Carol’s favor while Rachel flirts with the doctor (Jonathan Silverman). The first two get stuck in a closet with Phoebe and almost miss the delivery. Joey runs into a pregnant single mother named Lydia (Leah Remini) and helps her through the process.
Inevitably, the show became pretty cutesy at times. In addition, Joey’s “special moments” when he sees Lydia’s baby nearly made me gag. However, the show remained reasonably irreverent much of the time, which seemed like a success for this kind of program. It’s tough to create a good show with this theme, but “Birth” appeared acceptably winning.
The One Where Rachel Finds Out (25:55) finished the first season with a cliffhanger. It’s Rachel’s birthday, but Ross has to leave unexpectedly for a week in China due to work. He drops off his present, and when Rachel opens it, Chandler accidentally lets it fly that Ross pines for her. She debates what she should do but eventually decides to go after him. Unfortunately, she just misses him at the airport. After more thought, Rachel wants to date Ross, but when she meets him at his plane, she finds he met Julie (Lauren Tom) in China.
While this occurs, Joey takes part in a fertility study to make some bucks. He makes “deposits” every other day but isn’t allowed any extracurricular activity. This causes potential problems with his new girlfriend Melanie (Corinne Bohrer), who clearly wants some Joey lovin’. However, he turns his attention away from his own desires for once and satisfies her via other means.
Despite the heavy soap opera elements, “Rachel” still seemed like a pretty good episode. The Joey parts kept the melodrama minimal, and the show handled the Ross/Rachel stuff fairly well. Of course, the ending lacked the drama inherent in its original appearance, but it worked acceptably well.
With prior “Best Of” compilations, I commented on the fact that the soap opera aspects of Friends made the compilations nonsensical. Some sets spanned more than a hundred episodes, so characters and relationships came and went without any rhyme or reason. Those without a solid understanding of the series’ development would feel confused. That might also occur here, but given the shorter time span involved, it seems less likely. It seems easier to tie together the loose ends and figure out the gaps even if you don’t know the show’s history well.
While I don’t know if I’d totally agree that these five shows represent the best Season One of Friends had to offer, they seem pretty good as a whole. I’m not wild about the “greatest hits” presentation, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless.