Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 21, 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 new greatest hits salvo concentrates solely on Season Two. 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 Ross’ New Girlfriend (23:58) completes the cliffhanger from the end of Season One. When Ross (David Schwimmer) returned from a trip to China, he came back with his new girlfriend Julie (Lauren Tom). In the interim, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) learned that Ross had a crush on her, and she decided to give it a go, so she went to meet him at the airport. Of course, she didn’t know that Julie would be there, so this episode follows the aftermath of this incident.
I often don’t care for the episodes that deal largely with the soap opera elements, but “Girlfriend” works pretty well. The show has Rachel deal with her angst in a nicely comic manner, and it keeps things from becoming too heavy. A couple of minor subplots also balance out the load – especially when Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) misunderstands the kind of haircut Monica (Courtney Cox) wants - and “Girlfriend” launches the second season on a positive note.
At the start of The One Where Heckles Dies(23:20), Chandler (Matthew Perry) breaks up with yet another woman for yet another superficial reason, so the gang accuses him of issues in this regard. As for the title, the girls’ downstairs neighbor (Larry Hankin) kicks off during a fight between the building-mates, and surprisingly, he leaves his possessions to Phoebe and Monica. Initially this sounds like a good thing, but when they find out how much crap Heckles owned, they interpret the event as their cantankerous neighbor’s final revenge on them. As they sort through the items, Chandler discovers many parallels between him and Heckles, and this spooks him badly and leads him to take radical steps. In the meantime, Phoebe and Ross argue about evolution and other scientific issues; she doesn’t accept them, which drives Ross nuts.
”Heckles” totally avoids the soap opera elements of the first couple of shows from this season, which puts it in good stead with me. While those first programs didn’t pump the soap opera bits too heavily, I still liked the break from them we found here. The show avoided the sentiment that usually comes with a death and provides a fairly entertaining program.
The One With Phoebe’s Husband (22:50) introduces Duncan (Steve Zahn), a gay Canadian who Phoebe says she married so he could get a green card. The revelation causes the gang to spill the beans and tell each other different secrets as retaliation. The most damaging revolves around Chandler’s third nipple. In the meantime, Rachel continues to fume over the Ross and Julie relationship, which causes her to give him some intentionally bad advice.
The latter part seemed kind of odd, since Julie and Rachel declared a truce two shows prior to this one during the original broadcast season. I know the series needed to maintain that tension for plot reasons, but it still felt weird. Nonetheless, it offered a gentle way to continue the soap opera elements, and the program worked fairly well as a whole. The introduction of Duncan seemed kind of lame and gimmicky, though.
The One With the List (23:00) focuses on the aftermath of the Ross and Rachel kiss in a prior episode not included here. Though drawn to Rachel, Ross still feels strongly about Julie, so he must decide which one to choose. Chandler suggests they create a list of pros and cons about each woman. Ross selects Rachel, but problems arise when she discovers the list in question.
Despite the focus on the soap opera elements, “List” has some good moments, partially thanks to a solid cameo from Michael McKean. As Monica seeks a new job, she gets the chance to come up with recipes that use “Mockolate”, a chocolate substitute. McKean’s very amusing as the Mockolate shill. Overall, however, the show includes too much romantic pathos, but it leavens that with enough laughs to work acceptably well.
Season Two’s sole double-length episode, The One After the Super Bowl (48:20) has absolutely nothing to do with football; it just ran after the big game in 1996. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) gets his first fan mail for his TV gig, and one of the viewers seems to be stalking him; that freaks him out until he meets her and discovers she’s a babe. Phoebe meets a cute guy at the coffee shop and he offers her a gig playing her songs for little kids. Ross heads to California to go to a conference, where he ventures to San Diego to visit his old pet monkey Marcel. The staff tells him Marcel died, but he learns the truth. He eventually meets up with the monkey on the New York set of a movie. More shenanigans happen there and afterward.
Gimmick alert! “Bowl” comes packed with big-name cameos. It includes bits from Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Man, I do hate the gratuitous one-shot star gigs, so “Bowl” feels like nothing more than a big stunt to follow the big game. The terrible miscasting of Shields as a psycho doesn’t help.
Less obvious cameo notice: Fred Willard shows up as the head of the zoo, and Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta appears as the zoo’s janitor. The latter offers easily the best parts of the program.
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 Two 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.