Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 4, 2003)
The folks at Warner Bros. continue to give us a mix of Friends on DVD. In addition to full season boxed sets, we also get “best of” releases that include a smattering of shows from various years. Happily, the latter come out after the former, so fans who really want the whole season packages won’t feel pressure to buy the “best of” discs due to impatience.
On the same day that the boxed set for Season Four arrives, this Best of Friends for Season Three also hits the shelves. 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. I’ll also toss in a favorite “demo line” from each show.
The One With Frank Jr. (24:18): Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) invites her half-brother Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi) to visit. Ross makes a list of famous women he’d like to date.
For every decent performance given somewhere by Ribisi, there are many more bad ones, and his Frank Jr. falls into the negative category. Whereas Kudrow makes Phoebe naturally and endearingly flaky, Ribisi’s Frank Jr. comes across as aggressively stupid and self-consciously odd. This makes their scenes together tough to take, but once again, some good Joey moments allow the show to remain reasonably solid.
Demo line: Monica (to Joey): “I’ll pay you double what he’s paying you.” Joey: “He’s not paying me anything.” Monica: “Triple!”
The One With the Flashback (23:35): After Janice asks whether they’ve ever dated each other, the friends reminisce about a time three years ago and some dark secrets are revealed.
Flashback shows always run the risk of becoming too cutesy, and this one occasionally crosses that line. It tosses in too many inside jokes that come with the hindsight of later programs. It offers some funny moments, and Aniston’s performance as the more materialistic and superficial side of Rachel is great, but overall “Flashbacks” falls a little flat.
Demo line: Monica: “Someone asks you in for lemonade, and to you, that means they want to have sex?” Joey: “Usually, yeah! Well, not just lemonade – iced tea, sometimes juice.”
The One Where Monica & Richard Are Friends (23:46): Monica and ex-boyfriend Richard meet by chance – and the lunch they go to leads to something more.
Despite my fears that soap opera sappiness between Richard and Monica would dominate the show, it kept those elements fairly well underplayed. Selleck’s breezy presence helps in that department. In addition, a subplot in which the gang freak because Phoebe’s new boyfriend’s unit keeps slipping out of his shorts adds a wacky element to a pretty good show.
Demo line: Rachel: “Do you have any ice?” Joey: “Check the freezer. If there’s none in there, we’re probably out.”
The One Where Ross & Rachel Take a Break (23:01): Ross and Rachel decide to go on a break. Phoebe becomes involved with a foreign diplomat.
One sign of the additional maturity shown by Friends since its first couple of seasons: it integrates the soap opera elements more cleanly. During years one and two, those elements interjected themselves fairly awkwardly and often made the show less enjoyable. Season Three presents them in a smoother manner, though I’m still not wild about episodes with a heavy soap opera emphasis.
For the most part, “Break” keeps things reasonably light and doesn’t telegraph its points. Granted, the negative trend seen in the Ross and Rachel relationship over the last few shows came across as a bit forced, but this program helps make it move acceptably naturally. Admittedly, I think the series put them “on a break” more for TV reasons than for reality-based causes, but “Break” offers a decent show, even though the “To Be Continued” bit at the end seems lame.
Big disappointment of the day: Chloe (Angela Featherstone) the hot copier place girl’s not nearly as sexy as I expected. The show built her up over multiple shows prior to this, and she’s average at best. All the regular Friends females look much hotter than she does. But maybe that’s just me!
Demo line: Monica: “Kind of cute like really kind of cute? Or kind of cute like your friend Spackle-Back Larry?” Phoebe: “Hey, don’t call him that. His name is Spackle-Back Harry.”
The One With the Morning After (23:31): Unaware of Ross’s one-night stand with another woman, Rachel visits him to declare her undying love.
Once again, soap opera dominates a show, but it does so in a fairly innocuous manner for the most part. Ross’s attempts to cover his trail offer some funny material, and a controversy about the pain associated with leg waxing also creates some good moments. The finale gets pretty weepy, though, so be warned.
Demo line: Phoebe: “I knew something was going to happen – my fingernails didn’t grow at all yesterday!”
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, especially since a lot of heavy plot shows follow each other; we definitely know about Ross’ indiscretions and how they affect Rachel because two back-to-back shows appear. 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 Three 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.