Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 7, 2005)
After 10 very successful years on the air, Friends finally went dark. It didn’t depart due to declining ratings, as it remained one of TV’s most popular shows. Instead, I guess all involved simply felt it was time to move on, and they were probably correct. While the show was still entertaining, it became more and more difficult to work in the same way as its characters got older. What started as a look at the lives of 20-somethings couldn’t function the same way when those same characters pushed 40.
That meant that 10 years was more than enough Friends, and I’m glad it ended before it became too stale and tiresome. Aired during 2003-2004, I’ll offer brief discussions of all the Season 10 episodes, listed in their broadcast order. The synopses mostly come straight from the package’s liner notes.
In addition, apparently all of the episodes include footage cut for their broadcast appearances. This means the running times vary. I’ll include the length of each episode on the DVDs. (For reference, a standard broadcast program lasts about 22 minutes.)
The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss (30:02): “Romantic hookups continue to go astray in Barbados as Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) overhear Ross kissing Charlie (Aisha Tyler), while through the room’s other wall they can eavesdrop on Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).”
A girlfriend of mine once returned once returned from a cruise with cornrows. That means I can identify with Chandler’s horror when Monica abuses her hair in that manner. That’s just one of the many amusing aspects of “Kiss”. An episode that easily could have gotten bogged down in soap opera elements manages to stay light and funny. It opens Season Ten well.
The One Where Ross Is Fine (26:07): “Rachel, Joey and Charlie spend an uncomfortable evening with Ross while Chandler commits an unpardonable act when he and Monica visit a couple who have adopted a cute boy. Phoebe is visited by a desperate Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi) who can’t cope with his triplets.”
“Fine” is all about the performances. On one hand, Schwimmer elevates the Ross material with his goofy, over-the-top take on the character’s discomfort with the situation. Schwimmer never makes Ross seem realistic during those moments, but he’s darned funny. On the other hand, Ribisi offers another in a long line of the mannered and annoying performances that made him my least-favorite recurring actor on Friends. Boy, do I hope this is the last we see of him! Despite Ribisi’s presence and some sappiness toward the end, “Fine” is a winner.
The One with Ross’s Tan (25:42): “Rachel and Joey nervously anticipate their first real ‘night’ together. Monica and Phoebe try to avoid an obnoxious old friend who puts on airs and a fake accent. Ross envies Monica’s sprayed-on tan and enters the tanning booth ,where two-toned disaster ensues.”
The Rachel/Joey bit is really the main emphasis of this show, since it advances the series’ arc. It works well enough on its own, though it’s never quite as funny as it probably should be. There’s something a little artificial and saccharine about it. The other two elements fly, though. Jennifer Coolidge offers a great guest performance as the self-centered former friend, while Schwimmer’s physical shtick in the tanning booth is genuinely hilarious.
The One With the Cake (23:23): “Rachel convinces Monica to delay a long anticipated trip to Vermont. But complications ensue when an X-rated birthday cake arrives.”
While a competent show, “Cake” is the first episode of Season Ten that leaves me a little cold. Perhaps it’s the emphasis on the cutesy baby Emma; even though we don’t see her until the show’s end, the program’s orientation toward her turns it flabby. There’s some funny material on display, and until the predictably cloying conclusion, it gets better as it progresses. Nonetheless, I see this one as an average episode.
The One Where Rachel’s Sister Baby-Sits (28:18): “Rachel convinces spoiled sister Amy (Christina Applegate) to baby-sit Emma over Ross’s protests. Phoebe unknowingly thwarts Mike’s (Paul Rudd) surprise for her. Joey scares Monica and Chandler with a recommendation letter on their behalf to a child adoption agency.”
If the series wasn’t so close to its conclusion, I’d look forward to Mike’s departure. However, I know he’ll be around until the end, so I guess we’re stuck with him. Boy, when he gets called “Mr. No-Balls”, the writers hit the nail on the end; he’s another in an endless series of wussy male guest characters. Applegate’s Amy fares a little better, but she’s such a one-dimensional character that she gets old quickly. Both those plot lines make this a lackluster show.
The One With Ross’s Grant (27:03): “Ross interviews with a Nobel Prize-winning scientist for a paleontology grant – but the doctor is Charlie’s ex-boyfriend (Greg Kinnear), who offers Ross the grant only if he breaks up with her. Phoebe sends Monica and Rachel screaming with her artistic creation of ‘Gladys’”.
Despite a nice comedic performance from Kinnear, I feel dissatisfied with “Grant” because of the pathetic way it dispenses with Charlie. It’s absurd that Kinnear’s character would get away with his treatment of Ross, and the quickness with which Charlie dumps Ross is also ridiculous. We get some funny moments via Phoebe’s art and Joey’s Japanese TV commercial, but I still don’t think a lot of this show.
The One With the Home Study (24:37): “Monica and Chandler meet with an adoption worker (Maria Pitillo) who will decide if they’re suitable parents – and who confesses that she was once romanced by a cad named Joey in the same building.”
The main plot follows predictable lines but ends up as amusing, largely due to the way Joey turns tables at the end. Unfortunately, we see more of Mike the Wuss in another story that focuses on the decision he and Phoebe make – and then retract – to give away the money designated for their wedding. The less I see of Mike the better.
The One With the Late Thanksgiving (23:00): “Monica prepares for a Thanksgiving feast and is furious when no one shows up! When Joey gets stuck in the door, Monica and Chandler have the ideal remedy. Phoebe convinces Rachel to enroll Emma in a baby beauty contest.”
Some of the best Friends episodes revolve around Thanksgiving, but this one doesn’t live up to those. The parts when the two sides bicker amuse, but too many odd moments mar it. Shouldn’t Phoebe denounce baby beauty pageants, not Rachel? What adoption agency is open for business on Thanksgiving? Why isn’t Mike at Thanksgiving, anyway? I may hate him, but it makes no sense he wouldn’t be with Phoebe.
The One With the Birth Mother (25:57): “Monica and Chandler travel to Texas to meet a young pregnant woman (Anna Faris) who is considering allowing them to adopt her child when it’s born. Joey dates Phoebe’s friend (Annie Parisse) but annoys her with his territorial eating habits.”
As one with issues regarding the sharing of food, I could definitely relate – and enjoy – that Joey thread. As one without the greatest fashion sense – and no clue what women think looks good on a guy – I liked Ross’s plot as well. Inevitably, the adoption one turns rather sappy. Nonetheless, the show balances the mawkishness with enough wacky humor to work.
The One Where Chandler Gets Caught (23:05): “When Phoebe and Rachel see Chandler getting into a car with a pretty woman, they suspect the worst. When they tell Monica, they learn the woman is a real estate agent – and that the couple’s been house-hunting outside Manhattan.”
Easily the worst episode of the final season, this one mixes basic exposition related to the house hunting with – yuck! – a clip show. More than a third of the program consists of snippets from old programs. Clip shows are the lowest form of sitcom life, and they make this one a stinker.
The One Where the Stripper Cries (30:14): “Joey is a celebrity guest on Pyramid. When Monica and Rachel throw a ‘mature’ bachelorette party for Phoebe, they’re forced to hire a stripper at the last minute. Chandler and Ross attend their college reunion, where they learn a 1987 dating pact was broken.”
Plenty of amusement appears in this episode, though I can’t help but think it could’ve been even better. Joey’s stint on Pyramid is predictable but funny. We get a typically entertaining look at the gang in the Eighties that lacks zest just because of a “been there, done that” feeling. The party’s best moment comes from some ingenious guest casting, but it loses energy quickly.
The One with Phoebe’s Wedding (32:05): “Monica’s hard-nosed wedding-planner techniques cause Phoebe to fire her. The big day turns chaotic when a blizzard forces a change in plans.”
I can’t stand these big, schmaltzy event episodes. At least the build-up to Phoebe’s wedding wasn’t as interminable as the approach to Monica and Chandler’s, so I’m happy about that. Heck, we barely heard from Wussy Mike for the last few shows. Nonetheless, the episode lacks much to make it entertaining, as it falls into predictable lines.
The One Where Joey Speaks French (25:03): “When Phoebe tries teaching Joey to speak French for an audition and fails, she convinces the casting director Joey is retarded. Ross turns down Rachel’s request for sympathy sex after her father has a heart attack.”
Despite all the sappiness inspired by the Ross/Rachel romance, few parts of Friends were ever as entertaining as their bickering. Aniston and Schwimmer get to revisit those days one last time, and they make the most of them. Add to that the consistently amusing thread with Joey’s inability to speak French and this episode offers good laughs.
The One With Princess Consuela (24:02): “Rachel is fired from her job the same day Ross learns that he has gotten tenure. When Phoebe legally changes her name, Mike does so too to teach her a lesson. Joey goes home with Chandler and Monica to check out their new home.”
Wonder of wonders – Mike does something to make me laugh! He’s still a wuss, but his choice of new name is amusing. The rest of the episode is more mundane. This one exists to move the series’ arc toward the end and doesn’t go much of anywhere else, though Joey’s attempts to sour Monica and Chandler on their new house are moderately entertaining.
The One Where Estelle Dies (23:44): “Phoebe tries to protect Joey from the news that his agent Estelle has died. Monica and Chandler check out the house next door to theirs – and discover that Chandler’s ex Janice (Maggie Wheeler) is interested in buying it.”
Time for one last fling with the ever-annoying Janice. Frankly, she wore out her welcome a while ago, but it’s good to wrap up that side of things. The funniest moments come from Kudrow’s hilarious impression of Estelle, a gag that works best when Joey thinks she calls from beyond the grave.
The One with Rachel’s Going Away Party (23:44): “Ross goes berserk when Rachel decides that Monica’s farewell party is the perfect time to share a private, tearful goodbye with each friend – with the single exception of Ross!”
Time for more Wrap Up Material. A rather weepy show, the episode spikes in some comedy bits, but they aren’t terribly good. The penultimate program, this one exists to get us to the finale.
The Last One (49:54): Before Rachel leaves for Paris, she and Ross engage in one more night of passion. Ross interprets this as a sign they should get back together, but Rachel just looks at it as a nice goodbye.
Surrogate mother Erica goes into labor early, so the pair need to rush her to the hospital. Erica gives birth, which results in some surprises. The episode watches their reaction to newfound parenthood and their plans to move to the suburbs as well as the conclusion of the Ross/Rachel saga. As for Joey and Phoebe, they’re just along for the ride.
Will the Finale go down as one of the series’ better episodes? No, but it seemed like a fairly satisfying finish. Final shows are tough to do. They need to tie up stories in a believable way and not seem phony or artificial. The Finale does that generally well.
Admittedly, the sappiness becomes a little heavy during the final act, but one must expect that. Friends tended toward some sentimentality anyway, so there was no way it would go the cold Seinfeld route for its last hurrah. The emotion feels genuine, as the show doesn’t toss out weepiness just for its own sake.
Actually, the Finale presents more laughs than I anticipated. It manages more than a few funny bits, some of which come from unexpected sources. I really thought the birthing sequence at the hospital would be terribly treacly, but it manages to present some amusing moments via Chandler’s reactions. Phoebe’s attempts to help Ross snare Rachel work nicely too, and Joey’s patented dopiness gets in some humor one last time.
Friends provided a mostly endearing and amusing series over 10 seasons, and the Finale sends it out on a good note. While not a classic episode, it manages to deliver a reasonably rewarding conclusion.
As does Season Ten as a whole. I wasn’t wild about Season Nine and feared that Season Ten would be equally lackluster. Happily, it managed to become more amusing and likable than I expected. It finishes off the series well.