Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 15, 2004)
With only a few weeks until Friends ceases to exist as a working production, we take a look back at the series’ seventh season. Aired during 2000-2001, I’ll offer brief discussions of all the episodes, listed in their broadcast order. The synopses come straight from the package’s liner notes. Many 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. However, some of Season Seven’s shows were “supersized”, so they already ran notably longer than usual.)
The One with Monica’s Thunder (23:19): “Minutes after Chandler (Matthew Perry) proposes to Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette), she plans to celebrate on the town with her pals – until she catches Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) kissing.”
Mindset warning: before I started with Friends, I just finished a marathon session with Freaks and Geeks. It’s a big leap from the latter’s more reality-based comedy/drama to the joke-oriented world of Friends, so it might take me a few episodes to adapt.
That’s one potential reason why “Thunder” seemed somewhat lackluster. Of course, it’s also possible that it’s just not a great episode. The show had some potential, but outside of Joey’s attempts to seem young, it never went much of anywhere.
The One with Rachel’s Book (24:51): “Monica’s dream of elaborate nuptials fizzles when she learns what her parents have done with her wedding fund. Rachel is embarrassed when a teasing Joey (Matt LeBlanc) stumbles onto her juicy late-night reading material.”
Reason I fear for Season Seven: I don’t look forward to hours of planning connected to Monica and Chandler’s wedding, especially when we see mushy scenes where he gives up six years of saving for the occasion. Despite that theme, “Book” seems pretty good. I do like the throwaway gag that Ross claims he originally thought of the premise for Jurassic Park, especially since the chalkboard in the background elaborates on this topic. The episode tosses in some other good gags and fares as a generally solid show.
The One with Phoebe’s Cookies(21:12): “Chandler’s bonding attempt with his future father-in-law (Elliott Gould) during a close sauna encounter backfires. Monica tries to replicate Phoebe’s (Lisa Kudrow) grandmother’s secret cookie recipe by deconstructing her one last cookie.”
”Cookies” goes for a lot of broad gags, but most of them succeed. The plot with Chandler seems to be the feeblest, but even if offers some nice laughs. It’s also amusing to see the usually weak-willed Rachel tell off Joey on the boat, and the twist to finish off the cookie story also works.
The One with Rachel’s Assistant (22:40): “When Rachel is promoted, she gleefully considers hiring an inexperienced hunk (Eddie Cahill) as her executive assistant. In a free-for-all tell-all game, Chandler and Monica expose humiliating secrets from each other’s pasts.”
Wishy-washy Rachel returns with a bang in “Assistant”, but those moments don’t totally catch fire. Aniston gets some good moments as she tries to cover her tracks with her friends, but I can’t help but think that a) “Tag” really isn’t as stunning as everyone acts, and b) “Tag” is the silliest name I’ve heard in a while. The battle of the secrets has potential it only fitfully matches as well.
The One with the Engagement Picture (22:58): “Unphotogenic Chandler can’t get a good photo taken with Monica. Rachel plans to get closer to her hunky assistant by encouraging him to hang out with Joey, but the plan sours when he picks up on Joey’s moves.”
As one who hates to have my picture taken, I can relate to Chandler’s issues, so those moments work nicely, and the gag pays off well in the end. In addition, it’s funny to see Phoebe and Ross argue as surrogates for their current dating partners who used to be married. It’s a good episode.
The One with the Nap Partners (24:12): “Monica frets when she meets one of Chandler’s long-lost girlfriends (Stacy Galina) and learns that he dumped her because she was fat. Phoebe and Rachel vie for the honor of becoming Monica’s bridesmaid.”
The nap story seems a little silly, but the competition to choose the maid of honor offers some fine moments. The plot about Chandler’s prior tackiness steers clear of sappiness and manages to seem pretty funny, especially when it takes some creative turns.
Footnote: in a Friends first, we see some nudity in this episode. Chandler watches Bikini Carwash Company on cable, and we actually see some real skin on display. Obviously this clip is part of the added footage that never saw the airwaves.
The One with Ross’s Library Book (23:55): “When Joey decides to stop dating a girl that Rachel and Phoebe have come to adore, the ladies take action to change his mind. Ross fumes when he discovers the location of his dissertation in the university library.”
After seven years, it feels like Friends started to repeat storylines. Didn’t we have a show in earlier years where the friends loved somebody that Monica dated? Something like that occurred, and it gets echoed here with Joey’s story, though it takes an unusual twist. Still, the show offers some decent laughs and seems generally satisfying.
The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs (24:01): “A beaming Rachel is happily surprised when her assistant Tag shows up at the gang’s Thanksgiving dinner, forcing Chandler to confess why he hates dogs.”
Thanksgiving episodes usually shine, but this one seems a little flat. It has some good moments but it doesn’t match up with the series’ usually high standards for the holiday. Still, a show in which Joey thinks there are 56 states can’t be too bad.
The One with All the Candy (22:50): “Monica whips up some holiday candy for the neighbors. Rachel and Tag set the ground rules for their new romance. Moved by Phoebe’s bikeless childhood story, Ross buys her a new two-wheeler.”
Not surprisingly, the plot about Rachel and Tag proves the least interesting, largely because Tag displays the personality of a damp sponge. However, Phoebe’s line seems pretty amusing, and the candy theme offers some warped laughs. The mania inspired by Monica’s candy provides lots of fun and helps make this a solid show.
The One with the Holiday Armadillo (23:15): “Ross wants to introduce his son Ben (Cole Mitchell Sprouse) to Chanukah. In order to entice Rachel to move back into their refurbished apartment, Phoebe must drive a wedge between Rachel and current roomie Joey.”
One of the most cutesy episodes of Friends in a while, “Armadillo” loses massive points because of the annoying Ben and the absurdly lame Holiday Armadillo. Those sequences feel cheesy and flop. On the other hand, Chandler’s pathetic attempts to be smooth work well, and it’s also fairly fun to watch Phoebe’s stabs at sabotage. Overall, the episode has some good moments, but too much of it flops for it to be a good one.
The One with All the Cheesecakes (23:33): “Phoebe’s old flame David (Hank Azaria) visits from Russia for an evening of romance. Rachel and Chandler swipe deliveries of a particularly tasty cheesecake from their neighbor’s doorstep.”
It’s one thing to see the increasingly competitive and edgy Monica, but it’s another to get a look at a vindictive Joey – and I like it. The extended dinner scene brings out some good moments and makes this show pretty solid. The cheesecake bits are decent but unspectacular, but the general tone provides a fun episode. Actually, it’s one of the most antagonistic on record, as each of the three stories features meanness between characters.
The One Where They’re Up All Night (22:55): “Rachel and Tag’s first night together is put on hold when they realize they forgot to overnight an important package. Ross and Joey are stuck on the roof and Phoebe can’t disable a relentlessly beeping smoke alarm.”
Hasn’t Rachel broken up with Tag yet? He’s such a dud and he really drags down the episodes in which he appears. In addition, four plots seems like a lot for this show to balance, which leaves all of them fairly thin. Phoebe’s battle with the smoke alarm probably works best, but this comes across as a mediocre episode overall.
The One Where Rosita Dies (27:15): “Phoebe has a bizarre first day in her new job when she encounters a distraught office manager in a suicidal mood. Rachel and Chandler both believe they’ve broken Joey’s favorite chair.”
In contrast with the prior show, all the different threads of “Rosita” work well. Kudrow’s quirky line readings add some spark to the Phoebe plot, and Jason Alexander tosses in a good cameo. It’s a solid and funny show.
The One Where They All Turn Thirty (23:40): “Rachel’s agony over her 30th birthday starts everyone reminiscing about what they did upon reaching that milestone.”
Presented like a clip show, “Thirty” actually consists wholly of new material. If comes across as fairly disjointed but reasonably amusing. And at least it presents the end of the Tag story, which makes it a winner in my book.
The One with Joey’s New Brain (28:35): “Joey accidentally lets slip to a Days of Our Lives castmate (Susan Sarandon) that she is being written out of the script. Rachel and Phoebe try to sabotage each other’s changes to date a guy who left his cell phone at Central Perk.”
Friends guest stars tend to be hit or miss, and the bigger the celebrity, the iffier the cameo. Tom Selleck? Pretty good. Bruce Willis? Pretty terrible. But Sarandon overcomes those constraints and offers a fun turn as a serious soap opera diva. The other stories also fare well, but Sarandon makes this a particularly strong show.
The One with the Truth About London (29:59): “Monica and Chandler grudgingly agree to let Joey marry them – once he’s ‘ordained’ via the Internet. While babysitting, Rachel teaches Ben a few practical jokes.”
I still can’t stand the annoying Sprouse as Ben, but seeing Aniston’s discomfort when she babysits almost makes his presence tolerable. Actually, his naturally obnoxious presence works here, as the kid’s supposed to be jerky. However, I could live without the bit related to Joey conducting the wedding, as that seems like a dopey concept.
The One with the Cheap Wedding Dress (21:58): “Monica regrets telling a fellow bride-to-be about a cheaper bridal store when she has to fight her tooth and nail for a unique wedding dress – and later the right to hire Chandler’s favorite band for the event.”
There’s nothing crazier than a pack of brides to be, and “Dress” depicts that mania amusingly. It’s especially fun to watch Monica attack the crowds at the bargain store. It’s also a blast to watch Joey and Ross go up against each other.
Footage you didn’t see on TV alert: Joey actually uses some unusual-for-NBC profanity here when he says “does a bear s—t in the woods?”
The One with Joey’s Award (24:10): “Joey is overjoyed to be nominated for a ‘Soapie’. Monica gets wedding jitters.”
Didn’t they already do a plot like the one with Monica and Phoebe? Back then, Monica worried she and Chandler didn’t have enough heat anymore; this story seems awfully familiar. Still, the Joey bit was good, especially when he had to present an award after he lost in his own category.
The One with Ross and Monica’s Cousin (22:10): “When Monica and Ross’s alluring cousin (Denise Richards) visits, her irresistible beauty causes serious distractions for all the men who meet her. Rachel and Phoebe try to rush their plans for Monica’s shower.”
That Denise Richards is a babe, and the reactions she inspires prove to be quite funny. The shots where she flings her hair and we hear Barry White are great, and they offer the show’s highlights. The Joey subplot – which his prosthetic foreskin – seem a little cutesy, but the shower provides some fun.
The One with Rachel’s Big Kiss (23:03): “Rachel bumps into her old sorority sister (Winona Ryder) and wonders whether she should confront her about a night in college where their friendship took a passionate turn.”
Is it really possible that the friends could know each other so long and only now have it come out that Rachel kissed a woman? That seems unlikely, especially given Joey’s constant pressure to see some girl-on-girl action. Ryder seems miscast as a shallow former sorority gal, but she pulls it off with a fun turn. The battle of the celebrity tuxes also provides some cool moments.
The One with the Vows (21:48): “Writing their wedding vows proves a daunting task for Monica and Chandler. Looking back over the pair’s relationship, the other friends worry about changes in store for all of them.”
Ugh – a clip show. Not good! Some new connecting material appears, but the vast majority of the program consists of old footage. It’s a weak episode and can be easily skipped; you won’t miss anything without it.
The One with Chandler’s Dad (23:52): “Monica arranges a meeting between Chandler and his estranged dad (Kathleen Turner) in hopes that they can reconcile before the ceremony. Rachel and a reluctant Ross borrow the keys to Monica’s Porsche.”
As I watched this show, I realized how much Friends toned down the soap opera elements as the years passed. These seemed much more dominant in the earlier years, whereas the later ones didn’t pour on as much schmaltz. I mentioned this because “Dad” demonstrates how much better the series handles potentially sentimental bits than in the past. The bits with Chandler’s pop teeter on the edge of sappiness but avoid them, and the show manages to work fairly well.
The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding (48:00): “Monica and Chandler gather their offbeat families on the eve of their wedding but there’s one problem: Chandler is missing. While Ross searches for him, Rachel and Phoebe desperately try to distract the unsuspecting bride. Someone is hiding a big secret.”
After all the build-up, wedding day finally arrives, and not a moment too soon! Actually, despite the fears I mentioned earlier, the wedding-related issues didn’t become too much of a problem during Season Seven. That thread played a smaller role than I anticipated and didn’t cause the show to sag like I worried.
Until now. No, “Wedding” didn’t suck, and it proceeded about as I expected. Nonetheless, it poured on a lot of melodrama and artificial tension, and the humorous bits felt somewhat forced. Granted, I don’t know if this kind of episode could ever avoid those traps, but “Wedding” remains a spotty show.
As for Season Seven as a whole, it worked pretty well. Except for the dreadful clip show, I can’t think of a single episode that was a genuine dud. The worst of programs still seemed pretty decent, and the best fared quite nicely. Chalk this up as another strong year of Friends.