Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 16, 2004)
Eight down, two to go! We can now check out a DVD set with all 23 programs from Season Eight of Friends. Aired during 2001-2002, I’ll offer brief discussions of all the episodes, listed in their broadcast order. The synopses come straight from the package’s promotional materials. 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.)
The One After “I Do” (26:50): “Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette) and Chandler’s (Matthew Perry) wedding reception is almost upstaged by the news that Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) is pregnant. Elsewhere at the party, Ross (David Schwimmer) tries to impress a pretty single woman; Chandler has trouble on the dance floor; and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) hopes to impress an important Broadway producer who is dating Chandler’s mother (Morgan Fairchild).”
After the mushiness of the wedding episode that concluded Season Seven, I worried that the baby drama would submerge Season Eight’s opener. Happily, it manages to avoid those traps. Instead, it skirts around the melodrama and tosses out lots of quirky goodness. I especially like Ross’s continued romantic ineptness, especially when he screws up and gets stuck at the kiddie table.
The One with the Red Sweater (22:24): “As they prepare to leave the wedding hotel, an excited Monica and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) speculate about who might be the father of pregnant Rachel’s baby. Rachel wonders if she should even tell the unsuspecting dad. Meanwhile, Joey mistakenly thinks Phoebe is pregnant and makes a gallant gesture. Ross and Chandler frantically try to restage generic wedding photos with other couples at the hotel when Chandler loses the film from his own ceremony. And Monica can’t wait to open her tantalizing wedding gifts.”
As I noted in my review of Season Seven, Friends came a long way since the early days in the way it treats soap opera bits. Over the first few years, it integrated them in a clumsy manner, but the later seasons managed to combine drama and comedy much more smoothly. We see that here with a consistently amusing episode that also manages to move along various plot elements.
The One Where Rachel Tells Ross (22:17): “Everyone seems to know who the father of Rachel’s unborn baby is except for the man himself: Ross. When he finds out, he is more concerned with other matters than his relationship with Rachel. Meanwhile, Phoebe and Joey fib about a gas leak to gain entry to Monica and Chandler’s apartment.”
Another show that undercuts treacle with humor, “Tells” fares well. It packs nice comedy into two potentially sappy moments, as it deals with the Ross/Rachel bits neatly. Add to that pretty amusing subplots and the show’s a winner.
The One with the Videotape (24:00): “Ross and Rachel’s attempt to explain to everyone how they ended up in bed together six weeks earlier quickly devolves into an argument over who pursued whom. Then Ross shocks them by announcing that he has the whole encounter on videotape. Meanwhile, Monica and Chandler return from their honeymoon, excited at the prospect of socializing with another recently married couple whom they met on the flight home… until they discover that their newfound ‘friends’ gave them a fake phone number.”
Although bickering Ross and Rachel usually sizzles, “Videotape” starts slowly. However, it picks up as it progresses, and the ending offers some amusing twists.
The One with Rachel’s Date (22:18): “Ross is horrified to learn that Rachel is going on a date with a handsome actor, especially since she is pregnant with Ross’s child. Meanwhile, Phoebe becomes attracted to a cute but clumsy chef, Tim, and protests when Monica wants to terminate him. Chandler sabotages the promotion of a quirky co-worker who has been mistakenly calling him ‘Toby’ for five years.”
Largely free of soap opera, “Date” doesn’t manage to go much of anywhere. The show includes occasional decent moments, but not enough to make it above average. It doesn’t suffer from any obvious defects; it’s just bland.
The One with the Halloween Party (22:18): “At Monica’s Halloween party, Phoebe meets the friendly fiancé, Eric (Sean Penn), of her flighty twin Ursula. Phoebe becomes alarmed when she learns that her sister has misrepresented herself to the trusting guy - and Phoebe finds herself attracted to him as well. Monica comes disguised as Catwoman and wonders if she could defeat Phoebe’s Supergirl character. Chandler arrives as a pink bunny and mistakes Ross’s giant ‘Spudnik’ costume for something found on a sidewalk. Also, Rachel gives away all the candy and guiltily resorts to writing checks for the trick-or-treaters.”
“Party” gave me terrible déjà vu for last season’s episode where Ross’s son wants Santa and he dresses up like the Holiday Armadillo. Friends characters in goofy costumes doesn’t do much for me, especially when the show tries to get them to fight. Cox looks awfully hot in her Catwoman outfit, though, and it’s funny to watch Rachel not understand how to deal with kids. Despite that, this one is pretty average.
The One with the Stain (22:50): “Ross is happy to learn that pregnant Rachel wants to find her own apartment. He suggests a vacancy in his building but later discovers that the elderly occupant is not dead yet as he had assumed. Ross gets some tough competition from Rachel’s roommate, Joey, who creates a nursery in their apartment to persuade her to stay. Meanwhile, Phoebe is ecstatic when Eric ends his relationship with her twin sister Ursula and chooses Phoebe instead. Monica becomes agitated when she suspects that her new maid is stealing her jeans, among other things.”
Sean Penn didn’t fare well as the nice guy of the prior show, but he does better when we see his darker side here. Of course, we know this relationship won’t go anywhere due to his guest star status, but at least he adds some minor sparks. The better plot comes from Monica’s obsession with her maid. Psycho Monica always is fun, and this episode continues that trend.
The One with the Stripper (22:06): “Rachel nervously tells her short-tempered father (Ron Leibman) that she is pregnant with Ross’s baby. Dr. Green then confronts Ross in his apartment, just as Ross is beginning to snuggle up with his new girlfriend Mona.”
Non-confrontational Rachel is funny Rachel, and she shies away from conflict with the best of them here. Ron Leibman makes her avoidance all the more believable with his surly turn as her dad. The scene in which Ross tries to deal both with Rachel’s dad and his girlfriend is terrific.
The One with the Rumor (23:15): “In this Thanksgiving episode, Brad Pitt plays Will, Ross’s high school friend who was the only student fatter than Monica. She invites him to Thanksgiving dinner with the gang, unaware that he isn’t exactly fond of Rachel. Meanwhile, Chandler and Phoebe pretend to be enthralled with a televised football game in order to avoid helping Monica in the kitchen. And Joey vows to devour an entire turkey single-handedly.”
Many of Friends’ best episodes come from Thanksgiving. The high concept of casting Brad Pitt as a guy who hates Rachel seems a little cutesy, and the show never rivals the strongest holiday programs. Still, it builds to a wacky conclusion that satisfies.
The One with Monica’s Boots (23:30): “Chandler becomes upset when Monica spends a fortune on a luxurious pair of black boots. After she discovers that the sexy new shoes hurt her feet, she continues to wear them rather than admit that Chandler was right to be concerned. Meanwhile, Phoebe learns that Ross’s son Ben attends the same school as the son of rock star Sting. She tries to meet Sting and get tickets to his upcoming concert - until she encounters his suspicious wife, Trudie Styler (herself). Also, Rachel tries to mediate between an angry Joey and his pregnant younger sister Dina.”
Friends doesn’t use Joey’s sisters with any form of consistency. They pop up almost at random just to serve various stories, and they don’t usually work effectively. The Sting subplot is odd enough to succeed, though, and “Boots” becomes reasonably amusing.
The One with Ross’s Step Forward (24:58): “Ross becomes nervous when his new girlfriend Mona wants to mail cute Christmas cards with both of their pictures on it. When Rachel starts feeling the hormonal effects of her pregnancy, she desperately searches for possible romantic partners - including the always-accommodating Joey. Meanwhile, newlyweds Chandler and Monica must deal with Chandler’s boss, who is enduring divorce.”
Rachel’s rampaging hormones lead the way here. She flirts up a storm, which offers a lot of amusement. Ross’s dilemma also creates humor, mostly due to the weaselly way he tries to deal with relationship issues.
The One Where Joey Dates Rachel (24:00): “In order to prepare Joey for his big date the following night, Rachel eagerly agrees to accompany him for an evening out. However, when they become pleasantly surprised by their newfound compatibility, they begin to regard each other in a way no one could have predicted. Meanwhile, Chandler proudly scores a record number of points on Monica’s new Ms. Pac-Man video game machine, but Phoebe vows to regain the top spot. And Ross is finally allowed to teach an honors class, but its cross-town location means he must break land speed records to get there on time.”
As Joey and Rachel’s relationship deepens, the show gets sappier. Not terribly so, mind you, but enough to cause some awkwardness. Nonetheless, those parts exhibit moderate humor, which is good since the other two subplots don’t go much of anywhere.
The One Where Chandler Takes a Bath (21:52): “As Joey agonizes over his secret affection for Rachel, Monica mistakenly thinks that he is infatuated with Phoebe. When Monica reveals her suspicion to Phoebe, the confusing romantic situation becomes chaotic. Meanwhile, Ross and Rachel agree not to learn the sex of their unborn child, but Rachel sneaks a peek at the doctor’s confidential folder. Monica urges a reluctant Chandler to enjoy the soothing pleasures of a scented bath, but soon she can’t get him out of the bubbles.”
Is it just me, or did Chandler become the least interesting Friends character in the series’ later years? Maybe Perry’s various substance problems caused the show’s producers to shy away from him somewhat, or maybe Perry just lost his edge. Whatever the case, programs that spotlight him tend to flounder, and that happens with the high-concept tub issue. Add to that Joey’s dilemma and the episode fails to take flight. At least the Ross/Rachel naming battle adds some amusement.
The One with the Secret Closet (23:22): “When a concerned Joey takes Rachel to the hospital because of pain relating to her pregnancy, he realizes that his intense romantic feelings for her are excluding Ross from the joys of impending fatherhood. Joey reluctantly makes a gallant suggestion that could change all of the friends’ lives. Meanwhile, Chandler becomes obsessed with finding out what is behind the locked door of Monica’s forbidden, secret closet. And Monica agrees to let Phoebe massage her - but Phoebe regrets doing so when Monica ecstatically responds with suggestive grunts and groans.”
As Joey’s problems escalate, the show becomes goopier. It doesn’t help that we see Ross in serious Sensitive Guy mode, as he feels left out of the party. Watching Monica get orgasmic over Phoebe’s massage brings good humor to the program, though, and the secret of the closet certainly becomes intriguing.
The One with the Birthing Video (24:45): “Monica playfully prepares a special Valentine’s Day for Chandler, complete with sexy lingerie and racy entertainment. However, Chandler is too shocked to respond favorably after accidentally viewing the wrong videotape: a birthing video meant for Rachel. Meanwhile, Ross has difficulty informing his girlfriend Mona that Rachel has moved in with him. His scheme to gain Mona’s favor with a perfect Valentine’s Day date is thwarted when Mona arrives at his apartment unannounced. Also, Phoebe tries to enliven a depressed Joey by bringing him the world’s most cheerful dog.”
I’m not sure how much more I can take of Mopey Joey. The happy dog’s not the only one getting bummed out by the atypically sullen character. Ross provides a smidgen of humor due to his evasiveness, and the horrors of the video are entertaining, but Joey drags down much of the show.
The One Where Joey Tells Rachel (22:25): “Guilt-ridden Joey finally confesses his love for Rachel to the flabbergasted Ross. The guys agree that Joey should tell Rachel during dinner, regardless of the potential consequences. Meanwhile, Chandler becomes nervous because Phoebe’s handsome new boyfriend Don shares numerous personality traits with Monica.”
As one might expect, “Tells” takes a soggy turn due to a prevalence of soap opera elements. Yeah, but it’s inevitable, I suppose, if they want to move on the plot pieces. However, the subplot with Monica’s “soulmate” is pretty good; for once, Chandler gets a good role as he deals with his “competition”.
The One with the Tea Leaves (22:45): “Feeling awkward after revealing his romantic feelings to Rachel, Joey avoids contact with her. Rachel hopes to restore their friendship by telling Joey a big lie about her unborn child. Meanwhile, after studying tea leaves, Phoebe believes she will encounter the man of her dreams - and she soon meets a very handsome guy, Parker (Alec Baldwin). Ross tries to recover his favorite pink shirt from the apartment of his former girlfriend Mona.”
Anytime the show presses Phoebe’s mystical beliefs, it gets good, and her belief that the universe wants her to be with a wildly crude guy makes this show amusing. I like the bits where we learn more about Chandler’s CD collection, and the “baby-buying” element of the Joey/Rachel piece creates an absurd aspect to the sappy bits. Add to that Ross’s pink shirt and this show’s a good one.
The One in Massapequa (23:05): “Monica becomes inarticulate while giving her toast at a 35th anniversary party for her parents and regrets volunteering to make the speech instead of Ross. Phoebe brings her latest boyfriend, an effusive optimist who is so enthusiastic about everything that he makes people crazy. Meanwhile, Ross is astounded when Jack and Judy ask him and the pregnant Rachel to pretend to be married in order to prevent a potential scandal.”
As soon with the erratic turns from Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, guest stars can be hit or miss. Happily, Alec Baldwin provides a terrific performance as Phoebe’s excessively exuberant boyfriend. Along with other good moments like Monica’s attempts at a moving speech make this a fun show, and one thankfully free from most of the usual soap opera.
The One with Joey’s Interview (21:44): “Joey is thrilled when is name is used in a Soap Opera Digest crossword. But he’s reluctant for them to do a profile on him because his last interview got him into so much trouble he was written out of the show.”
Is there anything worse than a clip show? Yeah - searing abdominal pain, rabid monkeys… well, that’s about it. Some of the bits used to link the clips offer amusement, but it remains nothing more than a cheap montage episode.
The One with the Baby Shower (24:45): “Rachel panics during a party in anticipation of her baby’s birth when she realizes how totally unprepared she is to care for an infant. She reluctantly agrees to allow her frustrating mother Sandra (Marlo Thomas) to move in to help her, upsetting Rachel’s roommate Ross. Meanwhile, Monica tries to atone for forgetting to invite Sandra to the party. Chandler and Ross exhaust themselves by repeatedly playing a befuddling game in an effort to help Joey prepare to audition as a TV game show host.”
Another good guest turn pops up here with Marlo Thomas’s snooty and catty take on Rachel’s mother. The shower offers some good moments, but for the best pieces, we see the guys play “Bamboozled”. Those are arguably the funniest sequences of the year, as it’s absolutely hilarious to watch the characters play the nonsensical game show.
The One with the Cooking Class (23:02): “When Monica’s cooking at the restaurant is harshly criticized in a newspaper, she goes to a class taught by the reviewer, hoping to convince him to reconsider his opinion. However, after he rejects Monica, she transfers to a beginner’s cooking seminar where she is hailed as a culinary genius. Rachel gets upset when a cute salesgirl flirts with Ross while he and Rachel shop for baby supplies. Nervous about a major job interview, Chandler receives some questionable coaching from Phoebe.”
”Class” doesn’t excel in any of its stories, but it balances them well. Sometimes it’s better to have three good plots instead of one great one and a couple of lesser ones. This makes “Class” fun overall.
The One Where Rachel is Late (23:07): “When Rachel’s pregnancy goes beyond her projected delivery date, the pain makes Rachel increasingly irritable - and willing to try anything that might speed the baby’s arrival. Meanwhile, Monica and Phoebe place bets concerning the date of the birth. Also, Joey can only take one guest to the premiere of the World War I film in which he stars, and he chooses Chandler. Unfortunately, Chandler falls asleep during the screening, incurring Joey’s wrath.”
An otherwise unexceptional program, “Late” earns points due to Grouchy Rachel. Aniston plays her in nasty mode so deliciously that she makes the episode good all on her own. After that, though, it’s a pretty flat show.
The One Where Rachel Has a Baby (50:55): “In the one-hour season finale, Rachel’s baby nears delivery with an anxious Ross nearby. While she’s in endless labor hell, her waiting friends cause hospital havoc. Chandler and Monica search for privacy in their quest to have their own baby.”
Friends’ season-ending double episodes tend to be fairly broad affairs intended to please all of the people all of the time. That occurs here, with a show that tries too hard to be an Event. It’s got some funny moments but doesn’t gel overall, and the sappy cliffhanger ending doesn’t help.
Although I didn’t care much for the year’s ending, I think Season Eight offered a generally consistent level of entertainment. Friends is the rare series that gets better as it goes. Season Eight is miles above the erratic entertainment of its first few years, and with only two seasons to go, it becomes less and less likely the show will ever falter. I look forward to those last two years, as Season Eight continues the series’ remarkable run.