Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 22, 2005)
With Season Nine of Friends, we enter the home stretch. Only one more year of the hit series remains, though originally the cast intended Season Nine to be their last go-round. Apparently they had too much fun - and wanted more of those giant paychecks - so Friends came back for a tenth season.
But that’ll be a subject for another day. We can now check out a DVD set with all 23 programs from Season Nine of Friends. Aired during 2002-2003, 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 Where No One Proposes (24:57): “Due to a misunderstanding, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) finds herself engaged to Joey (Matt LeBlanc) instead of Ross (David Schwimmer). Things get more confused when Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) mistakenly assumes that Ross is the one who proposed.”
A show almost totally predicated on misunderstandings seems like a show ripe with the potential to suck. However, even with all sorts of “Who’s On First” machinations, “Proposes” manages to provide a lot of laughs. It takes a bit of a soap opera turn at the end but remains likeable and amusing most of the time.
The One Where Emma Cries (24:05): “Joey’s attempts to gain Ross’s forgiveness for mistakenly asking Rachel to marry him only result in emergency hospitalization. A weary Rachel seeks any remedy to quiet baby Emma’s nonstop crying.”
It’s hard to knock a show in which Joey does the Jake La Motta thing and begs Ross to hit him. Joey provides most of the episode’s good laughs, especially when he “helps” Ross fill out a medical form. Chandler’s subplot also works well when he tries to weasel out of his move to Tulsa.
The One with the Pediatrician (26:00): “Rachel’s constant calls to her pediatrician force him to drop Emma as a patient. Ross becomes uncomfortable when Rachel seeks his childhood doctor as a replacement - mainly because he is still Ross’s doctor.”
Every once in a while it’s good to see Joey act like a pig, and we get a fun glimpse of that here. Rachel’s buffoonery when she neurotically pesters her doctor also works well. Surprisingly, though, the moments connected to Ross’s doctor don’t go much of anywhere, and they fail to live up to their potential.
The One with the Sharks (26:10): “Worried she may lose her latest boyfriend, Phoebe’s self-doubt is worsened by Ross’s foolish comments. Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette) mistakenly fears Chandler (Matthew Perry) has an unnatural fetish for sharks.”
Despite some interesting elements, “Sharks” never quite coalesces. Perhaps it attempts too many threads; three shouldn’t be excessive, but in this case, none of them really goes anywhere. Joey’s bit is probably the best, but even it suffers from excessive predictability. The shark part is truly asinine; sometimes Friends pulls off that sort of bizarreness, but here it seems forced.
The One with Phoebe’s Birthday Dinner (25:20): “While Phoebe and Joey await their friends at a fancy restaurant, Rachel frets about leaving Emma with a sitter. Monica and Chandler are also running late due to a heated spat.”
Perhaps this episode is a sign that Friends in Season Nine doesn’t quite match up with earlier seasons. It has its laughs and provides decent entertainment, but like “Sharks”, it doesn’t quite turn into anything memorable. I like it, but I don’t feel more strongly than that although the show possesses some real potential.
The One with the Male Nanny (34:08): “Rachel’s choice of an oversensitive male nanny (Freddie Prinze Jr.) sparks Ross’s mockery. Phoebe must choose between two ardent suitors: new boyfriend Mike (Paul Rudd) or visiting former boyfriend David (Hank Azaria).”
Am I the only one who thinks new boyfriends/girlfriends on Friends should wear red shirts? They’re just like the Star Trek cannon fodder; they exist just to eventually go away. I don’t know how long Mike will last, and maybe I’m wrong; perhaps he’ll go the rest of the way since there’s not that many shows left in the series. Still, it’s hard to take him seriously, especially since Phoebe’s romances always tend to be annoyingly cutesy. Add a lackluster guest spot from Prinze and this is a so-so show.
The One with Ross’s Inappropriate Song (23:40): “When Chandler’s former romantic rival intends to sell his apartment, Chandler and Joey secretly inspect it… and make a shocking discovery. Ross discovers that singing rap is the only way to get baby Emma to sleep.”
”Song” kicks in with some good moments, though the title parts aren’t that great. Couldn’t they come up with a less appropriate rap song than “Baby Got Back”? And is it just me or has Joey gotten dumber over the years? That does result in some funny bits, and Phoebe’s attempts to fit in with Mike’s family also work pretty well.
The One with Rachel’s Other Sister (26:15): “On the night before Thanksgiving, Rachel’s self-centered younger sister Amy (Christina Applegate) ruins everyone’s holiday dinner with her uncensored observations.”
Over the years, Friends generated a lot of good Thanksgiving shows. This isn’t one of them. The Amy character is annoying and unconvincing, and it leads toward a totally predictable conclusion.
The One with Rachel’s Phone Number (26:02): “While out with Phoebe, Rachel impulsively gives a handsome guy her phone number - then worries he’ll call when Ross is in. Mike and Ross desperately try finding something to talk about while babysitting Emma.”
Perhaps the presence of Mike is causing the general Season Nine malaise. For instance, the bits with him and Ross should’ve been pretty good, but they were almost as dull as the characters’ actual experience. It’s a lackluster episode.
The One with Christmas in Tulsa (23:07): “Chandler must stay in Tulsa over Christmas due to work deadlines. Monica suspects the worst when she learns that his beautiful co-worked Wendy (Selma Blair) will join him.”
That synopsis might make it sound like “Tulsa” offers a full-fledged episode of Friends. It doesn’t. Instead, the plot acts as a framework for a clip show. Clip shows almost uniformly suck. Enough said.
The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work (24:25): “Rachel meets her handsome rival Gavin (Dermot Mulroney), who has covered her job while she’s been on maternity leave. Their immediate war of wills prompts her to make a rash decision that she could regret.”
Motherhood has made Rachel sort of sappy, so it’s good to see her back to being neurotically feisty here. I’m not wild about the obvious “meet cute” between her and Gavin, though; it’s transparent and obvious. The bits with Phoebe on Days of Our Lives are pretty decent, however.
The One with Phoebe’s Rats (24:05): “Rachel is peeved to learn that Gavin is invited to her birthday party. Ross struggles to keep lascivious Joey away from Emma’s beautiful new nanny. Phoebe coaxes Mike into helping care for a litter of baby rats.”
Despite some good moments connected to Joey’s quest for the hot nanny, “Rats” doesn’t go much of anywhere. Perhaps this comes from the dual lame relationships on display: Phoebe/Mike and Rachel/Gavin. The sooner these end, the better.
The One Where Monica Sings (30:54): “As Rachel sorts out her feelings for Gavin, Ross recruits Chandler to help him meet attractive women to make her jealous. Monica’s see-through dress is a big hit when Phoebe brings her to karaoke night!”
Like many episodes this year, “Sings” has all the components to be a gem. They just don’t quite come together. I feel like Monica’s humiliation and Ross’s crazy new “girlfriend” should entertain me, but they don’t. Even Joey’s absurd eyebrows only muster mild amusement.
The One with the Blind Dates (24:20): “Joey and Phoebe conspire to arrange awful dates for both Rachel and Ross, hoping that appreciation of their former relationship will cause them to reunite.”
I hate to constantly beat the same dead horse, but “Dates” is another episode that fails to live up to its potential. A few seasons back, a scenario like Rachel’s disastrous date would have been hilarious, while here, it’s pretty uninspiring.
The One with the Mugging (23:32): “To impress a pompous fellow actor during an audition, Joey develops an unusual acting method. Ross is horrified to discover who mugged him when he was a child.”
Sometimes I get the feeling Friends makes up its rules as it goes along. Only now do the friends learn that Phoebe once was a mugger? And why’d it take Chandler so long to get an internship at the place where he interviewed many shows ago? As usual, there’s a fair amount of funny stuff, but the iffy logic undercuts it.
The One with the Boob Job (26:50): “Phoebe asks Mike to move in with her, but coming so close to married life may spell trouble. The financially strapped Monica and Chandler separately and unknowingly ask Joey for loans.”
The second we see Rachel get the apartment baby-proofed, it becomes inevitable that we’ll watch Joey as he struggles with those contraptions. However, that predictable gag isn’t too heavy a component, and LeBlanc plays it well. Unfortunately, the drama between Mike and Phoebe drags things and slows down this otherwise pretty good show. At least it looks like we might finally be rid of Mike, and that makes me happy.
The One with the Memorial Service (25:34): “When Chandler jokingly posts an outrageous biography of Ross on his college alumni website, Ross retaliates in similar fashion - triggering an Internet war between the two friends.”
I had high expectations for the website fight between Ross and Chandler, but it didn’t live up to those hopes. The choices they make are pretty predictable, as are other parts of their feud. Joey’s crush on his stuffed animal works better, at least.
The One with the Lottery (22:30): “Hoping to win a huge jackpot, the friends pool their cash and buy dozens of lottery tickets. But bickering over how to spend potential winnings and other disagreements cause a lotto tension.”
For the first time in a while, we get all six main cast members together for virtually the entire show. For the first time in a while, we get a really good episode. It’s always fun to pack the sextet together, and they make the most of it in this very amusing show.
The One with Rachel’s Dream (25:17): “Nervous about an upcoming romantic scene, Joey rehearses with Rachel. After watching the show’s taping, Rachel has a surprising dream about Joey.”
After so many lackluster episodes, Friends seems to be rebounding as Season Nine nears its end. The “dream” plot manages a nice balance between sappiness and humor and manages to become entertaining. Best of the bunch is the trip to Vermont Ross and Chandler take due to the methods they use to get their money’s worth.
The One with the Soap Opera Party (24:30): “Ross is excited when his paleontology colleague Charlie (Aisha Tyler) is also a stunning beauty. But the excitement fades when she discusses her impressive list of ex-boyfriends at Joey’s rooftop party for his Days of Our Lives castmates.”
Ross develops a romantic interest in a black woman - is this a) a realistic view of life, b) politically correct pandering to all the folks who thought of Friends as racist, or c) a little of both? Probably “c”, but the show doesn’t get into any race-related subjects here, which is a good thing. Despite two different soap opera angles, the program manages to become reasonably amusing.
The One with the Fertility Test (27:10): “Ross is hurt when brilliant Charlie starts dating shallow Joey. Chandler and Monica have a chance encounter at a fertility clinic.”
Didn’t we already go through a Joey/friend/chick love triangle? That occurred a long time back with Chandler/Joey/some chick whose name I don’t remember, and this thread follows awfully closely along those lines. This ends up as a decent show but not a terribly memorable one despite the brief return of a notorious semi-regular.
The One with the Donor (25:19): “Sad to learn that they cannot conceive naturally, Monica and Chandler mull their options. Chandler brings home a handsome, unknowing co-worker (John Stamos) for dinner to ‘interview’ him as a potential sperm donor.”
”Donor” acts as something of a placeholder episode. It winds all the various threads of this season toward a close, or at least to a place where they can go somewhere in the upcoming year-ending show. The program manages some good moments, though, mainly via Rachel’s Joey-related dilemma.
The One in Barbados (54:25): “Ross procures free passes for his friends to a paleontologists’ convention in Barbados, then scrambles to reconstruct - with Charlie’s help - his keynote address after its accidental erasure from his computer. Feelings - and couplings - ping-pong after Phoebe’s ex-boyfriend Mike arrives to win her back.”
Dammit - Mike’s back. Well, maybe he’ll get hit by a bus before Season 10 starts. Although I don’t like the dramatic elements on the show, this episode takes things too far as it plays David’s embarrassment for laughs. It also leaves us with the inevitable cliffhanger.
Season Nine goes down as a disappointment. It includes a smattering of strong episodes, but most lack the easy charm and humor we usually see. They feel more forced and rely on the same old gags. Hopefully things rebound for Season Ten, but as it stands, Season Nine is my least favorite since the erratic and strained first two years.