Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Since I just spent about 10 hours watching DVDs, I’ll keep my introduction brief. It’s Friends, the most popular sitcom in America and other parts of the world. It’s all 23 shows from the program’s second season - that’s 1995-1996, if you care. It’s on DVD. Rock on!
From here, I’ll offer brief discussions of all the episodes, listed in their broadcast order. As a helpful guide, an asterisk denotes shows that also appeared on any of the four “best of” DVDs that Warner Bros. released before they came to their senses and started to package Friends in season sets.
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 With Ross’ New Girlfriend (23:58) completes the cliffhanger from the end of Season One. When Ross (David Schwimmer) returned from a trip to China, he came back with his new girlfriend Julie (Lauren Tom). In the interim, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) learned that Ross had a crush on her, and she decided to give it a go, so she went to meet him at the airport. Of course, she didn’t know that Julie would be there, so this episode follows the aftermath of this incident.
I often don’t care for the episodes that deal largely with the soap opera elements, but “Girlfriend” works pretty well. The show has Rachel deal with her angst in a nicely comic manner, and it keeps things from becoming too heavy. A couple of minor subplots also balance out the load - especially when Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) misunderstands the kind of haircut Monica (Courtney Cox) wants - and “Girlfriend” launches the second season on a positive note.
The One With the Breast Milk (22:40) further concentrates on the tensions created by the Ross/Julie relationship, especially when she invites the gang to go on a discount spree at Bloomingdale’s. Monica accepts, but the others tell her that this will wound Rachel. However, when Monica sees how happy it makes Ross, she has to go and then deal with the repercussions. In regard to the title, Ross takes care of his infant son Ben, and the gang freaks out when Phoebe and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) sample the breast milk; this eventually leads to challenges to get Ross to do it as well. At his department store job as a cologne demonstrator, Joey also runs into problems with the “Hombre” guy; he does the same thing and he horns in on Joey’s territory and other aspects of his life, like the babe he fancies.
I think Cox is the weakest actor of the six regulars, so any show that focuses so strongly on her runs some risks. However, “Milk” largely avoids these. All three of the various subplots work out well and offer some good gags. The soap opera elements get light treatment and don’t bog down the program.
At the start of The One Where Heckles Dies(23:20), Chandler (Matthew Perry) breaks up with yet another woman for yet another superficial reason, so the gang accuses him of issues in this regard. As for the title, the girls’ downstairs neighbor (Larry Hankin) kicks off during a fight between the building-mates, and surprisingly, he leaves his possessions to Phoebe and Monica. Initially this sounds like a good thing, but when they find out how much crap Heckles owned, they interpret the event as their cantankerous neighbor’s final revenge on them. As they sort through the items, Chandler discovers many parallels between him and Heckles, and this spooks him badly and leads him to take radical steps. In the meantime, Phoebe and Ross argue about evolution and other scientific issues; she doesn’t accept them, which drives Ross nuts.
”Heckles” totally avoids the soap opera elements of the first couple of shows from this season, which puts it in good stead with me. While those first programs didn’t pump the soap opera bits too heavily, I still liked the break from them we found here. The show avoided the sentiment that usually comes with a death and provides a fairly entertaining program.
The One With Phoebe’s Husband (22:50) introduces Duncan (Steve Zahn), a gay Canadian who Phoebe says she married so he could get a green card. The revelation causes the gang to spill the beans and tell each other different secrets as retaliation. The most damaging revolves around Chandler’s third nipple. In the meantime, Rachel continues to fume over the Ross and Julie relationship, which causes her to give him some intentionally bad advice.
The latter part seemed kind of odd, since Julie and Rachel declared a truce two shows ago. However, I know the series needed to maintain that tension for plot reasons, but it still felt weird. Still, it offered a gentle way to continue the soap opera elements, and the program worked fairly well as a whole. The introduction of Duncan seemed kind of lame and gimmicky, though.
The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant (22:52) finds Ross separated from Julie for the first time in their relationship, while the gang plans his birthday party. This causes some problems since Chandler asks them for more money than some of them can afford, and this creates dissension between the haves - Chandler, Ross, and Monica - and the have-nots. In addition, Chandler takes a phone call from a hot woman who seeks a past owner of his number and deceives her to make some headway with her.
Though “Steaks” seems enjoyable as a whole, it doesn’t come across as one of the better episodes. The tension between the two sides is a little forced and doesn’t translate terribly well. Virtually every episode of Friends offers a reasonable number of laughs and “Steaks” is no exception, but it doesn’t particularly stand out from the crowd. The show’s sappy ending didn’t help matters.
This episode’s badly dated moment? The gang all get excited because they can attend a Hootie and the Blowfish concert.
The One With the Baby On the Bus (25:07) occurs during a visit from Ross’ son Ben. Monica serves a kiwi lime pie, and Ross develops a nasty allergic reaction. While they rush to the hospital, Chandler and Joey look after the baby. They take Ben out for a walk to attract women, which lands them on the bus, where they accidentally leave Ben. In the meantime, the coffee shop owner hires a real musician to play Central Perk, which causes problems for Phoebe, especially since he makes Rachel tell her the bad news and deal with the aftermath.
Guest star alert! “Baby” features cameos from Chrissie Hynde and former NBC actress Lea Thompson in a piece of cross-promotional synergy. “Baby” offers some good moments, but I must admit I feel an inherent disdain for this kind of guest star episode. It’s fine when the actor integrates into the show ala Tom Selleck later in the series, but these cameos come across like pointless gimmicks. The lost baby subplot seems a little weak as well.
Weird element: Giovanni Ribisi briefly shows up as a guy who accidentally dropped a condom in Phoebe’s guitar case. He later appeared on the series as Phoebe’s half brother. I assume he wasn’t supposed to be that same character here, though since Phoebe doesn’t know many parts of her family well, I suppose it’s possible this was just foreshadowing for his later arrival.
*The One Where Ross Finds Out (24:50) has some good moments, but it seems like too much of a soap opera episode. Ross has been dating Julie for a while, and the relationship starts to deepen: they’re going to buy a cat together. Rachel finally lets Ross know her feelings for him. Thus starts their own ill-fated relationship, at least in theory. The show has a few funny bits, but it seems to appear mainly for its importance within the character development scheme.
The One With the List (23:00) focuses on the aftermath of the Ross and Rachel kiss. Though drawn to Rachel, Ross still feels strongly about Julie, so he must decide which one to choose. Chandler suggests they create a list of pros and cons about each woman. Ross selects Rachel, but problems arise when she discovers the list in question.
Despite the focus on the soap opera elements, “List” has some good moments, partially thanks to a solid cameo from Michael McKean. As Monica seeks a new job, she gets the chance to come up with recipes that use “Mockolate”, a chocolate substitute. McKean’s very amusing as the Mockolate shill. Overall, however, the show includes too much romantic pathos, but it leavens that with enough laughs to work acceptably well.
Badly dated moment, part 2: at the start of the show, Chandler crows about his awesome brand-new computer. Check out the killer specs: 12 MB of RAM, 500 MB hard drive, and a 28.8 K modem. Woo-hoo!
The One With Phoebe’s Dad (22:43) finds the gang a couple of days before Christmas. As Ross continues to try to make up with Rachel, Phoebe discovers that the man she thought was her father wasn’t. She confronts her grandmother (Audra Lindley) and finds out additional facts about him. Eventually she takes a road trip to try to connect with him; Chandler and Joey go along for the ride so they can do their Christmas shopping at some outlet malls.
With the drama around Phoebe’s dad, we get more soap opera too soon after the last episode. Since Phoebe’s always quirky, that helps lighten the load somewhat, but I could have lived without more of this kind of material at this point. As usual, the show presents some good material, but it’s a fairly mediocre episode as a whole.
The One With Russ (24:05) finds Joey depressed because his acting career seems to be going nowhere. Monica reunites with former boyfriend “Fun Bobby” (Vincent Ventresca); all the gang love him until they start to suspect he’s an alcoholic. Bobby promises to quit and becomes not so fun. Joey gets a new lease on life when he tries out for a role on Days of Our Lives, but he’ll need to sleep with the casting agent to get it. Rachel surprises the gang when she declares she doesn’t feel any romantic urges for Ross, but they suspect otherwise when they meet her date Russ, who happens to bear a significant resemblance to Ross.
The whole Russ thing probably should have seemed lame, especially when it veered into split-screen Patty Duke territory. However, it was actually fairly funny to see Schwimmer interact with a mildly different version of himself. The show keeps the soap opera to a reasonable minimum, so it’s hard to dislike “Russ”.
The One With the Lesbian Wedding (24:30) revolves around the union of Ross’ ex-wife Carol (Jane Sibbett) and her gal pal Susan (Jessica Hecht). This upsets Ross, who decides not to attend the ceremony. In addition, Monica gets the job as caterer for the reception, and Joey starts on Days. A client of Phoebe’s dies during a massage, and Phoebe thinks she’s taken on the old dead lady’s aura, and Rachel freaks because her mother (Marlo Thomas) comes to visit and drops a bombshell.
That’s a lot of plot lines, and “Wedding” can’t quite manage them all. I could live without the Marlo Thomas cameo, and the program tosses too much into the mix. As always, it includes some funny moments, especially as Kudrow channels the old lady, but overall the show seems mediocre, especially as it incorporates some sappy moments and the annoyingly politically correct casting of Newt Gingrich’s lesbian sister Candace as the minister at the wedding.
Season Two’s sole double-length episode, The One After the Super Bowl (48:20) has absolutely nothing to do with football; it just ran after the big game in 1996. Joey gets his first fan mail for his TV gig, and one of the viewers seems to be stalking him; that freaks him out until he meets her and discovers she’s a babe. Phoebe meets a cute guy at the coffee shop and he offers her a gig playing her songs for little kids. Ross heads to California to go to a conference, where he ventures to San Diego to visit his old pet monkey Marcel. The staff tells him Marcel died, but he learns the truth. He eventually meets up with the monkey on the New York set of a movie. More shenanigans happen there and afterward.
Gimmick alert! “Bowl” comes packed with big-name cameos. It includes bits from Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Man, I do hate the gratuitous one-shot star gigs, so “Bowl” feels like nothing more than a big stunt to follow the big game. The terrible miscasting of Shields as a psycho doesn’t help.
Less obvious cameo notice: Fred Willard shows up as the head of the zoo, and Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta appears as the zoo’s janitor. The latter offers easily the best parts of the program.
*The One With the Prom Video (23:45) features something that would become a popular recurring bit: the flashback scenes. Their parents want to unload a lot of the kids’ old stuff, so Ross and Rachel sort through their belongings. They find an old video, so we get a look at Ross, Rachel and Monica circa 1987 as the two women prep for their senior prom. In addition, Joey and Chandler have a fight when the latter doesn’t like the garish bracelet the former gives to him.
I believe this show offered the first look of “fat Monica”, and it’s probably popular for that reason alone. Actually, it’s a decent episode that seemed pretty entertaining, though the flashback motif would become a bit tiresome in later years. It includes some fun moments and works well overall.
In *The One Where Ross and Rachel …You Know (23:25), Ross and Rachel go out on their first official date, where they …you know. In addition, Joey purchases some excellent reclining chairs from which to watch TV, and he and Chandler refuse to leave them. Monica also gets reacquainted with an old - emphasis on old - friend of her parents, eye doctor Richard (Tom Selleck); although he’s the same vintage as her Mom and Dad, she eagerly anticipates a romantic relationship with the aging hunk.
By this point, the actors seemed much more comfortable with the characters, and that confidence made “You Know” more compelling. The Ross and Rachel parts were good from both the comedic and development points of view, and Monica’s moments with Richard were much more successful than they would have been a year earlier; Cox’s comfort with the part showed, and this made the burgeoning relationship more believable and interesting. LeBlanc and Perry offered the program’s funniest moments, however, as their chair obsession became quite entertaining. All in all, “You Know” wasn’t great Friends, but it appeared quite good.
The One Where Joey Moves Out (24:00) develops the Monica/Richard relationship further, as the pair go with Ross to Mr. Geller’s birthday party. She hasn’t told her parents about the two of them, which causes nervousness for both. Joey decides to take over a co-worker’s apartment, which upsets roommate Chandler and causes a rift. In addition, Phoebe and Rachel decide to get tattoos, although the latter gets cold feet when Ross indicates his dislike of that form of adornment.
“Joey” propels some plot points along fairly well and lacks the normal level of sentiment, but it still comes across as fairly lackluster. The show never really drags, but it doesn’t sparkle either. A few funny moments occur, but overall it feels like a mediocre show.
The One Where Eddie Moves In (24:35) deals with the aftermath of Joey’s move to his new apartment. Both miss each other but can’t be the first to admit it. Lonely on his own, Chandler takes in a new roommate named Eddie (Adam Goldberg). Phoebe meets a record producer who offers her a potential deal and then heavily alters her music. Ross and Monica start to get on each others’ nerves since they see other so much now that he’s dating Rachel.
“Eddie” offers another good but unspectacular episode. Nothing about it seems exceptional, but it has some fun bits. I like the juvenile interaction between Ross and Monica - it’s always entertaining when they revert to their childhood selves - and the absurdly overdone video for Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat” also provides some delightful moments. However, the Joey/Chandler stuff tries too hard, and since those are the most prominent parts of the show, they drag it down somewhat.
The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies (23:05) ends Joey’s high on the hog lifestyle as a TV star. He cheeses off the show’s writers when he claims that he writes most of his own lines, and they kill off his character. Dissatisfied with his roommate, Chandler tries to get to know him better but runs into problems when Eddie turns out to be a psycho. Lastly, the show’s two couples experience some friction due to discussions of their past relationships.
Another good but unremarkable episode, “Ramoray” gives us the usual complement of entertaining material. It just doesn’t include anything especially noteworthy. The argument between Ross and Rachel stands out as the funniest part due to Ross’ insecurities, but nothing else comes across as great. Still, it’s a watchable and amusing program as a whole.
The One Where Eddie Won’t Go (24:00) finds Chandler stuck with his nutbag roomie; despite Chandler’s repeated attempts, he can’t get Eddie to split. In the meantime, Joey tries to get more work and retain his artistic pride. Lastly, the women all read a psychobabble female empowerment book and become rather aggressive in that regard.
I’m all for shows that mock that kind of material, so “Go” stands out as a good episode for that reason alone. Eddie’s psychosis gets a little dopey after a while - the show makes him way too nuts - but it includes some funny moments, and Joey’s dilemma provides good stuff too. Overall, “Go” gives us a better than average episode for this season, and it even includes a funny conclusion to the Eddie saga when Joey moves back in with Chandler.
The One Where Old Yeller Dies (22:35) finds Chandler and Joey infatuated with Richard. They take him to a Knicks game and start to emulate him when they decide that he’s the coolest guy they know. Ross takes care of Ben for a whole weekend and freaks out Rachel when she learns that he has a whole long-term plan for their relationship. As for the title of the show, Phoebe learns that her mother shielded her from the endings of sad movies, so she loses faith in humanity as she watches all of Old Yeller and many other sad movies.
“Yeller” seems like a pretty average episode, but it doesn’t stand out to any great degree. Probably the most entertaining moments come from Phoebe’s bitterness, especially since it appears so unusual for the character. The idol worship from Joey and Chandler also provides some amusement during this good but unspectacular program.
The One With the Bullies (23:38) sees Chandler and Ross pushed around by some obnoxious yuppies at the coffee shop. Phoebe decides to try again to visit her father and gets Joey and Rachel to go with her but runs into some problems. In addition, Monica discovers a stock with her initials and invests in it.
Something has to go awry when Phoebe goes to her dad’s house, and this show offers some hilarious moments. A wired little dog terrorizes the trio and provides a bunch of great bits. The bully motif also seems pretty good, and the show as a whole works nicely. It also expands on Phoebe’s family history as she meets her half-brother Frank Jr.
The One With Two Parties (22:45) revolves around Rachel’s birthday. Monica plans a celebration and invites Rachel’s mom. Unfortunately, her father (Ron Leibman) also stops by, and since the divorcing pair hate each other, they start a second party to keep them separated. Further friction occurs when folks migrate from Monica’s dull and overplanned party to go to the looser affair at Joey and Chander’s.
As a Chandler reference notes, “Parties” sure does bear a resemblance to a typical episode of Three’s Company, but it manages to surpass those origins. The show allows Cox to shine as well, since she always excels at her anal type-A personality moments. Schwimmer also gets some great moments as he maintains most of the charade to keep Mr. and Mrs. Green from each other. Overall, the show provides a pleasing experience.
The One With the Chicken Pox (22:55) almost reunites Phoebe with her passionate occasional boyfriend Ryan (Charlie Sheen). Unfortunately, she gets chicken pox from Ben, which makes their situation difficult since Ryan never had the disease. Monica starts to reveal to Richard all of her anal eccentricities, while Chandler gets Joey a job that requires him to pretend to be a data processor. He then invents a whole alternate life to fit his workplace character “Joseph” and seriously irritates Chandler.
As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t care for most of the guest stars, and Sheen’s turn as Ryan doesn’t change my mind. The whole Phoebe/Ryan plot seems somewhat precious and cute and fails to work too well. The hilarious moments with Joey and Chandler at work help compensate, though, as they offer some great laughs.
For the final episode of Season Two, we get The One With Barry and Mindy’s Wedding (23:35). This brings back Rachel’s ex-fiancé Barry (Mitchell Winfield). After the ceremony, she discovers that Barry’s parents told everyone she had physical and mental health issues after she dumped him. Joey runs into trouble during an audition for Warren Beatty at which the director criticizes his kissing technique. Joey’s fine with woman, but he tenses upon the need to kiss a man, so he tries to convince the guys to practice with him. Monica chats with Richard about where he thinks their relationship will go, and that causes tension. In addition, Chandler meets a woman on the Internet and strikes up a cyber-relationship, but he gets upset when he finds out that she’s married.
Boy, that’s a lot of plotlines, and the show jumps between them a little messily. The Joey bits offer the most humor, even though they get a little old after a while. As one might expect of a season finale, the show offers a couple of bombshells, but these get neatly incorporated into the program and don’t overwhelm it.
Weird element part 2: back in Season One, Jennifer Grey played Mindy, whereas Jana Marie Hupp takes on the role here. This kind of change isn’t unusual, but it seems surprising here.
Season Two of Friends doesn’t stand as one of their best, and virtually none of that year’s programs seem like classics to me. However, virtually none of the episodes stink either, which marks a definite improvement over Season One. The first year included a few clunkers, but Season Two comes across as more consistent. We’ll have to wait for the show’s absolute best material, but Season Two nonetheless offers a lot of funny and entertaining programming.