I wrote this for a site, but they never ran it, so here you go!
I hated the show Friends. I was a freshman in high school when it premiered, and it filled me with the twin emotions of disdain for something trying so hard to be cool, and jealousy for how lackadaisical it made adulthood look. Was that how it would be? Would I be able to spend all my time in coffee shops with my friends, making witty comments that no one laughs at? (Seriously, why didn’t anyone on that show laugh when someone said something funny?) Would I have a lofty, easily pictureable job like “archaeologist” or “chef”? It just seemed to be so calculated and so… spoonfed to middle class America that I bashed it whenever possible.
When classmates mentioned it I would scoff, when friends brought up storylines I would roll my eyes, and once at a work party, when someone pulled out the Friends Trivia Game, I feigned tiredness and left, amazed that I’d associated with such people without knowing of their horrible taste. I did this for the whole ten years the show was on the air, beginning my freshman year of high school and ending the year after I finished grad school. Anyone who watched the show, to me, was a simpleton, someone who didn’t realize that Mr. Show and Freaks and Geeks and Spaced were the most genius things on the planet. Yes, I was a lame TV snob. But I didn’t care what was going on with Ross and Rachel. I didn’t care about Monica and Chandler falling in love. My disgust was eternal… or so I thought.
Friends has been off the air for seven years now, and since then, it’s been put into heavy syndication rotation on a number of channels. In those years I grew up, became secure enough in my coolness to not give a shit about what’s popular on TV, and learned the hard way that you cannot get a big apartment in NYC, no matter how easily describable your job is.
And I started to watch Friends.
I would sometimes put it on while I was making dinner, and I was shocked to see how many episodes I knew. “We were on a break!” Smelly cat! How had I absorbed knowledge of a show I shunned? Why was I enjoying it now?
I’ll admit I enjoy Friends mostly for meta reasons, like giggling at what TV networks considered to be the fashionable “grunge look” (plaid and overalls on Monica, really?), watching Matthew Perry’s drug addictions come and go with his bodyweight, and wallowing in the uber-90s hair (Caesar cuts and “The Rachel”!), but there’s more. Watching a show that so blatantly defined the 90s now is an exquisitely painful reminder of how things used to be, akin to what it must be like for my parents to watch Leave it to Beaver. Let me remind you, this show blossomed with the Internet. IPhones and Twitter did not exist in the world of Friends. Those characters had to process 9/11 just like the actors did, just like we all did. Friends is a time capsule, but on top of its freeze framed properties, I can now appreciate how well constructed the show was. The love triangles they set up are perfectly strung along for years, every character feels like someone you might know, and they managed to keep the show firmly about them for ten years without people getting bored.
Perhaps it’s still not up my alley, comedy-wise, but I get it now. I watch it when I’m working out and I giggle at how silly Phoebe is being, at how silly these characters would feel once the Internet came along to gobble them up, and how silly I was for shunning something just because it was popular.
It still bugs me that no one laughs at each other though. Some of those Chandler quips were pretty funny.