posted on: Thursday September 26, 2019
by Madison Palmieri ’22 A&E Staff
On Thursday, September 22, 1994, viewers tuned in to NBC to watch the pilot episode of a new comedy. It opened on a group of attractive, fashionable twenty-somethings in a quaint coffeeshop. Within the first few minutes, the audience became acquainted with both their individual personalities and the close-knit bond the titular friends shared. From the introduction of Ross’s signature “hi” to Rachel’s entrance in her wedding dress, the show’s opening set it apart from the rest for those viewers in 1994 and continues to do so today.
A few years ago, Friends experienced an intense resurgence in popularity. Young people could not stop talking about it, debating whether they were more of a Monica or a Rachel, and if the guy they were crushing on was a Chandler, a Joey, or—God forbid—a Ross.
Maybe it was the comedy, the recurring jokes that became as familiar to the audience as they were to the friends themselves. Maybe it was the sense of family that the tight-knit group shared. Maybe it was the routine of each episode, with guaranteed warmth like comfort food on a stressful night. Maybe it was the romantic idealism of finding love within one’s immediate social circle that Ross and Rachel and, more satisfyingly, Chandler and Monica brought.
Perhaps it was the actors themselves, a group of relatively unknown people who together catapulted to superstar status. From the first episode, it was clear that the six friends shared a special bond, both onscreen and off.
Or maybe it was the show’s relatability. From Monica’s obsessive tendencies and sibling rivalry with Ross to Chandler’s self-esteem issues and complicated relationship with his dad, viewers could see themselves in the characters. They could be fashionable like Rachel, goofy like Joey, intellectual like Ross, self-assured like Monica, sarcastic like Chandler, or kooky like Phoebe.
At the same time, however, part of the show’s appeal was the escape from reality it offered. The relatable friends often found themselves in the most unrelatable of situations: adopting a chicken and a duck, accidentally saying an ex-girlfriend’s name in weddings vows, and acting as a surrogate for a family member and his home economics teacher-turned-wife. While highly unrealistic, these moments made audiences fall even more in love with the characters.
Friends endures, then, because of its humor and heart. The jokes are witty and seldom overdone; the characters are realistic enough to be emulated yet removed enough from reality to give the group a sort of sacredness about them.
The theme song repeats the line “I’ll be there for you.” This is what the show is truly about: being there for your friends, even when they sing about smelly cats or refuse to share food. This much is true even twenty-five years after Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey first became friends with each other, and with viewers around the world.