Ten years of "Friends" means 10 years of Ross and Rachel getting together, breaking up, getting together, breaking up. 10 years of Joey not getting the joke. 10 years of Monica's chronic neatness and Chandler cracking wise. 10 years of Phoebe singing! 10 years of episode titles beginning with "The One With."
A recent NBC viewer poll asked "Friends" watchers to rate their favorite episodes. "The One With the Prom Video," memorable for its flashback look at Monica and Rachel preparing for their high-school prom, was voted the all-time favorite. Number two was "The One Where Ross Finds Out"; number three was "The One Where No One's Ready."
We asked MSNBC.com staff members and freelance writers to share memories of a favorite episode.
The title of “The One With The Embryos” refers to Phoebe's implantation with the embryos of her brother Frank and his wife Alice. But the A-plot involves the other five Friends: when Chandler and Joey correctly identify Rachel’s supermarket purchases, an argument breaks out over whether the guys know the women better, or vice versa.
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Monica suggests a trivia contest: if the women win, the guys have to give up their duck and increasingly noisy chick; if not, the guys get their apartment. The scores are tied through most of the game, but the last question — “What is Chandler Bing’s job?” — is as much a mystery to the women as it was for fans of the show. Rachel desperately guesses “a transpondster!” (Monica: “THAT’S NOT EVEN A WORD!”), and they lose the apartment. A fight ensues over whether Monica and Rachel must honor the bet, defused by Phoebe’s announcement of her pregnancy.
The episode has it all: a touching Phoebe storyline that’s not too sentimental; quizmaster Ross letting his dork flag fly; Monica’s reckless competitiveness; and tons of backstory (Chandler’s father headlines a gay burlesque show! Monica’s field-hockey nickname was “Big Fat Goalie”!) revealed in a manner completely organic to the plot. Beautifully written and acted, “The One With The Embryos” encapsulates the whole series in a single episode. —Tara Ariano
I love the '80s
“The One With the Prom Video” was recently voted by “Friends” viewers as their favorite episode of all time. It’s easy to see why.
Everything in this season-two show clicks. Chandler and Joey’s odd-couple relationship is tested when Joey buys Chandler a gaudy gold bracelet. (“It’s not flashy … not for a Goodfella,” Ross tells him.) Monica struggles with job woes, including a creepy interviewer who likes his lettuce dirty. Phoebe explains to Ross that he and Rachel are each other’s lobsters, thus launching a schmoopy catchphrase onto hundreds of junior-high playgrounds.
But the highlight is, of course, Rachel and Monica’s prom video, which captures the taffeta-wrapped, feathered-hair 1980s, a pre-nose job Rachel, pre-weight loss Monica, and Afro-ed Ross (“Lookin’ good, Mister Kot-ter!”) so perfectly you’d almost think it was a real video from the actors’ pasts. In just a few minutes, the video manages to demonstrate Rachel and Monica’s friendship, Monica’s family ties, and Ross’ longtime love for the girl next door. If you can withhold an “Awww” when you see an all-dressed-up and no-place-to-go Ross watch Rachel blithely sail out the door with her date, you’re a stronger viewer than I. —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Just like starting over
Less romantic but no less entertaining is the banter between future husband and wife Chandler and Monica. Witness Chandler’s unabashed delight as he weasels out of Monica’s military-like training regimen — by unleashing a psychological assault that leaves her a crumpled heap on the couch. (“If it were me, I think I’d have difficulty just getting out of bed at all.”)
In the end, Ross shows up at Central Perk in the rain, and he and Rachel share a passionate kiss. Closure? Far from it. This is where it all begins. —Brian Bellmont
Let's go to the videotape
“The One with the Video Tape” is from the rejuvenated eighth season and lays out the tale of exactly how Ross and Rachel got themselves “in trouble.” It all starts with Joey’s patented “backpacking through Western Europe” story. Ross has been in a bit of a lovin’ slump and turns to Joey for some advice. Joey tells him that the backpacking story is a sure-fire way to get a date in the right mood. In typical Ross fashion, he manages to turn the sure thing into a must-flee and returns to Joey for more help, at which point Joey suggests that he videotape himself making his moves and play it back to see what he might be doing wrong. Just as Ross fires up the camera and begins, in walks an exasperated Rachel and as the camera rolls … well, who exactly came on to whom? Well, as Chandler so eloquently states: “Yeah, we’re gonna need to see that tape.”
And as they do, we see the friends in all their best unique, quirky light. Monica and Chandler’s neurotic need to be liked, Ross’ always simmering desire to make Rachel happy, Rachel’s shallow (in a good way) flightiness and Joey and Phoebe at their dumb-but-not-so-dumb best. —Denise Hazlick
Five steaks, a lot of love
While in their youth, the six friends were at a level playing field financially ("Your job's a joke, you're broke..."), but in "The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant," Monica's swanky new chef job makes Joey, Phoebe, and Rachel realize that they're now at an economic disadvantage. At Monica's celebratory dinner, they nibble at side dishes while the others feast. When Ross suggests splitting the check equally, tempers explode.
The tension and awkwardness feel far more real than the average sitcom dilemma; characters who love one another are forced to acknowledge for the first time that a widening gap separates them. The more successful friends try to smooth things over by providing everyone with steaks and concert tickets, only alienating the others further.
The subtle irony is that the infuriated (yet also quite funny) confrontations never would have arisen if the friends were not so protective of one another's feelings. The poorer friends clearly felt that crabbing about cost would be construed as unsupportive and they'd rather starve than give offense; meanwhile the more well-off friends can't leave the others behind without tremendous guilt. But then Monica is summarily fired, and the group immediately reunites to comfort her, their differences forgotten. Careers may be fleeting, friendships endure. —Kim Rollins
“The One With the Birth” wasn’t the first season’s finale (that came an episode later, with the “Rachel finds out” cliffhanger) but it was its emotional highpoint, giving us not only the birth of Ross’ son Ben, but hints of plot twists still years away. Chandler and Monica as a possible couple? First mentioned here. The sensitive Joey beneath the “how you doing” guy? First seen here.
The whole gang is at the hospital with Carol, forcing the nurse at one point to tell everyone “who's not an ex-husband or a lesbian life partner” to get out of the delivery room. Ross, Susan and Phoebe get locked in a broom closet, Chandler gets locked in the conversation from hell with Monica (“Dear God! This parachute is a knapsack” he says, falling backwards to escape) and in the episode’s most moving subplot, Joey befriends a single mother despite the fact she’s a Celtics fan. Fittingly for a show about how our friends can become our family, the episode ends with a babycam view of the six friends, looking on with awe at their family’s newest addition. —Lori Smith
Rest in peace, Mr. Heckles
In the early second-season show, “The One Where Heckles Dies,” the cantankerous old man below Monica and Rachel has a heart attack after one too many sessions of broom-banging his ceiling to get the women to be quiet. Surprisingly, in his will he bequeaths everything he has to them.
As the Friends go through his belongings, Chandler finds Heckles’ old yearbook and is stunned to discover that Heckles was the class clown when he was younger, just like Chandler. Chandler suddenly sees himself turning inevitably into a cantankerous hermit, dying alone and unloved. He freaks out, and calls his infamously nasal-voiced ex, Janice. This episode was a fine bit of character development for Chandler, maybe the most complicated member of the sextet and certainly my favorite of the group.
The "Heckles" episode helped raise him from being just the sarcastic one to a person with deep-seated fears that, over the rest of the series, he’d overcome. Meanwhile, Ross is aghast to discover that Phoebe doesn’t believe in evolution, and becomes desperate to convince her of his way of thinking. Though I’m a little disquieted by the way the subplot was resolved, it’s a great example of the series’ ability to get mileage out of the conflict between two Friends’ personalities — in this case, Ross’ driving need to be smarter than the others, and Phoebe’s one-two combination of superficial ditziness masking a tricky, even slightly cruel, steel-trap mind beneath. —Christopher Bahn
Everyone just act ‘normal’
Sometimes, the best episode of a sitcom isn't the one where Really Big Things happened. Because those types of episodes are concerned with advancing the action, the funny is left by the side of the plot highway. So, I have chosen “The One Without The Ski Trip” as the best episode of “Friends.” Which one? The one immediately after Ross and Rachel broke up, where the gang was trying to figure out how to stay friends with both halves of the ex-couple. They joined Rachel for a ski weekend, and Ross was left behind, but then Phoebe's taxi ran out of gas and Ross had to pick them up.
In times of stress, true colors come out: Joey acts dumb, Monica tries to manage the situation, Chandler totally loses it and starts smoking again, and Phoebe is ultimately the one who points out that Ross and Rachel need to grow up. The plot isn't terribly clever, and the whole "We were on a break!" thing would soon become incredibly tiresome, but in this episode, the writers perfectly captured the awkwardness and uncertainty that arises when two of your friends break up, and everyone else is left wondering how to go on with normal life. —Kim Reed
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