Best of the Small Screen, Comedies No. 10


Over the next 20 weeks I'll be taking a look at some of my favorite TV series, broken down into three groups (Limited Run Series, Comedies, and Dramas). In my post on March 1 I laid out the ground rules for these categories and this exploration, the biggest of which is no series that are currently airing. To read the whole thing, check out the post "Best of the Small Screen" from March 1.

Today I start my look at comedies. This is a tougher one for me because sitcoms haven't traditionally been my favorite type of TV show and still aren't. Some of the entries on this list came easily, others I wrestled with. And also, next week, I'm taking a bit of a chance with the rules. I believe the show is done and, if it is, would make this list, so I included it.

But today, I'm starting with a classic from the "Must-See TV" era, and my wife's favorite show. In fact, the complete series of "Friends" on DVD was one of the first presents I bought my wife after we were married.

Friends (1994-2004)
Number of Seasons/Episodes: 10/236
Network: NBC
Starring: Matt LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, and Lisa Kudrow
Creators: David Crane and Marta Kauffman
Favorite Season/Episodes: Season 4; 3.02 "The One Where No One's Ready," 2.14 "The One With The Prom Video," 4.12 "The One With the Embryos"
About: When you think of iconic sitcoms from NBC's heyday, it's hard not to think of "Friends" and a couple others, one of which is later on this list. I was in eighth grade when the show debuted in the fall of 1994, slotted between "Mad About You" and "Seinfeld" on Thursday nights. Somewhere an NBC executive in 2017 is reading that sentence, looking at the current schedule, and weeping. I also remember the weird promos for the show that didn't show you the cast or clips of the series. So I wasn't sure what to expect. But it was a show that instantly established characters in a funny, moving way, and really exploded with fans. It wasn't long before "Friends" kicked off "Must-See TV." It was part of a jam-packed lineup that included "Seinfeld" and "ER," two other shows that are in the pantheon of all-time great series. Again, somewhere an NBC executive is weeping. It's also a show that's had tremendous staying power. It re-runs every night on cable, it's still a popular streaming option on Netflix and it's still a part of the cultural conversation even though it ended its run 13 years ago. It was a show that had tremendous staying power, too. It lasted 10 seasons and produced more than 230 episodes. And unlike some shows, it went out with a nearly flawless finale. That's one of the reasons that I increasingly believe it won't have a reunion, even though people continue to hold out hope and clamor for it. It's hard to narrow it down to the "best" or favorite episodes, and seasons. But I picked a few. For the complete arc, I think season four was probably peak "Friends." From beginning to end it had interesting stories and seemed to really hit that sweet spot. In fact, one of the more memorable episodes comes from that season. Episode 4.12 draws its name from Phoebe's (Kudrow) pregnancy, but will be remembered for the trivia game that cost Monica (Cox) and Rachel (Aniston) their apartment. I was always a Ross (Schwimmer)-Rachel romance fan (one of the reasons I love prime-time teen soaps), so their episodes were some of my favorites. Episode 2.14, the one with the prom videos is hilarious, unexpected and, ultimately, pretty sweet. The final episode I picked is from early in the third season where Ross is getting an award, is anxious to get on the road, and everyone else is taking their sweet time. There's a lot I love about it, but nothing moreso than the fight between Chandler (Perry) and Joey (LeBlanc) that culminates in Joey wearing all of Chandler's clothes and going commando to boot. It is a meme that I've used many a time, and always makes me chuckle. And, as I said, this is my wife's favorite show, so I've fallen asleep many nights to re-runs playing on Nick at Nite or on DVD. (Her favorite episode is 8.09, "The One With the Rumor," featuring guest star Brad Pitt.) This is an eminent re-watchable series, and one you can see a dozen or more times and still find yourself laughing. That's the mark of a well done comedy.

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