The one where ‘Friends’ ended 10 years ago tonight

Senior Television Writer
05.06.14 193 Comments

Today in We Are All Getting Old And There Is Nothing We Can Do About It: 10 years ago tonight, a little show called “Friends” aired its last episode (titled, in that “Friends” style, “The Last One”). Dan and I are going to talk more about the anniversary on today's Firewall & Iceberg video show, but I wanted to bring up a few points for everybody to kick around in the meantime:

* “The Last One” marked the end of a long period of dominance for NBC, and a long and humiliating decade to come. NBC would finish the 2003-04 season as the top-rated network among adults 18-49, a crown it had held for pretty much all of the Must-See TV era highlighted by “Friends,” “ER,” “Seinfeld,” et al. Though “ER” would stick around for another five seasons, it was “Friends” that was basically keeping the network afloat, because Jeff Zucker was incapable of developing new hits to replace the aging ones, and therefore his only move was to keep paying David Schwimmer and company small fortunes to stick around as long as possible. “Friends” went away, “American Idol” pushed FOX to the top, and this season (thanks to the Olympics, Sunday football, “The Blacklist” and “The Voice”) will be the first one since then to be won by NBC. (Of course, that fallow period also made long runs possible for otherwise-cancellable shows like “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Chuck” and “Community,” so there's that.)

* Four of the six friends have headlined TV shows since then – Matthew Perry alone has done “Studio 60,” “Mr. Sunshine (Yay)” and “Go On,” plus an “Odd Couple” remake in contention for next season – and David Schwimmer finally did a pilot this year. Jennifer Aniston's still making movies and appearing on supermarket tabloid covers, but I imagine her return to sitcom-dom is coming within the next few years. Given how hard it is to star in one hit TV show, let alone multiples, it's not surprising that Courteney Cox's “Cougar Town” is the only one to have a particularly long run, but the “Friends” keep working when they want to. (Yesterday, HBO even announced plans to revive Lisa Kudrow's “The Comeback.”)

* A few weeks ago, as “HIMYM” (probably the closest thing “Friends” had to a spiritual heir) was coming to an end, a podcast listener asked if there were other shows that had uncontested best episodes the way that “HIMYM” did with “Slap Bet.” I mentioned “The One with the Embryos” – aka the one with the game show and “Miss Chanandler Bong” – as what seemed an obvious “Friends” winner, but Dan disagreed, and said he could think of at least a half dozen others he'd put on that level. So as a thought experiment, let's see what you guys say: Is “Embryos” the best episode, and if not, what is?

* Imitation is the sincerest form of television, and few shows have been imitated as often – or as badly – as “Friends.” NBC alone spent much of the mid-'90s cranking out mediocre-to-awful sitcoms about attractive young people trying to make it in the big city, not understanding the lightning in a bottle they caught with these particular six people. It used to be accepted wisdom in television that pretty people were inherently less funny than those who looked average or odd, and also that viewers wouldn't want to watch a comedy about people in their 20s. Just compare photos of the casts of, say, “Barney Miller,” or “Cheers” or even “Seinfeld” a few years earlier (and Jerry Seinfeld has accused “Friends” of ripping him off), and it's like two entirely separate gene pools. Comedy casts got much younger and more conventionally attractive as a result of the “Friends” phenomenon, but the shows (like the deservedly short-lived “Union Square”) were often horrible.

* Because it needs to be commemorated almost as much as the fake game show, I give you the “PIVOT!” scene.

* I'm wondering how people feel the show holds up now, whether you were a fan at the time or grew up after its dominance. Multi-camera comedy has fallen out of fashion with a lot of you, even though “The Big Bang Theory” is the most popular show on TV. If you stumble across a “Friends” repeat on Nick at Nite, do you get drawn in by one of Phoebe's songs, or Joey wearing all of Chandler's clothes, or Ross being certifiably insane, or does the whole thing feel like a relic of its time, best left back in the 1990s?

“Friends” memory dump, starting now! What does everybody think, remember, and/or love at this point?

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