The final episode of NBC’s hugely popular sitcom Friends aired 16 years ago, but its popularity hasn’t waned one bit. Fans used to devour all 236 episodes on Netflix; right now they have to wait until May, when the entire run will drop on HBO Max. (And then there’s that reunion special.) Content wars notwithstanding, all of this is to say one thing: Friends is still good.
It’s so good, in fact, that despite the fact that plenty of admirable copycats — from How I Met Your Mother to New Girl — have come along, there’s just no replacing a good Friends rewatch. Between Ross and Rachel’s seasons-long will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic and Monica and Chandler’s surprisingly sweet coupling, to Joey and Chandler’s hilarious misadventures as roommates and Phoebe’s explorations of New York eclecticism, Friends had (and still has) plenty to offer. Too much, in fact, which is why we’re trying to whittle it down to the 10 best episodes to watch again. Or, for the uninitiated, the first time.
12. The One With The Stoned Guy (Season 1, Episode 15)
The Story: Rachel and Phoebe try to help as Monica tries to impress a prospective new boss while Ross struggles with a romantic request and with asking Joey for advice.
Why It’s On The List: Jon Lovitz is hilarious as Steve, a restaurant owner who drops by the apartment to get a cooking demonstration from Monica. Unfortunately, Steve goes from Lovitz’s prickly brand to stoned out of his mind, foraging for snacks in the kitchen after a brief fascination with the word “tartlet.”
Despite Lovitz’s top shelf cameo, however, the episode’s best moment may be Chandler walking in on Joey somewhat forcefully teaching Ross the art of dirty talk after an embarrassing whiff he had on a date. It’s not how Chandler comes out of his room after Joey demands Ross tell him he wants to caress his but; it’s seeing Chandler’s joy over this sudden walk-in as Ross and Joey realize that they are not alone. The laugh was there in the set-up but the patience to let it develop and have Chandler bask in the awkwardness elevates the moment.
11. The One With Chandler In A Box (Season 4, Episode 8)
The Story: Monica gets a reminder about a past relationship and Chandler goes to extremes to repair his friendship with Joey.
Why It’s On The List: Thanksgiving gets awkwardness as the gang judges Monica for her romantic interest in her (much older) ex-boyfriend’s son (which prompts a fantastic takedown of everyone else’s romantic and life missteps by Monica). Meanwhile, Chandler puts himself in a box to try and atone for kissing Joey’s then-girlfriend, Kathy.
The long play with Chandler in the box yields a lot of laughs, but the emotional cusp of the whole episode finds Kathy (Paget Brewster) deciding she can’t break up Joey and Chandler’s friendship, forcing Joey to move past his anger and free Chandler from the box so he can go after the girl he loves. It’s a nice reminder of the deep affection these characters have for each other and the dimension it adds to the show.
10. The One With Ross’ Wedding (Season 4, Episodes 23 & 24)
The Story: The final two episodes of the fourth season find Ross and Emily nervously preparing to get married in London. It’s a wreck of a story that comes to define the show’s story for many seasons after.
Why It’s On The List: Technically, this is a cheat, as “The One With Ross’ Wedding” is actually a two-parter. (Spoilers: so is the next entry.) But that’s okay because to truly appreciate the scope of the story’s brilliance, you have to watch both episodes. Even if you don’t really know the Rachel/Ross backstory, there is plenty here to understand how sad and moving their complex pairing is in these episodes. Phoebe and Joey get plenty of laughs on the sidelines, but the other gem is Monica and Chandler’s fling — which will blossom into something more in later seasons.
9. The One With Monica And Chandler’s Wedding (Season 7, Episodes 23 & 24)
The Story: Speaking of nervous weddings and the flings that precede them, three seasons later, the two-part finale finds Monica and Chandler tying the knot with Joey serving as minister and Rachel, Phoebe and Ross looking on.
Why It’s On The List: While the previous entry’s one caveat would be that what makes it great comes at Emily’s expense, these two episodes manage to pull just as many successful comedic punches without any unnecessary bruising. From Ross’ attempts to seem like a physically domineering older brother to a touching moment with Chandler staring at a baby onesie in a gift shop, these episodes have got it all. They’re especially a good representation of a “faking” plot, in which some of the characters must distract one or two others from some possibly damning bit of information. In this case, it’s the fact that Chandler has suddenly gotten cold feet about marrying Monica.
8. The One With The Football (Season 3, Episode 9)
The Story: While watching a Thanksgiving Day football game together, everyone decides to play a game of their own — despite Monica and Ross’ reluctance due to a mishap at the sixth annual Geller Cup.
Why It’s On The List: More than anything, this episode is a perfect example of something that Friends (and many other pre-bingable shows) is well known for: “bottle” episodes. That is to say, it’s a self-contained story that, while it does make occasional references to larger themes and arcs running through the series, stands perfectly on its own two feet. Or, at least it does while it’s not getting tackled. There are plenty of fun throwaway gags to go around (like Chandler and Joey’s mutually failed attempts to woo a random passerby), but Monica and Ross’ intense competitiveness takes the title.
7. The One With All The Resolutions (Season 5, Episode 11)
The Story: For New Year’s Eve 1999, the gang shares their resolutions with each other and decides to support them as best as they can.
Why It’s On The List: Of course, most of these resolutions are only as good as the support that’s been promised. Case in point: Ross’ ridiculous leather pants. Since he wants to try something new every day, he decides to try wearing said pants, and since Chandler has given up making fun of everyone for a week, he can’t say the obvious. So Ross learns the hard way on a date, during which he calls Joey for (some terribly bad) advice about how to de-shrink his sweat-soaked pants. This saga isn’t the entire the episode, but it remains one of its hallmarks and one of the series’ best Ross gags.
6. The One With The Cop (Season 5, Episode 16)
The Story: Phoebe discovers a forgotten wallet with a police badge at Central Perk and uses it to scare people into behaving themselves in public, including the cop who lost it in the first place.
Why It’s On The List: Phoebe’s run-in with the cop whose badge she’s been brandishing results not in her arrest, but in a first date. The sweetness of this, and Rachel’s attempts to help Joey make more female friends, notwithstanding, the real meat of this episode is Ross’ new couch. He decides to deliver it himself to save money and tries to enlist his friends’ help, resulting in the iconic “pivot” scene and its subsequent meme. On the one hand, it’s yet another example of how mind-numbingly frustrating Ross can be. On the other hand, the schadenfreude that comes from watching his couch crumble is pure bliss.
5. The One With The Blackout (Season 1, Episode 7)
The Story: A city-wide blackout strands most of the group in Monica’s apartment, while Chandler finds himself trapped in an ATM with Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre.
Why It’s On The List: Most of the first season sees Ross realizing that he never got over Rachel from their high school days, and this almost comes to a head in this episode. As his bad luck would have it, of course, a series of unfortunate events plague his plans to confess his feelings to her. These include a neighbor’s lost cat, which latches onto Ross, and the cat’s owner Paolo, a muscular Italian man who subsequently woos Rachel. As for Chandler’s time with Jill, what starts as a serendipitous meeting turns into a sweet conversation and a kiss. That, and a joke about bank security cameras.
4. The One Where No One’s Ready (Season 3, Episode 2)
The Story: No one is ready to attend a function on time.
Why It’s On The List: Another one of Friends‘ fantastic “bottle” episodes, this one is rife with plenty of the show’s trademark silliness. From Chandler and Joey’s escalating prank war that results in Joey wearing all of Chandler’s clothes at the same time, to Monica’s repeated attempts to answer, erase and revise what she believes to be an ex-boyfriend’s old message, it’s a goofball of a half-hour sitcom entry. The more Monica tries to fix (or forget) things with Richard, the worse it gets for her — and the funnier it gets for everyone around her.
3. The One With The Prom Video (Season 2, Episode 14)
The Story: When Ross and Monica’s parents drop off some of the latter’s things, she finds an old videotape of her and Rachel getting ready for their senior prom.
Why It’s On The List: Anytime a television comedy has an excuse to go retro and reveal what its characters looked like in a previous decade, it should do it. So cue the perms and bad mustaches, because this one’s got it all. Or, rather, a younger, lovelorn Ross has got it all. Despite the fact that Ross and Rachel are fighting throughout much of this episode, the initially embarrassing tape reveals just how much in love he is, and has always been, with her. Also, it ends with Monica discovering what amounts to a sex tape her parents recorded, so that’s hilarious.
2. The One With The Embryos (Season 4, Episode 12)
The Story: Phoebe agrees to be a surrogate mother while everyone else gets into a highly competitive game of friendly trivia.
Why It’s On The List: Never underestimate the competitiveness of Monica Geller. She refused to let go of the football from her brother Ross in the above Thanksgiving episode, and she’s not going to back down from some fun wagers with the boys — despite Rachel’s timidity about it all. Then again, between their pet duck and their chick-turned-rooster, Chandler and Joey have a lot to lose on this one. They also have a lot to gain, as Monica happily agrees that, should they win, they’ll get to take the girls’ apartment. None of this is meant to undermine the far more serious nature of Phoebe’s story, which has plenty of its own silly elements, but it’s all quite memorable nonetheless.
1. The One Where Everybody Finds Out (Season 5, Episode 14)
The Story: Everyone ultimately learns that Monica and Chandler are secretly in a relationship.
Why It’s On The List: There are many Friends episodes, including the ones listed above, that hardcore fans of the show will point to and go, “That one!” As in, “Start with that one. It best represents it.” But more often than not, they will namedrop this fifth season gem in which everyone (even Ross) finally finds out that Monica and Chandler are an item. The pair have been keeping it secret ever since Ross’ disastrous London wedding at the end of season four, but we all know the secrecy would last. First Joey found out, then Rachel, and now Phoebe knows. Ross ultimately discovers it by the episode’s end when he’s trying to get to the Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment amidst a bout of crippling anger issues.
Updated 2/22/20 – Jason Tabrys also contributed to this article