So, the final episode of Friends has come and gone. I remember back when it was in development as These Friends of Mine, the show earned scathing critical reviews before it ever aired. It was the one show singled out as a sure-fire flop. Only it didn't. There was another, similar 20-something ensemble show that debuted on FOX that year, if I recall correctly, that did bomb quickly. But Friends endured. Working at The Temple Daily Telegram some of the guys on the sports desk would get together after work--around midnight or 1 a.m. usually--and watch prime-time programming which we'd recorded earlier. We all discovered Friends about the same time. We'd argue about which of the three women was the cuter. We all realized about the second episode that Ross was played by the same actor who'd portrayed the ill-fated, Bernie Goetz-wannabe earlier that month on an episode of NYPD Blue. About the third episode we howled when Phoebe mentioned that her career-oriented twin sister was a waitress. Ursula, the worst waitress in known creation, was also played by Kudrow on Mad About You.
The brief time where "Must-See TV" consisted of Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier was perhaps the best night of prime-time comedy ever assembled. For a time, that was the highlight of the Telegram sports desk writers' otherwise pointless, bleak lives. Everyone went wild for the theme song performed by The Rembrandts. It was invariably described as "Beatles-esque." This description is blatantly wrong. The Beatles never had any songs that sounded remotely similar. The description people were grasping for, and missing, was "Monkees-esque." Listen to "I'll Be There For You" and then listen to "Pleasant Valley Sunday." You'll see.
I have to say Friends jumped the shark for me maybe five years back, when Ross married the British chick. When the Ross-Rachel mess had finally been laid to rest, the writers dredged it back up. Only problem was, the British chick was popular among fans. So in the aftermath they turned her into a bitter, hateful crone that acted utterly out of character. The core ensemble suddenly stopped acting like the everyman (and woman) young folks that I once identified with. They'd become parodies of themselves. They stopped being funny, and started being stupid--not unlike the final Seinfeld episode.
Fortunately, the final episode dispensed with the caricatures for the most part and went back to the core personalities. It didn't avoid that all-too-common final episode trap of being schmaltzy or overly dramatic, but it was somewhat funny and mostly amusing. They could've used a few references to the Ugly Naked Guy or Marcel the monkey, but they did get in a "we were on a break" comment, so that was good.
Actually, now that I think about it, this is what the final episode of Mad About You should've been--the scene going dark as Jamie and Paul Buchman leave the empty apartment, moving to a house in the suburbs to raise their daughter. The actual final Mad About You episode, with Jamie and Paul bitter and divorced in the future, with a seriously mis-cast Janeane Garofolo as the adult Mabel, was disturbing and depressing and utterly devoid of humor. Sitcoms should never lose sight of the fact that they are popular because they make people laugh. Poignancy can be achieved without melodrama, and to my utter surprise, Friends managed to pull it off.
Now Playing: Various Artists Friends Soundtrack