31 Pilot in 31 Days: Friends

When it was originally on: 1994-2004

Original network: NBC

Where you can stream it now: HBO Max

Had I seen it before: Yes! Multiple times. And while I’ve never seen all of Friends, I’ve seen a lot of it in syndication and know all the big story beats the show will hit over its 10-year run.

What IMDb says: Follows the personal and professional lives of six twenty to thirty year-old friends living in the Manhattan borough of New York City.

Why I picked it: It’s a popular enough show that it started to feel weird I hadn’t reviewed the pilot yet.

I also think that shows like Friends where you’re just watching relatively normal people lead relatively normal lives are one of the toughest challenges from a pilot-writing standpoint. They often rely quite heavily on good chemistry between actors and audiences’ prior knowledge of characters to work, and both of those only come with time.

What I liked: The ending of this is great, and ultimately conveys what the show will be about moving forward: a kooky squad of 20-somethings helping an overprivileged friend learn to make it in the real world. This is important because Rachel is a pretty big brat through most of the pilot (she needs to be for her arc to work) and by the end of the episode, the show is already reassuring us that she won’t be this person forever.

I also think for having six main characters and only 22 minutes to define them, they do a pretty good job of making each character feel different from the other five. Ross, Monica, and Rachel each have their own conflicts to deal with. Ross’s wife just left him to be with a woman; Monica has a hot date with someone from work; Rachel just left someone at the altar. Meanwhile Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe are around providing comic relief, and most of their characterization comes from their commentary on the different problems that Ross, Monica, and Rachel are facing. This could be a problem, but somehow Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler each feel like their own person, with their own unique way of making jokes out of Ross, Monica, and Rachel.

I also love that they end this with Ross just… asking Rachel out. Of course, Ross and Rachel are one of the most famous will-they-won’t-theys across all tv sitcoms, and there’s a refreshing simplicity to him asking her for a date in the first episode, and her saying yes. It gives us something to look forward to in episode two, and knowing that both of them just got out of other long-term relationships surely ups the potential for drama.

What I didn’t like: I’m still left wondering “right… but why does Monica just let Rachel move in?” We know Monica and Rachel were pretty close in high school, but were not close enough for Monica to be invited to Rachel’s wedding, and that part is even called out in the dialogue. Monica even expresses some amount of distaste when she overhears Rachel say “well I’ll just stay here with Monica!” to her father, but she never discusses this openly

While I do like them setting up the first Ross/Rachel date right away, I do wish we could’ve gotten enough Ross/Rachel interaction to make me even more excited for this date. We haven’t seen them alone together save for the scene where he asks her out, so there’s no real chemistry to see, nor are they different enough for me to see a lot of comedic possibilities either.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: I mean yes.. I know I’ve seen it.

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