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December 29, 2005

Easy Cowboy

What's with the intensity of the Friends bashing? Chris Bertram writes:

My own personal nomination for the worst American of all time would be the person most responsible for the TV series Friends. There should be a special place in hell reserved for that individual.

You may or may not have liked the show, but at best it was bland and enjoyable, and at worst bland and dull. BUt it wasn't particularly offensive, regressive, or pernicious. Banishing the guy who brought us Ross and Rachel strikes me as much lower priority than condemning Bill O'Reilly or the monstrous minds behind Laguna Beach.

Keep it in perspective.

December 29, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

I don't think Friends is the worst sitcom ever, but I do find its blandness offensive. (There are worse offenders, sitcoms that were apparently created by a committee of demographers and market research types; think Everybody Loves Raymond, for example.) I can respect a series that is wildly, uniquely bad more than I can respect a series that's just meh.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Dec 29, 2005 11:54:32 AM

I only watched Friends often enough to agree about its blandness (which is pretty darn infrequently), and consequently can't really opine about its status as worst ever. I do recall wishing that during the final year of Friends, the producers would pick up on some then developing TV trends and finish out the run with a sequence of "Friends Survivor" shows, in which the cast members could have been successively voted off the show by the audience. The final episode could have involved NO cast members at all, just to see if anyone would have noticed.

Posted by: David | Dec 29, 2005 12:14:05 PM

Guys don't like the show, because there was never one single male character during the entire run of the show that a guy could see as very similiar to himself, or as what I might describe as an aspirational conception of himself. Guys feel entitled to such things, and when they don't get it, they don't watch. And when such a thing they don't watch becomes popular, they get angry.

On the other hand, I think your sort of mainstreamish woman, found Rachel highly relatable. The funkier type of woman, on the other hand, despises Friends like the guys do, but for reasons I haven't thought enough about to posit.

Posted by: Jedmunds | Dec 29, 2005 12:37:40 PM

First few seasons of Friends: cute, but moderately dull
Remaining seasons of Friends: painfully mind-numbing, and obviously written by committee

First few seasons of Friends: moderately good ratings, not a huge phenomenon
Remaining seasons of Friends: amazing ratings, one of the most watched sitcoms of its time

Moral of the story: American TV watchers like painfully mind-numbing, obviously written by committee, dull sitcoms

see also: Everyone Loves Raymond, last few seasons of Cheers

Posted by: NonyNony | Dec 29, 2005 12:42:37 PM

Hey, shoot me, but I love friends. Is it the best show ever? Hell no, West Wing takes the cake -- no competition. But I think it's hilarious. Is it smart? No. But it's entertaining -- I definitely wouldn't call it bland, with exception of the last season.

Posted by: Kate | Dec 29, 2005 1:10:25 PM

Friends wasn't the most boring and talentless show I ever tried to watch. Hundreds of others have been equally boring. But complaining about hyperbole that's obviously meant to be recognized as hyperbole? Whatever, here I am answering... :D

Posted by: Gary Sugar | Dec 29, 2005 1:36:40 PM

Here's why I hate Friends with a greater passion than sitcoms that may well be worse by some objective standard (and I should say I've only ever managed to watch about 10 episodes start to finish, and I have no idea what season they came from): it was the first of many (I include Sex in the City here as well) sitcoms that tried to reproduce certain aspects of Seinfeld (single people of both genders shallowly obsessed with sex) and tried to meet the Seinfeld formula halfway by included growth, hugs, real feelings and Very Special episodes and moments. They couldn't have missed the point of the show they were plagiarizing more. It's like Linda Ronstadt's cover of Randy Newman's Sail Away.

Posted by: djw | Dec 29, 2005 1:51:22 PM

While I despise Friends as well, and agree that its main problem was Seinfelditis (that, and I wanted to slap all the main characters repeatedly every time I saw an episode), I must dispute that Seinfeld had a point in the first place.

Exactly like Friends, Seinfeld was the rapacious exploitation by talented writers of the ineffable genius of urban life and the characters in it. Seinfeld's canonical moment was the Soup Nazi episode, inspired, of course, by a minor Manhattan character of a little repute. The musical analogy is not to one bland artist covering another's less-bland and better-written song, it is Pat Boone.

Like Pat Boone, Seinfeld took a living, breathing reality and rendered it for the single-family-detached masses.

That's "to render" the way a glue factory renders a horse.

Seinfeld, Friends, Sex In The City -- all walking, talking offenses against life and art. To enjoy them is to despise life itself.

But they made a lot of money for someone.

Ugh. Choose life.

Posted by: wcw | Dec 29, 2005 2:14:22 PM

I dunno. I liked it for the most part. I agree that the first seasons were the best. I did in fact stop watching when all the wedding fiasco stuff started happening. But there were/are far worse on TV. There will never be another Seinfeld...writers these days just aren't creative enough. (I really think our generation is breeding untalented artists in general.) So I think we just have to accept this and stop accepting much our of sitcoms.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 29, 2005 2:14:43 PM

my problems with Friends stem from the fact that it became, at root, a soap opera (with jokes)

Posted by: Goldberg | Dec 29, 2005 2:34:02 PM

Jedmunds, you are so Chandler -- I can't even stand it. At least that's what this mainstreamish, obviously not-very-funky woman thinks.

And..."Seinfeld, Friends, Sex In The City -- all walking, talking offenses against life and art. To enjoy them is to despise life itself."

My goodness gracious -- I'm not sure it's that serious. Let dumb things make you smile once in awhile. It won't kill ya.

Posted by: blue girl | Dec 29, 2005 2:41:21 PM

Why do I hate Friends? Let me count the ways:

- As the person above notes, it wasn't a sitcom, it was a soap opera with jokes. And not an especially dramatic soap, either.

- If you lived in New York during the Friends era, you know that it showed the most LA version of NYC imaginable, from opening credits (a fountain? In front of your apartment building? in a manicured park? Please.) to every false moment and unrealistic set and...

- a New York without black people???!!!???

- and, on top of all of that, to have it capture the national zeitgeist, particularly after 9/11, was just galling.

So yes, hate. And I'm so glad that their careers appear to be in tatters.

Posted by: weboy | Dec 29, 2005 2:51:11 PM

In my own personal ranking, Seinfeld was worse than Friends. I couldn't sit through an episode of either, but Seinfeld was annoying. Friends was just dull.

Posted by: fiat lux | Dec 29, 2005 2:55:14 PM

This is ridiculous. Seinfeld is an utterly essential and canonical moment in television and humor. Friends is inept, pandering plagiarism.

Posted by: djw | Dec 29, 2005 3:08:54 PM

First few seasons of Friends: moderately good ratings, not a huge phenomenon
Remaining seasons of Friends: amazing ratings, one of the most watched sitcoms of its time

This isn't the case. Friends was a huge phenomenon and consistantly rated in the top 5 of all shows by spring of its first season.

Posted by: Royko | Dec 29, 2005 3:21:59 PM

I don't get the Friends-hate either. Once you moved past your annoyance at the underemployed characters living in apartments way to large for their incomes, it was a pretty funny show. It declined in the later seasons, to the point where I just didn't watch anymore, but it was just fine as a Thursday night ritual show before Seinfeld came on. That and I enjoyed watching Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox. I mean, wasn't that the entire point?

Of course, I may differ from the Crooked Timber crowd in that I have enough depth to accept that I have a shallow side and that it's ok to wallow in it, at times.

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 29, 2005 3:36:06 PM

Friends and Seinfeld both were on an amazingly popular during my immediate post-college party-girl years. It was quite useful to have Friends on while getting our pre-club drinking done (the better to keep the bar tab down). It's amazing how funny it was with a buzz on.

Seinfeld, on the other hand, never really appealed to me -- maybe I was too young, too recently self-transplanted away from NYC, or just too annoyed by its self-conscious "show-about-nothing"-ness.

But hey, don't listen to me. I've been watching As The World Turns for twenty years.

Posted by: ajw93 | Dec 29, 2005 3:43:32 PM

Friends and Seinfeld both were on an amazingly popular during my immediate post-college party-girl years. It was quite useful to have Friends on while getting our pre-club drinking done (the better to keep the bar tab down). It's amazing how funny it was with a buzz on.

Seinfeld, on the other hand, never really appealed to me -- maybe I was too young, too recently self-transplanted away from NYC, or just too annoyed by its self-conscious "show-about-nothing"-ness.

But hey, don't listen to me. I've been watching As The World Turns for twenty years.

Posted by: ajw93 | Dec 29, 2005 3:43:49 PM

For those that don't find Seinfeld funny, I am dying to know what you do find funny.

Posted by: Adrock | Dec 29, 2005 5:05:13 PM

"For those that don't find Seinfeld funny, I am dying to know what you do find funny."

"Kingpin"
"Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death"
"Return of the Killer Tomatoes"
"Meet the Parents"
"Entourage"


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 29, 2005 5:26:39 PM

Friends is hated because some of us, myself included, hate mediocrity more than badness.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Dec 29, 2005 5:47:38 PM

I like dumb, funny things. Seinfeld is not dumb, but deeply and maliciously dishonest. Slather the show with all the unguent praise you like, but assertion is not argument. I've told you why it was Pat Boone for the television generation. If you'd like to make a point, by all means, do.

It's not that Friends and Seinfeld were shallow, though they were. Wallowing can indeed be fun sometimes. And sure, sometimes even they were funny. Talented writers can make laughs from anything. Though not all that funny, except as clever writing.

No, the problem is that they were evil. With fangs.

Without having to be evil, Arrested Development is funny, excepting the terrible Charlize Theron subplot. Meet The Feebles was funny. The Springtime-For premiere scene from the original Producers film was funny. The Simpsons for almost a decade straight were funny. And the rubber-spider scene in Nude For Satan was really funny.

Posted by: wcw | Dec 29, 2005 8:23:02 PM

"Is it the best show ever? Hell no, West Wing takes the cake -- no competition."

West Wing? No competition? Jesus Christ. I'm sensing a household without HBO.

Posted by: gswift | Dec 29, 2005 9:24:34 PM

No, the problem is that they were evil. With fangs.

I'm not sure I'd agree with you about Friends, but I can certain certainly understand how you'd say this about Seinfeld. We, the viewers, laughed while extremely amoral people treated the "bit players" like crap. The brilliance of the last episode (despite -- or because of -- it being totally unenjoyable to watch) was that the show reminded the viewers of the joy they took in the suffering of others. In that sense, yes, it was "evil," and to enjoy Seinfeld is to admit that you have a dark side.

But Friends? I can't even "see it from your side" on that. Shallow? Full of story weaknesses? Sure. "Evil"? No. Unlike Sex and the City, I never felt that Friends was "selling" a false lifestyle, outside of the oversized apartments, which I can't even get worked up about because Friends wasn't even "about" New York in the same way that Seinfeld and Sex and the City were.

Also, I'm not offended by mediocrity that was never intended to be anything else. Grand epic films that turn out to be mediocre (I'm looking at you, Troy) are deeply offensive. But run-of-the-mill mediocrity? More worth my apathy than antipathy.

Posted by: Constantine | Dec 29, 2005 10:34:23 PM

Why is "a soap opera with jokes" a terrible thing? Isn't the alternative, in sitcoms, "a series of half-hour plays about nonsensical problems"? Is it just that a "soap opera" is too girly-sounding?

Posted by: DonBoy | Dec 29, 2005 10:34:28 PM

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