Am I the only one who fell down a rabbit hole during the Friends 20th Anniversary this week? I got totally sucked into the TBS marathon on Monday, read all the newspaper and magazine salutes, and kept checking the actors’ Twitter accounts to see if they commemorated it. (Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow did; Matthew Perry retweeted Kudrow’s message “20 years ago…”).
I have an unnatural attachment to this show for many reasons, but #1 is because Friends loved soap operas.
I mean, LOVED.
In case you’ve been in a coma for 20 years, Joey played Dr. Drake Ramoray on Days of our Lives. Joey got killed off by James E. Reilly (the late head writer who played himself, cigar and all), auditioned for Another World and All My Children, taught “soap opera acting,” and then got rehired by Days as the result of a brain transplant from a diva actress played by Susan Sarandon (who got her start on Search For Tomorrow).
No one was more excited about Joey’s job than Rachel, a passionate Days fan. This was the show’s best and longest running inside joke, because Jennifer Aniston’s father, John Aniston, has portrayed villainous Victor Kiriakis on Days since 1986. Aniston was also on the very first cover of Soap Opera Digest in 1975 when he played Eddie on Love of Life, but I digress…
In addition, Joey presented at “The Soapys” which featured Passions’s McKenzie Westmore and Days’ Alison Sweeney. Friends even showcased an entire episode where Digest interviewed him, and the friends tried to keep him from saying something stupid. (They failed, but he slept with the writer to keep the profile positive – HA!)
I often wondered about the names of the characters being so tied to All My Children so I was thrilled to run across this Friends trivia a few years ago on IMDb: “Ross was named for Ross Chandler, Joey for Joey Martin, Chandler for the Chandler family, Monica for Monique/Daisy Cortland, Rachel Green for Janet Green, and Phoebe for Phoebe Tyler Wallingford.” Throw in Monica and Chandler’s twins being named “Jack and Erica” and we have a winner.
So in honor of the 20th anniversary of the world’s greatest sitcom – and the best FRIEND soap operas have ever had – here are 10 lessons soaps could learn from Friends.
1) You don’t need a lot of sets to tell good story
The whole show happened in basically three places: Central Perk, Monica’s apartment, and Joey’s apartment. We didn’t see Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment until Ross moved into it towards the end. Yes, they went to London for Ross’s botched wedding to Emily (another AMC character: Emily Ann Sago), but it wasn’t necessary. The best scenes from that story arc happened on the LA set of Chandler’s hotel room when he slept with Monica.
2) Guest stars just gum up the works
I would argue that the episodes with Julia Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme are the worst of the series. And did anyone watch the Thanksgiving show where Brad Pitt played a formerly fat high school friend of Monica’s that hated Rachel and not see BRAD PITT?
Come to think of it, that Pitt episode has been out of rotation on TBS for a long time. I wonder if Victor Kiriakis pulled some strings?
3) Animals aren’t needed, either
Ross’s monkey. Case closed.
4) Holiday episodes are comforting
No one did Thanksgiving like Friends. The gang played football, recited what they were thankful for, picked Secret Santa, argued about meals, made cooking mistakes (Rachel’s trifle which Ross said “tastes like feet”) and ate too much, like every other family in America. (Remember Joey donning Phoebe’s maternity pants?) The Christmas episodes were equally good – my favorite was when the gang bought and decorated all the ugly trees because Phoebe was upset they were getting mulched.
Bonus points for always mentioning Hanukkah since Monica and Ross were Jewish, something soaps haven’t done since Nora lit a menorah on One Life To Live. (Go back and watch “The One With The Holiday Armadillo” about Hanukkah from season 7. You’ll send a trifle to thank me.)
5) Keep characters consistent
Monica’s need to win and her OCD about cleanliness was a hilarious constant throughout the show’s entire ten seasons. Ditto Ross’s need to be recognized for his accomplishments (“I’m a doctor!”), Rachel’s shallowness, Phoebe’s ridiculously positive personality, Chandler’s use of humor to defuse tension, and Joey’s love of sandwiches and way with women (“How YOU doin?”).
6) Drop love stories when they don’t work
Ross and Emily. Ross and his student Elizabeth. Ross and Charlie. Rachel and Josh-UA. Rachel and Tag. Rachel and Joey!
7) People don’t fall out of true love
Monica and Richard (AMC character: Richard Fields, father of Kendall) stayed connected until the end of the series. Ross and Rachel never got over each other despite numerous other love interests. And when it came down to Phoebe choosing between “science guy,” who proposed to her, and Mike (AMC character: Mike Roy), she went with Mike, despite his aversion to marriage.
8) Friendships are just as important as love interests
GH’s Alexis and Ned… DAYS’ Sami and Kate… Y&R’s Chris and Michael… B&B’s Quinn and Deacon… all just as entertaining as any romantic couple on their shows – if not more. Work it, soaps.
9) True love is real – and fated
Friends teased Monica and Chandler hooking up for five seasons before the two finally slept together. He pee’d on her at the beach to alleviate the pain when she was bitten by a jelly fish (“You don’t know! You weren’t there!”), let her use him as a bogus restaurant reference, and asked whether she’d sleep with him if he were “the last man on earth.” Luckily, it didn’t come to that.
In “The One With The Prom Video,” Rachel saw Ross secretly don a tux to take her to her high school prom when she thought she’d been stood up. When the video was over, Rachel kissed Ross passionately as Phoebe proclaimed, “She’s your lobster!”
10) Support your shows
NBC plopped Friends onto Thursday night between Mad About You and megahit Seinfeld and never looked back. They let the show find its feet, make mistakes (again, the monkey), and grow. They ran tons of promos, focused on their “lobster” couples, and didn’t mess with the time slot. How many soaps would “still be there for us” if ABC, CBS and NBC networks had done the same?!