Essay: TV Series Friends

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Friends first aired on September 22, 1994, on NBC in a time of renewal in America and New York City. ("Friends," 2009) the cold war had just ended, the economy was in an upheaval, globalization became the new buzzword, and the stories of six young professionals living in a loft seemed to be the funniest new sensation on television. While the series touched on many aspects of life for young people in the Big Apple, it rarely focused on the economic realities of the proposed situation. The culture of friends is one of friendliness and acceptance, but does not include minorities, the less educated, nor the out-of-towner to enter into the discussion of what an ideal lifestyle is for a young 20-something professional in America. Friends offered quality television for ten years, and greatly changed America's perception of its largest city, New York, all while showing the seemingly average lives of six ordinary New Yorkers.

Joey, a character who is a budding actor, spends several seasons living a New York City lifestyle with little to no work, and then miraculously lands leading roles in Soap Operas that are not even filmed within the city. (Avria, 07/2) Across the hall are Monica and Rachel, the former a waitress in a diner, and the latter a waitress in a coffee shop. Yet somehow these two girls live in an expansive two-bedroom loft in Greenwich Village, one of the most expensive areas of the city. To explain this obviously unrealistic scenario, it is mentioned that Monica inherited the apartment from her aunt, a lucky break that contributes to the inaccessible lifestyle of the people portrayed on the show. Phoebe is shown to have her own Manhattan apartment, despite being a street musician. Chandler lives with Joey and is a businessman, but often finds himself in trouble in the office, or having to help Joey pay his rent due to the troubles he has with finding acting jobs. Ross, who is the brother of Monica, is a scientist and an educator, who both teaches Paleontology at NYU, and maintains science galleries at the American Museum of Natural History. Friends purposefully endow its stars the good fortunes of the world, with continued promotions and moneymaking ventures throughout the series, with little work ever actually being portrayed.

The show does not translate well into Middle American lifestyles, but does offer a glimpse into what it means to life in an urban environment like New York City to all Americans no matter how rural. The problems of unmarried youth are universal, but are always easily resolved as portrayed in Friends. In reality, difficult financial decisions are always plaguing Americans, as even making ends meet is a challenge for many millions of families across the country. Different sets around New York make the story more interesting, as the aspects of the city, such as Fashion for Rachel, Food for Monica, Acting for Joey, Business for Chandler, Music for Phoebe, and Science & Education for Ross, are each explored in detail. (Nettles, 2010) These set pieces further perpetuate the elitism and cultural understanding of the urban professional. The vast majority of America does not have access to these resources in their daily lives, and therefore Friends fails to reach the blue collar or the minority demographic.

The Friends actors are always cordial, but are sometimes overly confident or shy, and often utilize sarcasm or an exposition of the foolish as a form of humor. Joey is picked on for his small brain, but is given the endowment of being well liked among women, the complete opposite of Ross, who is a scientist but poor with women. This situation is also seen in the messiness and uncoordinated lifestyle of Phoebe, and the extremely organized and in control Monica. Like any sitcom the characters know their roles and fulfill them completely. The many girlfriends and boyfriends who enter the circle eventually are excluded from it, and usually only enter an episode through an interaction that is shown in that very same episode, creating a beginning and an ending story arc in order to fill part of a season with a short-term but multi-episode romance.

Despite being one of the most diverse cities on Earth, each of the stars on the show are white, upper-middle class and well educated. This conundrum means that not only is the show unrealistically showing only one side of city life, it also does not approach many of the expectations of the broader United States. The ideal Manhattan lifestyle can only apple to the few million who can call the island home, but the ideals of self-reliance, the troubles of finding a job or finding a relationship, and the companionship of friends are all ideas that are shared between all Americans who tuned in to watch Friends. Blue-collar television shows often use moral reasoning, religious thinking, or pure benevolence in order to tone down the brashness of their leading actors. Friends ignores this sort of moral story altogether, taking the assumption that any of its actors are going to be on the proper side of moral reasoning to begin with. There is no need to touch on religion or racism or other social ills in the show, because the characters never run into situations such as these during the ten seasons the show aired.

Friends employed a camera style that was conducive to movement, physical comedy, and emotional reaction. Each scene tended to last two to three minutes, with laugh cues to provide comic relief and a musical interlude between scene shifts. The show was shot in Burbank, California, and thus never actually used the city as its backdrop, always filming from a set in front of a studio audience. It was such a popular show that it had an exceptionally long run, with a grand total of 236 episodes, fleshing out the entire lives of the characters on the show. Children are sometimes used, such as Ross's son Ben, but due to the difficulty of working with children, they are often left out of the plots, such as when Phoebe became pregnant and had triplets, but then gave the children over to her brother in order to continue the show without the distraction of having to raise them.

The music of the show is extremely evocative of the 1990s, with an uplifting and non-confrontational anthem meant to show the enthusiasm of the period. "I'll Be There for You" by the Rembrandts became a megahit in 1994 right alongside the first season of Friends, which opened to great success, and made the song number one for a few weeks that year. ("Laura," 2011) the chemistry between the characters created many interesting situations, and allowed for long-term changes in relationships to unfold. Throughout, there were several weddings, births, and even deaths to look forward to. The series never utilized the technique of the fourth wall, and never directly engaged the audience with the actors. The show always never strayed from its tried and true multi-camera format that it began with, keeping the sitcom mainstay of multiple cameras through to the beginning of the 21st century.

As the series continued, the lives of the individual actors became more intertwined, with Ross and Rachel ending up together, Chandler and Monica being married and having children, Phoebe getting married and living a wedded life, and Joey continuing on his journey into a spinoff, aptly entitled Joey. The series ended just as purposefully as it began, and left the audience feeling good about the conclusion that they had asked for. Friends focused entirely on the lives of the six individuals highlighted, and despite often having guest actors, never truly changed its cast format through all ten seasons. The show ended on May 6, 2004 to a huge turnout of 5.1 million viewers,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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TV Series Friends.  (2012, March 20).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/tv-series-friends/14494

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