Friends is as much a primer on what not to do as it is what you should do. It was ridiculously successful during its run, taking risks – like having Monica sleep with Paul the Wine Guy on their first date in “The Pilot” – and capitalizing on its popularity with that oh-so coveted age demographic (18 – 34), but it went on for too long, either because the writers/producers loved the characters/world they created or they simply viewed it as a can’t-lose cash cow that would be must-see-TV, even if it was shitty. Many later TV shows – “The Good Place” and “Parks and Recreation,” for example – may have looked at what happened with Friends when they decided to end on a high note instead of dragging things on for season after season, and I’m thankful for that. There’s an artistic integrity present in that choice.
And that’s really how this series inspires me. It’s not that there isn’t anything to garner from the later episodes; there were some excellent parts, like when Phoebe’s birthday dinner is ruined and she yells at Judy Geller from across the restaurant to pick up Emma’s sock, or the character arc for Rachel Green throughout the different seasons. But there is a lot to be said about brevity and knowing the story you are wanting to tell. Once it’s been told, you shouldn’t milk your creation until it’s bone dry. I get that sitcoms are a bit different, at least in the way they have been formatted up until recently. The characters are supposed to be static. That’s fine, up to a certain point, but it’s why I could never get into shows like Everybody Loves Raymond. It’s the same story, and while the actors may age, the characters they play don’t learn, grow, improve, deteriorate, etc. … they don’t change. Which is what I think Friends biggest obstacle was. The writers wanted to watch a bunch of people grow up but didn’t know how to handle that once it actually started to happen; instead, we see people just … stuck – Rachel and Ross can’t just move on and be happy apart, Monica is obsessive and controlling; Chandler is homophobic and never really fulfilled; Joey is a complete numbskull* with occasional moments of selflessness; and Phoebe just stays weird. It’s disappointing.
I know that what I create is not going to be perfect, and I’m not nearly arrogant enough to believe that everyone will love what I put out there. But I’m going to strive to maintain that type of dynamic momentum I see in the early episodes of Friends and throughout shows like the ones I mentioned above. I’m actually working on a TV show pilot script at the moment, which is partially why I went with Friends for my challenge (I’m writing the novel version for Camp NaNoWriMo) – I need to look at the best examples, both positive and negative, and Friends really is both.
And I’m done! I was actually unsure if that was actually gonna happen, considering the past week and a half, but phew! I’m actually a little proud of myself.
Art Credit: ThingLink
* I will admit that he does improve during the series, but the last two seasons completely deconstructed that growth.