Every Episode Of ‘Friends’ That’s Both Hilarious And Unproblematic
The show has a LOT of yikes moments in 2019.
Friends! Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that it’s a massive juggernaut of pop-culture power, that continues to roll over the world like a tide-wave of gentle sitcom laughs.
It’s the 25th anniversary of Friends, and while it may seem insane that we’re STILL talking about the show, it’s still massively relevant — and not just because it’s helped shape TV comedy and pop-culture as we know it.
Nope, with streaming services, Friends has remained one of the most lucrative franchises in the known universe, with ridiculously expensive bidding wars being waged for the honour of having it on your platform. Meanwhile, because its so accessible, teens who LITERALLY weren’t alive while it was on the air are rediscovering it in massive numbers (and are in fact watching old shows like Friends more than all the new stuff).
But here’s the thing — Friends does not hold up well in 2019. It’s something that people have talked about for a while, but was recently reiterated in this viral BuzzFeed piece.
“But loving Friends in 2019 requires a level of mental gymnastics that should force the show to remain a forgotten blip in the past,” proposes journalist Scaachi Koul.
And they’re right: the show is riddled with casual examples of homophobia, a bunch of transphobia, just an absolute mass of body and fat shaming, and normalising all sorts of sexual harassment and misogynistic language. And that’s just the actual stuff in the show — in terms of representation, you can count the number of black actors throughout the show’s run on one hand.
Storylines like Chandler’s drag-queen dad are set up as crude, vaguely confused, transphobic punchlines. Flashbacks to young Monica — Courtney Cox in a fat-suit– are used as entire humour arcs. Every interaction between the male characters could be easily summarised to just “no homo”.
So — it does make it hard to enjoy the show now, in the year of our woke lord 2019.
But… but — sometimes it is still really funny.
There are moments from this show that have, and continue, to make me cry laugh. The classic “pivot” scene, where they try to get the couch up the stairs? Hilarious. Shame that Chandler drops in a real casual homophobic comment later in the ep.
Which is why I’ve done the mammoth, and somewhat stupid task of putting together a longlist of all the funniest episodes of Friends, with the intention of going through them and seeing if I could find any episodes which were both HILARIOUS, but also NOT PROBLEMATIC.
ok we all know Friends is trash, but what's the ONE episode you'll go to bat for?
Mine's 'The One With The Cop', which has the couch pivot scene, which makes me CRY
— 💐🌸🐕Patrick Lenton🌚🌸🌿 (@PatrickLenton) September 4, 2019
I started with a longlist of forty-three standout episodes.
I ended up with eight.
And also, I have to point out, I am not the arbiter of wokeness — I only tried to filter out the obvious ones I could see. I could have missed something, and if so, I apologise. I tried my best.
So, without further fuckaround, here’s eight episodes of Friends you can safely watch. If you look at this list and thing “where’s *insert funny episode*” you just have to assume they fucked it up later somehow. Honestly, shoot me.
1. ‘The One With the Jellyfish’ (Season 4, Episode 1)
One of the worst storylines, that truly encapsulates the utter BULLSHIT of Ross and Rachel, is the “we were on a break” affair.
Sure — the phrase “we were on a break” does sometimes make me laugh hysterically for almost no reason, but it’s more Stockholm Syndrome than actual humour.
This episode is knee deep in that tepid plot — but it’s worth trudging through it, because the B-plot is actual gold. While at the beach (isn’t it weird when they’re NOT in their apartment?), Monica gets stung by a jellyfish. Chandler and Joey are the only two around, and it falls on them to provide the urine to fix the pain — which is a real thing, btw. You pee on a jellyfish sting, and it helps.
Seems fairly puerile humour, but they let the consequences of the action escalate from absurdity into utter melodrama, culminating in a big, over-acted reveal, like something pulled from a old timey movie. It’s very funny, and one of the best uses of Friends occasional departures from realism.
2. ‘The One With All The Resolutions’ (Season 5, Episode 11)
Everybody makes New Years resolutions (and its 1999, and this show is unfathomably old for us to still be talking about it).
It’s a strong episode already, but it’s probably the premier example of why David Schwimmer is an absolutely stupendous physical actor. Let’s get this straight — Ross is a garbage human, whose actions in MOST episodes make me literally want to call the police, but David Schwimmer is very very funny as him. It’s great character work.
Anyway, Ross buys leather pants, gets too hot in them on a date, and then can’t put them back on. He calls Joey (the perfect avatar of chaos) for help, and manages to basically smear himself in a paste of lotion and sweat, and it’s brilliant physical comedy.
“Huh, that is quite the situation,” says Joey, absolutely summing it all up.
3. ‘The One With The Ball’ (Season 5, Episode 21)
This is a classic example of why Friends is fun.
Mostly this episode is about various of the titular friends throwing around a ball, until it turns into a competition to keep it going for as long as possible. This heightening of a normal — even banal — activity into something stupid and fun is what makes the show great. It’s absolutely that bored/ hysterical energy that real friends have. There’s always that friend (Monica) who takes it too far.
It’s also just a bit… off — Rachel adopts a hairless cat, which hates her. The idea of it “hissing her name” is very funny to me.
Meanwhile, Phoebe is reluctant to move in with her cop boyfriend — which, in an absolutely beautiful twist, proves to be the correct feeling of foreboding. Having him just casually shoot a bird out the window of their new bedroom is just… perfect comedy, punctuated brilliantly with Phoebe’s trademarked “oh no”.
4. ‘The One With Unagi’ (Season 6, Episode 17)
Remember when the western world discovered sushi all of a sudden, and absolutely lost their shit? I don’t, I’m young.
I’m not sure if Ross getting karate terms mixed up with sushi counts as subtle racism, but if it does, please feel free to strike this episode off the list.
Otherwise, this is a peak “everybody hates Ross” episode, which can be extremely cathartic, because Ross absolutely sucks. Basically, the main plot is that Rachel and Phoebe do a self defence class, and Ross mocks them, using the absolute made-up term of “Unagi” as his main focus. He believes that Unagi means a state of total awareness, but it’s actually freshwater eel.
Anyway — his absolute insufferability around the term grows and grows, until finally, his hubris brings him down — and it’s just a grand old time.
The other plotline seems like it’s going to be pretty annoying — Chandler and Monica have agreed to hand-make Valentines Day presents for each other, but of course Chandler has fucked it up. He ends up re-gifting a mixed tape from his ex, Janice (who, btw, is treated very poorly in this show) — which culminates in a very funny and awkward payoff. Good ep!!!!!
5. ‘The One With The Holiday Armadillo’ (Season 7, Episode 10)
It’s nice that Friends managed to be unproblematic and quite wholesome for a holiday episode.
The main plot of this episode revolves around Ross getting his son Ben (the future Riverdale star, Cole Sprouse) for the Christmas holidays, and deciding to use this time to teach him about the miracles of Hanukkah. The contrast between Ben’s supreme excitement about the glitz and glamour of Christmas, and Santa, and presents, compared to Ross’s dour attempt at spicing up Hanukkah is done very well — I don’t know if TV has ever manifested such a glorious drip as Ross.
Ross also can’t get a Santa costume this close to Christmas, which seems fake, but sure — and in classic Ross style, tries to make up for this by wearing a huge armadillo costume, and passing himself off as a lesser known festive figure, the Holiday Armadillo.
It’s inherently good comedy — a bunch of adults trying to pass off a huge armadillo as an exciting Santa-substitute is wonderful. Ross dolefully exclaiming “the Maccabees!” on repeat, but being interrupted each time, is perfect. The absurdity is then compounded when Chandler DOES turn up as Santa, and Joey arrives as Santa.
This is some good wholesome fun! There’s nothing bad here!
The b-plot is a very by the numbers sitcom storyline about Phoebe trying to drive a wedge between Rachel and Joey, so Rachel will come back and live with her. It’s not probbo, but it’s also not very interesting!
6. ‘The One Where They’re Up All Night’ (Season 7, Episode 12)
It’s a simple concept — they all stay up all night, but for different reasons!
Ross and Joey get caught up on the roof, and basically slowly climb down. The humour here is that we have two people at completely opposite ends of the anxiety spectrum, trying to accomplish a reasonably difficult task.
Rachel and her hot boyfriend/ employee have a whole contracts related problem — it’s annoying. Rachel is wrong.
Chandler can’t sleep, and drags Monica along for the ride, which includes such hijinks as “falling asleep during sex”. A truly blighted vision of heterosexual marriage.
But definitely the highlight of this episode is Phoebe’s battle with a beeping smoke alarm. “What do you want with me???” she screams. It is funny.
7. ‘The One With Joey’s New Brain’ (Season 7, Episode 15)
Listen, this episode would be funny purely for the scene in which Ross attempts to play the bagpipes.
Honestly, I have cry-laughed watching this before. Phoebe attempting to sing along… it’s perfect comedy. PERFECT. Let’s watch it.
Then, you get to watch the outtake of the cast themselves realising it’s inherently funny, and laugh again.
But the other plotline all revolves around Susan Sarandon playing a soap star, and it might honestly be her best performance ever. Joey’s Drake Remoray stories are actually all very funny, and this episode might be the peak of them all.
And — nothing weird and probbo!
8. ‘The One With The Videotape’ (Season 8, Episode 4)
Ross accidentally tapes Rachel and him having the sex that led to the conception of baby Emma — sounds like it’s gonna be WILDLY probbo.
But it’s not — in fact, weirdly Joey actually gets in a quick PSA about consent when it comes to video taping sex. Cool.
A lot of the best Friends episodes involve competitions between the group — while the name of the show might imply a lot of gooey feelings, these guys spend a lot of time roasting each other. The game in question here is who, out of Ross and Rachel, initiated the baby-making sex.
Luckily, the sex tape can help solve that. It, and the backstory to the tape’s creation, is actually a very finely crafted loop of callbacks, and it’s quite comedy.
I also have a big soft spot for the b-plot, which is Monica and Chandler making some new, grown up friends, and then discovering they’ve been ghosted.
Friends is currently available on Stan in Australia.
Patrick Lenton is the Entertainment Editor at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.