It’s Time To Acknowledge That Janice Was Hands Down The Best Character From ‘Friends’
We talked to Maggie Wheeler, who played Janice, and oh my GOD.
When we first meet Janice Litman-Goralnik née Hosenstein, one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable characters in the entire ten seasons of Friends, Chandler is trying to work up the courage to break up with her.
He drinks a thousand cups of coffee, accidentally hits her in the face, and ends up making her cry. Eventually, Phoebe just has to do the deed for him, showcasing above all how useless he is.
In fact, this is the entirety of Janice’s arc for the full first season. Every time we see her, a dithering, sweating, evasive and dishonest Chandler is somewhere within the process of dumping her.
Chandler and Janice continue this on-and-off again relationship up until season four, but she is continually spun into the life of the titular Friends throughout the show — in fact, it becomes the gag. No matter where they go, what they are doing, there’s always a chance that a loud, nasal, drawn out “oh my goooooood” will announce the arrival of Janice, long nails splayed, hair high, and usually wearing leopard print or a lime-green jumpsuit.
In the final season, she even almost buys a house next to Monica and Chandler — the show knows how to commit to a bit.
She’s treated like a very loud “bad penny” — forever unexpectedly turning up, and almost perpetually unwelcome. In fact, from the very beginning — Janice, a cackling force of optimism and joy — is just treated like shit, because everyone finds her so aggravating.
But when I ask Maggie Wheeler, the brilliant actress who played Janice, she tells me that she wouldn’t have had it any other way for Janice.
“Well, I loved everything about playing that character because first of all, to be able to be so unapologetically annoying is a lot of fun.”
We’re speaking over Zoom, and while she’s not as overly flamboyant as her character, she’s incredibly warm and energetic. Later on, she even dips into Janice’s trademarked nasal drawl and cackle, and it’s a real thrill for me. It’s a reminder of how perfect Janice is as a comedic character, and how adeptly Maggie Wheeler plays her.
“How often do you get to make a grand entrance?” she asks me, rhetorically. She explains that because of the live studio audience of Friends and the fact that she became such a fan-favourite, that in later seasons she’d spend most of the episode hidden away in her dressing room, or behind a curtain, until she finally got her big reveal.
“I got to make however many, I can’t count, but I got to make many, many grand entrances as that character, the grandest of them being after Janice spent the night with Ross and nobody expected that to happen. So, when I made that entrance, the whole place went nuts.”
I’ve heard some people claim that Gunther was the unofficial “seventh Friend”, which is frankly ridiculous. If it was anyone, it would have to be Janice — she was around them all the longest, and inextricably and inexplicably woven into their lives. And, she was widely beloved by the audience too.
I ask Maggie Wheeler why people responded so well to Janice, why she was clearly a favourite — especially in comparison to how poorly she was treated in the show by the main characters.
“First of all, she’s an infiltrator and I think that everybody wants to figure out how to infiltrate the fab Friends — and Janice doesn’t do it intentionally, she just lands there. And because she lands there, and God bless the writers, they kept bringing me back, I think that I was in many ways a vehicle for people to get into the party,” she answers.
Janice is defined by a bunch of trademarks — the laugh, the catch-phrases, the amazing outfits. I get Maggie to tell me how much of Janice was originally planned, and how much she brought to the character herself.
“I think, I saw the audition scene [from episode 5], the Rocky and Bullwinkle socks scene. And I could really, I could hear her. I knew what she was about, I knew who she was, I knew what I was going to do. And I really just went in there to have a good time and to make them laugh and to enjoy bringing this character to life. So right away, I think once they hired me, once they’d said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the way we want her to be.'”
Maggie is very clearly fond of her time on the show, and all her cast mates, and absolutely for the character of Janice. When I tell her that I’m writing a love letter to Janice, she claps her hands in joy.
“I think the wardrobe followed the voice, the laugh came because Matthew Perry is so damn funny and I needed to be able to laugh while working with him. So, I figured Janice needed to have a laugh so that if he cracked me up, I could cover for a little bit. And the, “Oh my God”, was the brilliance of the writers. The first time they put it in was probably the second episode, I think. Actually I never have looked back to see where the first time I say, “Oh my God” is. All I know is that it gave us this fantastic hook to hang her hat on.”
Speaking of hats, my personal favourite thing about Janice that I noticed during my re-watch was the clothes — there wasn’t a single outfit that I didn’t love. Maggie credits the show’s costume designer, Debra McGuire, for turning Janice into a style icon.
“I remember this Betsy Johnson coat and these gold pants, I forget who made those gold pants, but I still have them, they’re stashed away. Anyway, those gold lace pants and crazy things that they brought for me. I mean, listen, you should see the stuff that didn’t make it on the show. Just going down for those wardrobe fittings was comedy in itself because we would just try on this crazy clothing and just laugh our tails off, and then finally pick the things that we really loved the most.”
The more Maggie explains how she sees Janice, the more I realise how powerful the character of Janice actually is.
“There is the added ridiculousness of the fact that she’s not really that aware of the hard time that she’s being given, or what’s happening around her. She’s positive, she’s optimistic, she loves love, she’s a believer. And so, she’s just a little bit like Mr. Magoo, she just keeps barreling forward toward the man that she’s obsessed with and in love with in spite of all these bullets whizzing by. And, I think that obviously that’s really fun to watch, as an actor it’s a lot of fun to portray, but I do think in a way, it’s the fact that she just kept getting in there.”
Sure, she was treated badly, but also Janice didn’t really care in the long run.
You can see how above the immaturity of Chandler she is, when iconically he breaks up with her (for a third time) and she simply sighs and says “that’s fine”. She’s absolutely not the victim in this story. A perfect example of this is when she sleeps with Ross, and then gets so fed up with how whiny he is (mood) that she immediately drops him. She holds the power.
Maggie points out the episode in season 1, where she gets set up with Chandler on a blind date, and still pissed off at him from breaking up with her twice in the last couple of months, gets to treat him to the sharper side of her tongue.
“She got to sort of be a bit of a badass and give some back to him and then of course they end up in bed together, so I love the arc of that episode.”
But when I push and try to find out the moment where Maggie Wheeler thinks that Janice was treated most appallingly — out of the many seasons of lies and goofs and breakups — she very good-naturedly draws a line.
“Well much like Janice, I can’t remember the bad stuff.”
And I think that’s very Janice actually — to just focus on how outrageously wonderful Janice was, and completely ignore everything else.
Every episode of Friends is currently streaming on Binge in Australia. Read our ranking of the best 16 episodes of Friends ever here.
Patrick Lenton is the Editor of Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.