Analysis

‘Friends’ is Coming to Theaters for a Twelve-Episode Run: Let’s Argue about the Lineup

Hey there, Plotaholics! Shane here with an entirely arbitrary thought experiment.

Fathom Events announced earlier this week that the wildly popular 1990s (and 2000s) sitcom, Friends, would be given a brief run in 1,000 theaters to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary. Twelve episodes would be shown–four per night for three nights. The episodes would be selected based on their importance to the Friends universe.

Here are those twelve episodes:

It’s a tall order to try to represent a decade-long story about six friends in 12 episodes. It’s basically impossible. If you start from Season 1 and make your list of twelve episodes, it will be heavy in Ross and Rachel story. Somewhere around Season 4, though, you will start putting in a lot of Chandler and Monica stories.

You’ll also soon realize that Phoebe and Joey are more often the comedic glue that keeps the show humming than the focus of long story arcs. Even when Phoebe is serving as surrogate to her brother and his wife, she is relegated to B-story status in all but a couple of episodes. When Joey is a part of an A-story, it’s more a relationship that burns out after 2-3 episodes, or it’s for a television show or movie that doesn’t work out (for long, anyway). Even his Drake Ramoray is a flash in the pan compared to “We were on a break!”

So, it’s tough to tell this story in twelve episodes and fairly represent all of the characters. I feel like this list does okay. I also think the list could be stronger, so let’s spend some time arguing about what would be on our all-time Friends list (limited to twelve episodes).

Night 1

The four episodes chosen to run during night one of this anniversary celebration are mostly fine. Of course, you start with the pilot. Where else would you start? The entire thing hinges on Rachel being the runaway bride and meeting up with the group at the Central Perk. The premise of the show was so straight-forward, but the strong sense of character and place that the writers and performers had from the beginning is what made this show last.

The second entry here is a misstep, I think. “The One with the Blackout” is probably here as exhibit B in the Ross/ Rachel will they/ won’t they storyline, but I think there are better ways to get to that revelation. This is a wasted space. The most important revelation here is that Rachel meets Paolo–the handsome foil to Ross for much of the first season. But Paolo is mostly a footnote in the grand scheme of the show’s narrative.

I’m not even really sure that I include “The One with the Birth”–the episode where Ross’s ex-wife gives birth to Ben. Ben is a set piece. He’s only ever used to push other people’s plots forward. His only real use otherwise is keeping Susan and Carol in the mix. Otherwise, this is a waste, too.

Instead, give me this lineup on Night 1:

  • “Pilot”
  • “The One Where Rachel Finds Out”
  • “The One Where Ross Finds Out”
  • “The One with the List”

“The One with the List” is the episode after Ross and Rachel share their first kiss at the Perk. Ross is still dating Julie, who he met when he was overseas for work. In order to choose between the two, he makes a pretty insulting pro/con list for both, and Rachel finds it. This lineup is a quick and dirty one-two punch of Ross and Rachel’s story. And it leaves us at the end of night one angry with Ross and right back into the frustrating muck of these two trying to get their shit together.

Night 2

Here is Fathom’s night two lineup:

  • “The One with the Prom Video”
  • “The One Where No One’s Ready”
  • “The One with the Morning After”
  • “The One with the Embryos”

This list is almost perfect. My only complaint is “The One Where No One’s Ready.” While the episode is an almost perfect example of a bottle episode, it doesn’t really help move the plot forward.

I either replace it with “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break” (so we get the punch/ counter-punch with the follow-up, “The One with the Morning After”), or I take it off and tack on “The One with Joey’s New Girlfriend” on the end. This is the episode that introduces us to Kathy, who Chandler falls in love with, and it continues the post-break fallout between Ross and Rachel. This lineup gives Phoebe and Joey some A-story time (with “The One with the Embryos” in the mix).

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but “The One with the Prom Video” is one of the best episodes of the series in its entire 10-year run. It has to be there.

Here is my Night 2 lineup:

  • “The One with the Prom Video”
  • The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break”
  • “The One with the Morning After”
  • “The One with the Embryos”

Night 3

This is where it becomes obvious that representing this series in twelve episodes is impossible. Fathom’s night three looks like this:

  • “The One with Chandler in a Box”
  • “The One with Ross’s Wedding (Part 2)”
  • “The One Where Everyone Finds Out”
  • “The One Where Ross Got High”

Okay, so straightaway Ross’s wedding to Emily where he accidentally says Rachel’s name at the altar is safe. That episode also introduces us to the Monica Chandler romance, which is really what the second half of this series is about. It would have been nice to get to this point on Night 2, but I’m DOING THE BEST I CAN!

Also, I think “The One Where Everyone Finds Out” that Chandler and Monica are sleeping together may be the finest episode of the entire series, so it stays.

“The One with Chandler in a Box” is so good, but I’m not sure it’s that important to the BIG story of the series. Instead, I think maybe we start with Ross’s wedding.

I am also puzzled by the inclusion of “The One Where Ross Got High.” What a strange place to end this run. We stop there, we don’t see Ross and Rachel get married in Vegas, we don’t see Monica and Chandler get married, we don’t see Phoebe’s happy ending, we don’t see any babies born (other than Ben, who is a waste and also kind of an asshole).

So, my list goes like this:

  • “The One with Ross’s Wedding (Part 2)”
  • “The One Where Everyone Finds Out”
  • “The One with Phoebe’s Wedding”
  • “The Last One (Part 2)”

I want Phoebe’s wedding because it gives us Phoebe and Joey action, since he actually performs the ceremony. And if we are starting with the pilot, we have to see the end, right? Monica and Chandler finally have their babies (via surrogacy), and we get that excellent airport ending. I would like to lobby to play both parts of the finale, but if I only get one, give me the last one.

Final Thoughts

So, yeah. I guess that brings this incredibly futile exercise to an end. What are your all-time favorite episodes of Friends? What other shows would you like to see come to theaters in a similar fashion? I’m holding out for Cheers and The Office.

~~~

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