Friends! Ben would now be 20 years old, Emma 12 and the gang in their late 40’s! Can you believe its been TWENTY YEARS since these six New-Yorkers stormed into our lives and burrowed into our very souls?
Created by David Crane and Marta Kaufmann, produced by Bright/Kaufmann/Crane productions, the first Friends episode aired September 1994, filmed in-front of a live studio audience with an ensemble cast, Friends was one in a long line of successful US Sitcoms. A sitcom- or situation comedy, is by definition a genre of comedy in which recurring characters take part in both humorous and dramatic story-lines in a common and continual environment.
In the UK sitcoms started with- believe it or not- William Shakespeare and Punch & Judy, but the sitcom really caught on in America, with William Asher being heralded the “man who invented the sitcom” having directed dozens of leading sitcoms including I Love Lucy. Within sitcom parameters Friends was highly regarded considering the writing, with their long-term story arcs and end-of-season cliffhangers being an interesting soap-opera style twist on the genre. One of the most prevalent arcs within the show, was the up and down, on again, off again, Ross/Rachel relationship, which tumultuously ran through the entire 10 seasons.
The ensemble cast featured six practically unknown, working actors in their mid-to-late 20’s:
Monica Geller: A neurotic, obsessive compulsive Chef, with the heart of a true romantic. Played by Courtney Cox.
Ross Geller: A Doctor of Palaeontology and the Geek of the group. He is loveable and often unlucky. Ross is Monica’s older brother and Rachel’s love interest. Played by David Schwimmer
Pheobe Buffet: An eccentric masseuse and self taught musician, she provides a soundtrack to the show with her kooky-often bizarre songs. Pheobe has an “Evil” Twin sister. Played by Lisa Kudrow.
Chandler Bing: Has a complicated family history and is afraid of commitment because of this. Provides the laughs of the group, and the show, he apparently uses sarcasm as a defence mechanism. Is very sweet and sensitive at times. Played by Matthew Perry.
Rachel Green: Fashionista and Prom Queen. Monica’s best friend from childhood, and current room mate. Creator of “The Rachel” hair cut. Rachel has the biggest character arc throughout the seasons as she becomes more and more independent. Played by Jennifer Aniston.
Joey Tribbiani: A struggling actor and food lover. Ladies man, catch phrase “How you Doin’?”. Never had a particularly serious relationship. Has a huge heart, but isn’t greatly intelligent.
Alongside the six main characters Friends also featured recurring characters- Jack and Judy Geller: Ross and Monica’s parents, Carol Willick and Susan Bunch: Ross’s wife and lesbian lover, Gunther: the manager of Central Perk, and Janice Goralnik: Chandlers on-again off-again girlfriend, founder of “OH MY GOOOOD” catchphrase, and was the only supporting cast member to be in every season of the show. We had a quick chat with Janice, aka Maggie Wheeler about her time on the show:
It is true, going myth is that I auditioned for the role of Monica which I have always found amusing as I have no recollection of that ever happening. The Janice role popped up as an appointment sent by my agents. As far as I knew it was just another audition and in fact as it was only the third episode of the series there was not much more to know at the time. The character description said only ” fast talking NewYorker ” … and the rest is history!
I had in fact worked with Marta Kaufman, David Crane and Kevin Bright once before when I did a guest spot on the series Dream On that they created and produced for HBO. In that show I played a stand up comedienne and Kevin Bright stepped out of his role as producer to play the MC at the comedy club.
Janice is somewhat of an ongoing joke within the series, what did you think to her?
I absolutely loved the character of Janice. It was pure joy to play her as she barrelled through completely unaware of what others thought of her … and of course I loved that she had a big heart. It was very fortunate for me that Janice became an ongoing joke because it insured that the character would come back again and again.
Were you involved in any of her rather interesting fashion choices?
I always have a say in choosing my favorite options. Debra McGuire is a fantastic costume designer. She brought many things for me to choose from for each episode that we shot and we always had a wonderful time not to mention a great deal of laughter at those fittings! We would take polaroids of our favorites and then Marta and David would make the final choices.
Was it expected for the show to be the massive success it was and still is?
I can’t say much about that really although arriving on that set so early on before the show had aired I could sense a sort of giddy feeling that they had captured lightning in a bottle.
Your favourite episode’s WITH and WITHOUT Janice?
Well, I love the show… hard to say what my favorites are … there are so many hilarious episodes. With Janice – I always l loved the valentine episode, ” The One With The Candy Hearts” and of course I loved being in labor with Rachel in the 2 parter ” The One Where Rachel Has A Baby”.
You’ve appeared in many TV shows, is Janice your most recognisable character? And with Janice having one of only few possible quotable lines from the show, do you often get “Oh My God”-ed?
Janice is extremely recognizable in that she is the most annoying character I have ever played ( which I say in the most loving way 😉 ) And yes I do get Oh My God-ed from time to time although Friends fans have many favorite Janice lines they like to hear . Just last weekend I met a woman who told me that she sings Janice’s little syrup song every time they have pancakes at her house and she asked to film me on her phone singing it for her husband !!
20 years from the first episode, how has Friends changed your life?
I am very proud to have been a part of such a historic television show .. It has been a great joy and a great blessing. It’s a very special thing be able to bring so much laughter to so many people around the world.
And finally, if we were to peek into her world, where would you expect to see Janice today?
Hmm lets see… raising her children… getting her nails done …..doing some interior decorating with alot of animal prints … and late at night when everyone is asleep -secretly re- reading her journals about her love affair with Chandler.
Maggie Wheeler, thank you for your time.
Throughout the seasons various super special guests graced the Friends set, intricately woven into the storylines, the stars played love interest’s, family members, old friends and adversary’s, including but not limited to, Tom Selleck, Brad Pitt, Ben Stiller, Bruce Willis, Reece Witherspoon, Christiana Applegate, Ralph Lauren, Julia Roberts and Elle Macpherson!
Throughout the seasons we see lovers come and go, family members found, born and lost, and the friends lives changing. Along with the laughs, Friends was hugely dramatic and dynamic, with the introduction of a relationship between Monica and Chandler, and the development of Ross and Rachels relationship and family, it really tugged on our heartstrings. Episode’s of note, to name a few, include; The One With The Prom Video, The One With Chandler In A Box, The One After Ross Says Rachel, The One with the Proposal, The One Hundredth, The One with All The Thanksgivings.
The finale. The writers had great difficulty writing the finale, as they sat and couldn’t write even a word. They supposedly, watched other series’ finales to see what worked and what did not. They felt it very important to stay true to the show and the characters all the way through, and not turn the finale into something high concept. As a double episode, in the finale we see a lot of loose ends tied. Ross realises he wants to be with Rachel, and the episode follows Pheobe and Ross struggle to find her, so Ross can tell her how he feels, as she is on her way to Paris, panic! We also see Monica and Chandler, prepare to move out of their apartment, and finally become parents, but to unexpectedly- twins! TWINS! We leave the group of friends as they turn in their keys head out to the Central Perk for one last coffee, wimper.
David Schwimmer and the other actors were happy with the final episode, he said “It’s exactly what I had hoped. We all end up with a sense of a new beginning and the audience has a sense that its a new chapter in the lives of all these characters.” In the US, the finale received 52.5 million viewers.
Friends is still on television, and is still loved ten years after its finale was aired. The show is one of the most successful shows ever, played all around the world, as its suitable for people of any age and any background. A family can sit down together and all laugh along. It is still current and relevant and a whole new generation are currently being introduced to the highs and lows of life of a twenty-something is NYC.
Monica, Ross, Joey, Chandler, Rachel and Pheobe- We love you! Thanks for the laughs.