Wednesday, February 4
As the last ever series of Friends begins, Sarfraz Manzoor says it has been much more than a brilliant comedy - it has changed our language, our hair and even our drinking habits
The Guardian, February 4, 2004
Friends: the first aspirational sitcom
"Brad Pitt and I don't, at first glance, have much in common. He is a film star who is regularly voted the most desirable man on earth and lives in a French Normandy mansion in Beverly Hills. I was once interviewed on BBC Three Counties radio, spend most weekends in Luton and to the best of my knowledge have yet to top a poll of the sexiest men alive.
Despite these dissimilarities Brad and I do share at least this: we have both appeared on Friends. [...more]
...My fleeting flirtation with non-fame was made possible after I had interviewed the programme's creators for a newspaper article. Pitt got his gig after marrying one of the show's stars.
Nine years ago Jennifer Aniston was just another aspiring actress, most famous for being the god-daughter of the bald-headed lollipop-sucking-TV-detective-playing Telly Savalas. Today she is one half of the most beautiful couple in Hollywood and, according to Forbes magazine, the most powerful celebrity in the world. Friends has transformed her life, and there is perhaps no better indication of how huge the programme has become than the marriage between her and Pitt. It might not have been as cynical as Seinfeld, as sexy as Sex and the City, or as sophisticated as Frasier, but as a cultural phenomenon Friends has, for the past decade, been the biggest thing on the small screen. Could it be any more influential?
I was 23 when it began; the characters in Friends were also around my age.
They were American, and so naturally more self-obsessed than anyone I knew, but their anxieties were shared by many of my generation.
This was a generation that was marrying less and later than any in history.
We were more affluent than our parents, but at the mercy of job insecurity; we wanted love, not just marriage, but the loneliness of the city made it hard to even meet anyone let alone find a soulmate.
Friends resonated not only because it was brilliantly funny, but also because it struck a chord with its audience. If Seinfeld was, famously, a show about nothing, Friends was a programme about arrested development and our desire for an extended adolescence.
The reassuring subtext to Ross and Rachel's turbulent love lives, and Monica and Chandler's unfulfilled careers, was that it was normal to be directionless in love and work even in your late 20s. (It was an appealing suggestion, albeit based on the fiction of spacious and yet puzzlingly affordable Manhattan apartments.) [...more]
We also wanted to drink endless cappuccinos. Tellingly, the first New York Starbucks store opened in the same year that Friends started. The dual rise of coffee culture and Friends was one example of how the show captured the zeitgeist. At other times it defined it. The "Rachel" was the most copied television hairstyle since Farrah Fawcett's flick.
The series has even been credited with influencing how many of us speak. Researchers at the University of Toronto analysed every episode from the first eight seasons to explore whether popular culture influenced how we speak. After tabulating 9,000 adjectives they concluded that its linguistic influence could be summed up in one word.
Previously, the commonest way to intensify a noun was by using "very" or "really"; on Friends the most common intensifier was "so".
A style of speech once the preserve of Californian teenage girls has, through Friends, spread to become, like, so common.
... ... The entire premise of the show rested on the suggestion that being single was sexy and that all you need are friends; when those foundations began to weaken, Friends began to show its age. When they were in their 20s, the characters' petty anxieties and mutual dependencies seemed endearing. When those same characters hit their mid-30s, and some of the actors approached 40, it began to look self-indulgent.
Friends never pretended to be authentic, but lately the unrealities were threatening to sour the entertainment. Theirs was a New York where planes did not crash into skyscrapers and the only thing to fear was Phoebe's singing.
If comedy is all about timing then the cast have timed their departure to perfection. Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry and Courteney Cox are all making movies; David Schwimmer is planning to direct. And while the last episode of Friends may have been filmed, Matt Le Blanc has already signed to star in an eponymous spin-off. Expect to see some familiar faces making guest appearances. Goodbye Friends, hello Joey. How you doin?