One of the main points of appeal about the situation comedy “Friends” is the characters. The show is largely character driven so the characters are all interesting people whom the audience will wants to see over and over again. An example of this is Chandler, played by Matt Perry. His mother is a glamorous novelist, yet his father is a gay drag artist working in Las Vegas. Chandler hates Thanksgiving, as it was the time when his parents announced that they were going to divorce. He works as a financial analyst, yet much humour has been created from the other friends not understanding what his job is. For instance, in one episode where the friends have a quiz, men against women, and one of the questions asked of the women is “What is Chandlers job?” the women are not able to answer the question correctly. Another character trait that can be taken from this quiz is Monica’s fierce competitiveness especially with her brother, Ross, played by David Schwimmer.
This is again shown in Series 3, Episode 9 “The One With The Football”, when Monica, played by Courtney Cox-Arquette, an Ross revive old rivalries ands get very physical during a touch football match, cheating just to win “A troll nailed to a two by four,” as Chandler describes the Geller Bowl Trophy. This is an example of his sarcastic nature, which is a very prominent feature of Chandler’s character. Inevitably the other characters are the butt of his sarcasm. Because we know that Chandler is sarcastic we expect him to make jokes when something is there to make a joke about. The other recognise his sarcastic tendencies. We see this in one episode where Chandler is forced to not say anything nasty or sarcastic for a day. Ross walks in to Monica’s apartment wearing a new pair of leather trousers and the shot switches to a close-up of Chandler almost bursting to make a joke about Ross, but not being allowed to. The audience know this, so it is humorous for them. Chandler lived with Joey until everyone knew about his relationship with Monica, he then moved in with her.
Monica is Ross’ younger sister, and points arise from this connection. She is very competitive especially with Ross. Perhaps even more competitive than any usual sibling rivalry. It extends to almost anything they do, whether it be getting the last word in an argument or winning a football game, originally intended to be a friendly activity. She also thinks that her parents do not love her as much as Ross. Monica strives to impress her parents yet her mother is very critical of her.
An example of this is when Monica is catering for her parents. Her mother prepares back-up meals for the guests because she thinks that Monica will make a mistake, which in fact she does. Monica is currently making a living as a chef in a restaurant. She is also obsessive about control and neatness, to the extent that she cannot have her different types of socks for example sports socks and smart socks, mixed together in one drawer and her bed has to be made in a particular way, otherwise she cannot sleep in it. Monica also seemed doomed to bad relationships including Pete, who went off to become an Ultimate Fighting Champion, and Richard, played by Tom Selleck. This is until she started a relationship with Chandler, with whom she appears to be very happy. Monica also used to be quite overweight, which is an important factor when it comes to considering events from her childhood and such like.
Monica’s older brother, Ross, is quite different from Monica. He is a palaeontologist so has worked in several places in that field. These places include the Natural History Museum in New York and currently NYU. Ross actually has a PhD in palaeontology so can be known as Dr. Geller. He was a college roommate with Chandler so they have much history with each other. Ross enjoys being married and to illustrate this he has been married three times. But all of the marriages have failed. His first marriage was to Carol, realised she was a lesbian soon after. His second was to Emily who left him because she thought he still loved Rachel and his final marriage was to Rachel. However, both were extremely drunk, so neither really wanted to get married. When it comes to their getting divorced soon afterwards Ross is reluctant, because even though he does not really love Rachel, he cannot face the humiliation of three divorces. He did have a long relationship with Rachel earlier on in the series and when he was younger used to yearn for her. Ross has a son by Carol named Ben. He does not see Ben as much as he would like but is a model father and shares child-care. To compensate for this, even though it is never said, Ross gets a Capuchin monkey who he named Marcel and with whom had a very close bond. This shows Ross kind hearted and sensitive side, which we sometimes do not see behind his serious and sometimes whiney faade.
Rachel Green, played by Jennifer Aniston, is one of Monica’s school friends. In earlier series they used to live together. But currently Rachel lives with Joey. She has a career in fashion having worked at Bloomingdales and Ralph Lauren, but also having had to work as a waitress at Central Perk. At the beginning of the “Friends” series working was a real shock to Rachel who had lived off her fathers credit cards for all of her adult life until that time. As a child, Rachel had been spoiled to the point that her parents even paid for her to have plastic surgery on her nose. Rachel’s parents are now separated. Her father is a doctor, which could explain her attraction towards doctors and other men in the medical profession. In the “One Hundredth” episode she arranges dates for her and Monica with two male nurses, which illustrates my point. Rachel’s sister, Jill, is played by Reese Witherspoon and has appeared in several episodes. Gunther now yearns for Rachel as Ross once did, but Ross and Rachel had their relationship and Ross does not feel the same way about her anymore.
Joey Tribianni is Rachel’s current flat-mate. Joey is Italian-American and has a very large family. He has seven sisters who all look very similar, which led to confusion in one episode where Chandler kissed one of them but could not remember who. This leads to a black eye because Joey is very protective of his family, even though Chandler is his good friend. Another example of this is when he finds out that his father has a mistress. Joey is disgusted by this and tells his father that he is going to tell his mother. However, his mother already knows about the mistress and life is going well for her while his father is seeing the mistress. She berates Joey because now his father has to break up with his mistress and things will change for her.
Joey is also not noted for having sustained relationships although he sees many women and has sex with most of them, presumably having used his famous pick up line “How you doin’?” Beneath this seemingly womanising personality there is a kind hearted and easily hurt personality as well. An important point is that Joey is not as intelligent as the other “friends”. Chandler often takes advantage of this to make fun of Joey or to make him look stupid. For example in Series 3 Episode 9 Chandler exploits Joey’s lack of geographical knowledge by asking where the Netherlands is. Joey thinks this is a trick question thinking Chandler is referring to Never Never Land, home of Peter Pan. This makes Joey look ignorant in front of the girl he and Chandler are trying to impress, therefore causing her to choose Chandler.
Joey currently works on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” playing Dr. Drake Ramoray. He had previously played Dr. Drake Ramoray before being killed off. As an actor Joey has had many parts in television and theatre, none of which lasted very long.
The last main character is Phoebe Buffay, the scatter brained, quirky masseuse. Phoebe has had a very difficult life, with her mother, though not her birth mother, committing suicide. Phoebe had to live on the streets for a time. She has also previously lived with her grandmother before moving in to her own apartment. She has two siblings, an identical twin sister, Ursula, with whom there is much mistaken identity. For example Ursula uses Phoebes name as her stage name when starring in pornographic films and Phoebe keeps getting recognised for that reason. Her other sibling is her half brother Frank for whom Phoebe acted as a surrogate mother for his and his partner, Alice’s triplets. Although Phoebe earns a living as a masseuse her passion is being a singer/songwriter, which is just part of her New Age beliefs and way of life: she is also a vegetarian.
Along with these six main characters at the centre of the series, there is a huge array of guest stars. Some have featured for only seconds such as Ralph Lauren, some have featured in full episodes, such as Julia Roberts, and a few have been in several episodes, such as Reese Witherspoon. It seems that appearing in “Friends” is good for one’s career as has been for the well over twenty guest stars who have featured in “Friends. There is also a cast of regulars who open things up on the show. They give the audience an extended version of the world. It would be unrealistic and boring if we only saw the six main characters in their homes. These regulars include Gunther, played by James Michael Tyler, who runs Central Perk. There have also been long-term partners such as Richard, Emily and Janice, played by Tom Selleck, Helen Baxendale and Maggie Wheeler respectively. Of course the main characters have families so we also see them on occasions. These characters include Phoebe’s half brother Frank, played by Giovanni Ribisi, and Ross ands Monica’s parents, Jack and Judy, played by Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles. But the reason there are six main characters and part of the reason why “Friends” is such a popular sitcom is the fact that their families are dysfunctional. But these six characters, who are now international stars, give light to the situation: they rely on friends rather than family. People watching the show, are able to relate to a particular characters so feel an affinity with them and want to watch “Friends” because of this.
Traditionally sitcoms have three plot lines, which are sometimes twined together and sometimes totally separate from each other. “Friends” also follows this pattern. An example of a tightly written “Friends” episode is “The One Hundredth”. The three story lines all take place inside of the hospital, the main one being Phoebe giving birth to the triplets and her saga with the doctors. The second one is Joey discovering he has kidney stones then passing them in a birth parody, which links with the main Phoebe story. The third one shows Rachel finding two male nurses as dates for her and Monica, then the confusion that arises between Monica and Chandler. There are many things going on but the audience is not confused.
An example of the three plot lines being only loosely integrated is in “The one With The Truth About London” Here two of the stories are integrated, both involving Chandler, Joey and Monica, the first being the truth about what happened in London, and the second story about Joey acting as priest for Chandler and Monica’s wedding. The third story is completely detached from the other two. It concerns Rachel babysitting Ross son, Ben, and teaching him practical jokes.
Both episodes, even though the plots run differently, have still been very well received, showing that “Friends” popular aspects lie elsewhere. For example the use of humour employed in all the episodes. This humour makes the plots and characters much more interesting and therefore is more appealing to the viewers. The humour in “Friends” operates on different levels and in many different ways. One such way is physical, or slapstick humour. This style is not used as much as the some of the other. But nevertheless is still very humorous. An example of slapstick can be found in “The One With The Football” when Monica makes a ferocious tackle on Chandler, despite the fact that they are playing touch football and that many people would not expect a woman with quite a small frame, like Monica, to do such a thing. These are two reasons, which add to the initial physical humour.
Another type of humour, which is frequently employed in “Friends” is verbal humour, such as the one-liners and puns, “The One With The Football” is also ripe with verbal humour. One example of this is when Chandler says, “Does anyone else see a troll nailed to a two by four?” in reaction to seeing the famed Gellerbowl Trophy which Ross and Monica had enthusiastically spoken about as if it were a superb trophy. Chandler is famed for these kinds of lines as he is for sarcastic humour, which is again used in “Friends”. An example of this is Chandler’s deflationary tactics against Joey when both characters were trying to woo the Dutch girl, Margha.
The sarcastic humour is just one of Chandlers characteristics, which add to the humour of the show. Sometimes the character’s facial expressions can make us laugh because we know what is going to happen next, as when Ross walks in to Monica’s apartment wearing a pair of leather trousers and the shot cuts to a close up of Chandler, and we know he is bursting to make a snide comment about Ross trousers, which makes the audience laugh. We know these characteristics because of previous incidents on the show and when they are in operation we are often reminded of a humorous moment in a previous episode.
“Friends” is also known for its rare serious moments, where the writers/directors may be trying to convey a serious message. One such example is in “The one Hundredth” in the closing scenes where Phoebe is alone with the babies for whom she has been a surrogate mother, having given up her idea of keeping one, and is promising to be a good aunt, an example of the shows occasional descent in to sentimentality. There are also instances where humour is created out of serious moments such as in “The One With The Football” where Ross and Monica are struggling for the ball and snow starts to fall. As it does so it seems as if there is going to be a sentimental moment when Ross and Monica will be reconnected, but they go back to struggling for possession of the ball.
Without the use of various presentational devices any television programme would seem boring. So in “Friends” many popular and unpopular/rare methods are employed. There is stock footage, used in many sitcoms. This is used to tell the viewers that this is New York, London wherever it may be, in a very economical way. “Friends” stock footage has included shots of the World Trade Centre, the George Washington Bridge and Grid Traffic. When they were in London Big Ben and other famous landmarks were used. There are also shots used to establish exactly where they are such as Monica’s apartment block and the coffee shop from different angles.
There are several regular locations at which “Friends” is filmed. These are Monica’s apartment, Rachel/Chandler and Joey’s apartment, and the coffee shop, Central Perk. Ross apartment is also a location used but less frequently than the others. These few locations are used because they are familiar to the viewers so they feel more of a connection with the locations and the show in general and therefore keep watching it. Occasional locations include outside in the streets and at the main characters’ work places, for example the museum where Ross worked or the Restaurant where Monica worked. There are also the locations used when the characters go on trips such as to London or Las Vegas.
Typically of sitcoms, “Friends” is filmed using two cameras. Both cameras are at the front of the set at either side, which allows them to cover the whole set. Then all episodes are filmed from the two angles and therefore can be cut between in the editing process, which makes editing a fast and economical task. The most common shot used is the over the shoulder shot, which gives the audience the perspective of the people speaking so makes them feel more involved in the show. As with most sitcoms big and extreme close-ups are rarely used in “Friends”, as this is a shot reserved for dramatic effect, but medium close-ups are used frequently. There is also some subversion of the form in “Friends” when is comes to camera work. For example in “The One With The Football” there is a slow motion sequence during the football game, which is reminiscent of replays in professional sports coverage so is most likely why that was used.
As with almost all television programmes, there is a routine of the “Friends” episodes. It starts with a short opening sequence, usually related to one of the plot lines. Then there is the title sequence with the theme tune and clips from previous episodes. This introduces the characters without going in to any detail about them. Then there is the main and most important section. At the end of this the credits roll below there is a final scene, usually humorous and related to the main section in some way. All this happens at a very fast pace. This has to be because the episodes are under thirty minutes long altogether. This is all very familiar to viewers just like with programmes such as “Coronation Street” and “Eastenders”. If the routine of the episodes were changed there would certainly be some viewers unhappy with the directors decision.
“Friends” is filmed in front of a live studio audience although it is not broadcast live. There are some problems with having a live studio audience. These include the audience’s laughter drowning out the actor’s lines. Because of this, the actors have to be very effective and careful with their timing.
I think that the reason why “Friends” is so universally popular is a culmination of all the things I have written about. But I think the most important factor is the characters. It is a primarily character driven show, viewers know and love the characters because they can relate to on or more of them in some way whether it be their background, appearance or personality. As they produce more and more series of “Friends” then in some ways it could be easier to write because the characteristics and past events will allow some parts to write themselves.