The premise of Friends is that six attractive people all live together and hang out constantly in New York, despite none of them being successful enough to justify their lifestyles. It’s pretty much the escapi-est escapist fantasy we had in the 90s. They’re usually not great people, but they’re not the worst, either. Friends was hit and miss for me, because the number of characters meant it never really could have only one plotline in an episode, and the uneven quality of the writing usually meant that only one of the two or three plotlines was going to be funny. This episode is a rare exception, in that it has three plotlines running concurrently, and it’s difficult to determine which one is the funniest.
Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) plotline is that Rachel’s father has had a heart attack and, feeling vulnerable, Rachel asks Ross to sleep with her again, despite the fact that they’d now been broken up for years and had a child together from a one-night stand. Ross passes it up, despite the fact that he hasn’t had sex in 8 months, because he doesn’t want to take advantage of her. Rachel is, of course, pissed at him because of this, and proceeds to take her frustration out on him. In the end, they both indicate that, on some level, they still want each other.
Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry), who are planning to adopt, inquire about the father of their future offspring from their arranged mother. They are told that there are two possible fathers: A valedictorian football player, or a man who is in prison for beating his father to death with a shovel, whom Chandler nicknames “Shovelly Joe.” Throughout the episode, Chandler panics at the thought that his offspring will be genetically prone to murdering him. In the end, it turns out that their baby mama didn’t pay attention in health class, because the thing she did with the murderer is not likely to result in pregnancy. Chandler asks if it’s “that thing we hardly ever do” or “that thing we neeeeeever do?” Upon being told the latter, Chandler can only nod in admiration and say “Shovelly Joe.”
While both of those plots are entertaining, the best plotline is Joey’s (Matt LeBlanc) attempt to learn how to speak French in a week. As it happens, Joey got a part in a play because his resume says that he is multilingual. Apparently, people lie on their resumes. Shocking. Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), who is fluent in French, offers to teach him. Unfortunately, Joey cannot comprehend the language, to the degree that he cannot even repeat short phrases that he hears. If he didn’t do it so sincerely, it would be stupid, but, instead, it’s hilarious. In the end, never realizing that he didn’t learn French, Joey shows up to the play, and bombs horribly… until Phoebe saves him by telling the director, in French, that Joey is mentally handicapped.
Ultimately, this show highlights the best relationships among the cast. Ross and Rachel are the imperfect relationship between characters who deeply care about each other but are too flawed as people to get it together. Monica and Chandler are the couple who perfectly match their Type-A and Type-B personality moments. That which stresses Chandler, Monica handles, and vice-versa. Joey and Phoebe are the two actual friends, people who look out for each other even though they fight and disagree. Plus, LeBlanc nails being too stupid to realize how stupid he is.
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