The One Where I Finally Understand

I have an on and off relationship with the TV show Friends and that is as it should be. 

Or, to put it in the lexicon of the series, I’m never quite sure if we truly love each other or are just taking a break.

I see what you did there!

As its creators Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin S. Bright recalled in the new HBO Max special, Friends: The Reunion, the one-line pitch to network executives about the series was always this simple:

That time in your life when your friends are your family.

So naturally there comes a point when you move on, other priorities take over and you begin creating your own family

At least that’s the way Kauffman put it in a series of interviews sprinkled throughout the special.

Hearing it said out loud in such stark terms I finally understood all these many decades later, in the 20-twenties, why a television series that became an international phenomenon from 1994-2004, and continues to this day, and will likely continue for generations to come, was never MY story.

Let’s unpack that Chairy…

I’m one of those people who never thought of moving on from my really good friends.  I knew early on I didn’t want to have kids and wasn’t going to have kids. I knew my real family would be my friends, and whatever relatives I chose to stay in touch with.  I didn’t make a distinction because there NEVER WAS a distinction.

I knew that I could create my own family any way that I chose to.  It would not even for a millisecond occur to me that the people in my life closest to me, who I’d love most in the world, could NOT include those who were my dear, dear friends.

Some of this has to do with being gay and of a certain age.   Many of us LGBTQ baby boomers simply didn’t fit into the hetero-normative margins of the straight world so we fashioned an even more fun, kind and loving one comprised of OUR friends. 

You didn’t necessarily have to be queer to be part of that world.  You just hand to get it, be there and love us.

Sound familiar?

Phoebe gets it

It is important to note this was done not out of resentment but of choice.  If you grew up the way I did, at the time I did, moving on wasn’t on the table.

To have a real, true friend meant you had a forever family.  Especially if you had lived through the eighties and early nineties period prior to when Friends debuted.

A reminder of how painfully 90s Friends is

It was the height of the AIDS epidemic and by 1994 each day was like climbing through the rubble of a nuclear holocaust if you were one of my friends.  Who was alive, who was dead, who was depressed, who was doing well and who was just generally in denial or drifting or drinking/drugging themselves to death?

That was a daily occurrence and just about the only thing you knew is that your friends that remained would be there for you.

Oh Chairy.. ya did it again!

But miraculously here’s what each day also brought you —

Dumb jokes and dumb jobs; hilarious and heartbreaking dates that might or might not turn into love affairs; mortifying moments of embarrassment and secret vices that your good friends would be more than happy to publicly rag on you for…

Terrible fashion choices, silly haircuts, weight gains and weight losses, and relatives who could swoop into town and undo every neurosis you had spent years getting under control in one quick visit.

You wouldn’t think this would be the case at the time but it’s true.  It was also what made Friends work, even for those of us who didn’t quite always get it.

Well we all get bad haircuts…

Unlike other network sitcoms of its era:

  • It was funny, it was clever, it was silly and, every so often, it tugged at our heartstrings.
  • It had six of the most charismatic and adept casts in all of sitcom history – Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc – who even now, reassembled together again onstage at the Warner Bros. lot, some 17 years later, seem incapable of phoning in a false or phony note when it comes to their interrelationships.
Dare we say.. authentic?
  • It has even managed to rise above all types of the usual show biz b.s. antics since its been off the air, those that have eclipsed and nearly swallowed up the afterlife of almost every other late 20th century show.  To whit:

a. Yes, we knew the actors all got paid a record-setting one million plus per episode and more towards the end of its run.  We were HAPPY for them.

b. Yeah, we know to this day it’s reported the EACH make $20 million per YEAR in residuals and the show STILL generates about a billion dollars a year for WB TV.  We can live with that if it means we get to sometimes see it.

I’m with Janice here #wow

c. Uh huh, we get the friends each received about  $2.5 mill for this special alone; that there’s a lot of cosmetic “enhancements,” and hair dye, to keep them so dewy-looking; that the “girls” are closer than the guys; that some of their careers have fared better than others; and that Matthew Perry, in particular, continued to struggle with severe substance abuse and other health issues that plagued him throughout the run of the show.  Whateva and we’re rooting for him.

But nothing truly tarnishes the juggernaut that is Friends.  And if you don’t think so consider…

a. What other cast would get paid that much money to reunite?

b. Which other show has a worldwide audience ranging from Nobel Prize winner Malala to one of sport’s GOATs David Beckham?

c. And how many nineties sitcoms could get Justin Bieber to dress up live as a potato or Lady Gaga to do a duet on a song called Smelly Cat for no billing on a reunion special?

100% would watch this show

Friends, like our friends, our families, is far from perfect.  Yeah, I wish it was more multi-cultural, economically inclusive and LGBTQ positive, too.  And, um, please, no WAAAAAYY could they have afforded that apartment at that time – grandmother or not.

But I think of everyone interviewed  Matthew Perry got it exactly right when trying to express what Friends continues to mean and how it endures.

He said no matter what party you went to years later, if you ran into another cast member, you were probably going to spend the evening with them.  You apologized to whomever you were with because all bets were off.  You knew, in that moment, you could talk for hours and very likely would do so, as if no time had passed.

The indefinable pull of that type of relationship is what makes real friends.  And what made Friends.  Whatever either of their drawbacks.

Friends Opening – Season 1

The Pand-Emmys

What’s more meaningless and wasteful and escapist than watching an awards show during a pandemic several days after human rights icon and US Supreme Court Justice extraordinaire Ruth Bader Ginsberg died?

Not much.  Especially since at least 12 different people have assured me in the last 24 hours that the world as I know it will soon end.

As if it already hasn’t.

Welp

Anyway, this is one of many reasons why I decided to tune in to the mostly virtual 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday night.

What could be better than escaping into a sea of pop culture calamity?

My hope was for a night of diversion and bitchy commented asides that would allow for the venting of so many things that, okay, I haven’t exactly been holding down.

At all.  And not towards anyone.

If you’ve been reading here lately, or ever, you know.

And we still love you completely

Still, my husband and I are suckers for free Hollywood crack so gathering ourselves and our guacamole and chips around the TV at 5:00 PST to not exactly hate watch, more like love-hate divert, seemed like the best idea in at least five minutes.

Plus – we don’t have to social distance, wear a mask or even think about that sh-t – I mean, patriotic duty and kindness towards our fellow citizens – which we do happily since it’s no big deal and, truly, why would anyone in their right mind be complaining about it at this point?

Wear the damn mask

Like your past, who you are and what you are thinking follows you around like the plague and can rear it’s ugly head at any inopportune moment.  Which is why it’s best to show that unsavory, albeit snidely fun side of you only around people who get you’re not the total a-hole you seem to be, people like your significant other, best friend or even pooch…..during a Hollywood awards show…when you can talk back or even catcall to the screen at people in fancy clothes and over-privilege who can take it.

Even virtually.

WWJRD (What would Joan Rivers Do?)

This, of course, was not to be on Sunday night.

None of it.

This, in fact, was the opposite of what we hoped.  Overly polite people trying their best to gingerly entertain in a responsible way while consistently making the point that there was nothing really important going on this evening on this show except, well, group human hugs in a particularly difficult time of what could be our soon-ending civilization.

Ugh.  How disappointed were WE at my house?   (Note: Okay, mostly I).

Fortune 500!

But, I mean, what did we think?  That host Jimmy Kimmel wouldn’t wear rubber gloves to hand the winner’s envelope to in studio presenter Jennifer Aniston?

Or that we wouldn’t soon see that despite the early canned laughs and celebrity shots the massive Microsoft Theatre really had no audience at all and Kimmel was  really speaking to a sea of appropriately empty seats?

Or that instead of buying seats and ads and throwing lavish after parties the studios and TV Academy would pool their money and combined raise $2.8 million during the broadcast to feed hungry kids? (Note: nokidhungry.org).

Really channeling my inner Larry David

Or that many of the award categories, nominees and winners would be read by COVID-19 first responders like nurses, doctors, farmers and truck drivers?

The people putting their lives on the line to keep society going?  People taking time out of their day to appear on a silly awards show to amuse the likes of me?

These were people I bet were even expecting half of us watching at home would make fun of their hair, how they spoke or at least whom they were wearing.  That’s how cool they were.

Alas, we couldn’t do any of those things.  Nor, I suspect, could much of anyone else.

This but there’s nothing else on

Because despite how much we might very, very, VERY much want it, there is no true escape from the reality of these days.

I mean, if an award show can’t even deliver that, we truly have no choice but to face facts and become the actual heroes and heroines on our favorite TV shows in real life.

At least partly.

So yeah, it’s great that Schitt’s Creek set a new record for a TV comedy and swept in every major category – series, directing, writing, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress.  And that an out and proud gay guy, showrunner Dan Levy, took home four awards in one night.

Melting my cold dead heart

It’s also great that Succession, a show that takes on the unfeeling, corporate rich, won best drama series, best directing, best writing and best actor.

For this scene alone, Jeremy Strong earned it

Not to mention it’s great Watchmen was awarded best limited series, writing, actress and supporting actor for its original genre bending depiction of the destruction of Black Wall Street and the justice that, in turn, could have wrought.

I mean, is anyone better than Regina??

Kudos to all of them.  And many, many more not mentioned.

In fact, here is the complete list.

But what this year’s Emmys will best be remembered for, if it is at all, was for being the first major televised awards show up that best encapsulated the strangeness of our times.  (Note: Feel free to substitute strange with the angriest, or bitchiest, word of your choice).

This works too

As much as it did its job I’m hoping next year the 73rd go-round are A LOT worse, and, in turn, bring out the worst in those of us at home.

Because that will mean all of us, on the whole, are doing a hell of a lot better.

Emily Hampshire – “Maybe This Time” (from Schitt’s Creek)