RERUN: The Ten Best FRIENDS Episodes of Season Eight

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Malcolm In The Middle will commence in September, so during the month of August, I’m excited to set the figurative table by resurrecting entries from this blog’s decade-long run. Here’s how it works: I’ll provide a link to a piece that I first published many seasons back, and then I’ll offer a bit of updated commentary. But, as I always caution, please be gentle; this early article is from a long time ago, and my standards have changed as I’ve changed — I’ve improved as a thinker, a communicator, and a television-watcher.

So, let’s revisit… The Ten Best FRIENDS Episodes of Season Eight:

Once again, I’m throwing back to select seasons from ’90s sitcoms that ran into the new century and counted at least one good, if not great, year in the 2000s. In the case of Friends, its best years are, of course, early on — with Seasons Two through Five all persuasively operating at a high level. Personally, I think the episodes from February 1996 to February 1997 — from Seasons Two and Three — are the best of the best, for that’s when the show’s use of character is at its most consistent, neither halting nor regressing their emotional developments but evolving them to their happy endings, as is demanded of all these “singles in the city” rom-coms (of which Friends remains the most popular and influential). Indeed, the problem with the latter half of Friends is that the show intentionally slow-walks its leads’ pursuit of their (largely romantic) conclusions, denying us the motivated growth that’s necessary to make such endings feel earned and believable. Accordingly, Season Eight — 2001-2002 — is easily the best from the second half of the run, for it’s the only one that significantly progresses most of the regulars, after years of stalling them, and ahead of two more years that play touch-and-go as a result of the series’ ongoing renewals. That is, Friends was initially intended to end with Eight; that’s why an arc was specifically crafted to pull the show’s central couple — Ross and Rachel — back together. When it got renewed, they had to be separated once more, and when it got renewed again, they had to be further separated… making it harder to genuinely deliver their inevitable finale reunion. Such arc-shaped and Sweeps-timed teasing harmed the characters, and it’s just not exciting when leads don’t believably drive the things that happen to them — when the stops and starts in their relationships seem arbitrary. Season Eight is a winner, again, simply because there’s buyable forward movement… Now, as for where Friends stands in the genre’s trajectory, it’s incredibly prominent, popularizing the “hangout” format and encouraging even more rom-com trappings, even in comedies that aren’t necessarily built around them. Also, get ready for more arcs and serialized storytelling — an invasion of drama into the comedic form, but evident already in the genre via genuinely funny hits like Friends… 



Come back next week for another early ’00s rerun! And stay tuned for a new Wildcard!