It's hard to get across just how much of a cultural touchstone "Friends" was to my generation. I offer this anecdote: when I was in my mid-20s, while waiting in line at a sandwich shop, I overheard a conversation between two people about my age, discussing how strange it was that they were now the same age as the characters on "Friends" when the show began. I overheard almost the identical exchange multiple times over the next few years as the '90s kids started having their quarter-life crises. "Friends" remains one of the most successful and recognizable sitcoms of all time. So it's about time I wrote a Top Ten for it.
As always, picks are unranked and ordered by airdate. Lots of Chandler and Monica, and not much Joey. Sorry Dr. Ramoray fans.
"The One With the Lesbian Wedding" - In 1996 this episode caused an uproar for its then controversial subject matter, and two NBC affiliates refused to air it. And it's a shame because it is a fun episode, with Joey's first soap opera success, Ross finally getting over his ex-wife, and the wedding itself. I especially enjoy the guest appearance of Marlo Thomas as Rachel's mother, who gets to deliver some of the best lines.
"The One with the Prom Video" - The lobsters, fat Monica, Ross's perm - it's the first of the show's traipses into the past, and the most successful. It so wonderfully captures the embarrassment of early love and adolescence, while showing us a different side of the familiar characters. Ross and Rachel's romance always struck me as a little tedious, but this was one of the few times I found myself rooting for them to get together.
"The One with the Chicken Pox" - It's rare that you get an episode with multiple storylines going on simultaneously where all of them hit the mark. Monica stresses when Richard doesn't have any weird quirks. Joey starts working at Chandler's office and assumes the personality of a raging jerk as acting practice. And, my favorite, Phoebe and a sailor beau played by Charlie Sheen contract chicken pox and have to resist physical contact.
"The One Where No One's Ready" - A great example of a bottle episode, where the gang needs to rush to a museum function, but one calamity after another delays their departure from the apartment. Joey and Chandler have an epic fight over a chair. Phoebe has a wardrobe malfunction. Ross and Rachel have a spat. It's twenty minutes of character interaction and wacky wardrobe changes, resulting in some of the show's best moments.
"The One with the Football" - Thanksgiving was the holiday that "Friends" always had the best handle on, when relationship issues and old history would inevitably rear their heads. This time out it's sibling rivalry, gender relations and a spirited game of touch football that take center stage. Everyone's little disagreements and rivalries get amplified when they have the excuse to get physical, particularly Monica's legendary competitive streak.
"The One with the Embryos" - Phoebe is off contemplating surrogate motherhood, so she misses out on one of the greatest trivia showdowns in television history, with Ross as the inexplicable well prepared quizmaster and everyone's living arrangements at stake. The trivia quiz itself is riot. Weekend at Bernie's. Viva Las Gay-gas. Big Fat Goalie. Miss Chanandler Bong. And did anyone ever figure out what Chandler does for a living?
"The One With Ross's Wedding" - Two parter in London! Another wedding episode and an excuse for lots of mayhem. This one's a lot of fun to revisit now that I recognize more of the guest stars - the cranky passenger on the plane is Hugh Laurie, and Emily's bridesmaid is Olivia Williams. And of course the ending is a killer, where we see the start of the Monica and Chandler relationship, and the worst (or best) mistake that Ross ever makes.
"The One Where Everybody Finds Out" - Monica and Chandler are still trying to keep their couplehood under wraps, but Joey found out a few episodes ago, and now Rachel and Phoebe know too - and are determined to get Monica and Chandler to admit it. Cue the farce, with Joey in the middle, and lines like "They don't know that we know they know we know!" I also like the oft forgotten Ross subplot with the mini-muffins and Ugly Naked Guy's apartment.
"The One with the Cop" - The Joey and Monica subplot is fairly forgettable, but the other two storylines are a lot of fun. Phoebe cracks down on the inconsiderate with the help of a mislaid police badge that she found, eventually attracting the attention of a real cop. Meanwhile, Ross is too cheap to pay the delivery fee for his new couch, so he and Rachel have to move it up the stairs - his howls of "Pivot! Pivot!" still echo in my head to this day.
"The One with the Proposal" - Another two-parter, where the return of Tom Selleck's Richard and screwed up proposal plans put the Chandler and Monica relationship in jeopardy. The second half is what makes this for me, where Chandler is put through the emotional wringer, and when the proposal finally does happen, it feels more than earned. The show could have ended right there and I'd have been happy - and considering how little I remember of the last three seasons, maybe it should have.