Tag Archives: TV

Friends Reunited – Revisiting the 90s via a Box-Set Time Machine

I frequently find myself having those box set conversations – you know the ones where they tell you that Dexter is really worth watching, and you can’t believe that they’ve never seen The Sopranos (but have found the time to watch Dexter – hello!). Everyone is watching Game of Thrones (some people are a bit further behind, which makes everyone talk in rubbish code “Could you believe the one where [winks] pops that dude’s eyeballs out of his head?”). Some people are big on Scandi-crime, others on inexplicably un-funny American animation (Family Guy, The Simpsons). Some people are clearly trying to get their money’s worth out of Netflix or Amazon Prime and will spend an entire game of poker trying to convince you that [insert name of shit comedy] is way better than [insert name of good comedy].

Amidst all of this, I have been revisiting Friends. Back in the year 1994 no-one was watching box sets (unless you count Joey’s icky VHS porn collection), no-one was streaming Breaking Bad on to their phones in the middle of Ross’ (really poor quality) palaeontology classes. In the real world I had just moved away to uni, and Friends saw me right through my degree, my Masters, a year working in a dole office, and right through my PhD. People could be a bit snarky about Friends, even at the time – and in the middle of a box-set conversation here in 2014 they can be downright shocked by the uncoolness of my viewing choices.

You know what? It’s still pretty funny. I’ll admit that coming off the back of watching Seinfeld again, it takes a bit of getting used to the huggyness of it all, but the writing is good and holds up. A few things surprised me this time around, though, and here are my random musings about them:

Porn

Chandler watching video

As Janice would say: Oh. My. God! There’s an awful lot of porn going on. Setting aside my own views about porn, they just seem to talk about it ALL THE TIME. In the early seasons they don’t have the internet, but the guys have boxes of porn stashed away, porn (home-made or otherwise) on VHS seems to pop up fairly frequently. When Chandler buys a laptop (or whatever the hell that large beige box is) it is largely used for watching porn. An episode is dedicated to Chandler and Joey watching non-stop porn that has appeared for free on their TV. Monica is disturbed when she thinks Chandler is getting his rocks off to sharks, rather than porn. Phoebe’s sister is a porn actor for a while. Porn porn porn porn porn.

Perhaps it is because I only have, like, three friends myself – but porn NEVER comes up as a topic of conversation. I’m sure I know plenty of people who like porn (indeed I have a friend who blogs about porn and other films) but it seems to be largely a private activity these days. Is it because porn has moved from the TV to the private screen? I’m sure there’s an A-level Sociology essay in there somewhere.

Technology

Phoebe Phone

Friends covers a huge technological shift in society. It begins when plots could centre around being unable to contact a character, moving into that period where someone rich (Jill Goodacre) might let you use their phone, right up to everyone having a phone and people rarely being out of contact. The internet doesn’t really feature hugely. Towards the end Ross and Chandler proto-frape each other on a Friends Reunited-style website, but that’s as far is goes really (apart from accessing porn). Restaurant and theatre reviews are still eagerly read from newspapers. The answer-machine is king (as it was in Seinfeld). Simpler times.

Modes of Masculinity

Hugging

Urgh that’s such a wanky title – but I can’t think of a better way of phrasing it. Three men – one handsome, confident, stupid, and a big hit with the ladies (whom he treats terribly), another who is funny, devoid of sexual confidence, and (eventually) a loving partner. The third (and more about Ross shortly) is a deluded mummy’s boy who gets the girl in spite of his perceived strengths. Now I’m not making any big statements about any of this (remember these are just random musings) but the thing that hit me this time round was a sort of implicit homophobia that peppers the interactions between the male characters. I think it’s a sign of how far we’ve come as a society that episodes like the one where Ross fires a male nanny because it’s just ‘wrong’ for a man to care for children, stick out like a sore thumb to me now. Ross, Chandler and Joey hug, sometimes snuggle, and even kiss, but the punchline is almost always ‘ewwww DUDE!’. Chandler’s Gay Dad (or is he a Trans Dad or a Drag Dad – oh who cares it’s the 90s and we don’t really distinguish between any of that stuff – it’s all funny) played wonderfully by Kathleen Turner, is the butt of countless jokes and yet I can’t help wondering how much could have been gained if he/she (see, I don’t even know) was delivering the funny rather than being the funny.

I don’t want you to think that I’m being a humourless, pompous arse about all of this. It is, after all, a TV show that ended ten years ago. I am surprised, though, by the things that washed over me 10-20 years ago, and now seem sort of … odd to me now.

Rachel

jennifer_aniston3_180_240

Rachel’s transformation from Long Island princess to career woman is constantly being scuppered by Ross. I’m not going to lie to you, I fucking hate Ross. I think I hated him back then, but I must have let it go. Watching Friends again re-ignited my hatred of him. I reckon it will take about four years to subside. Thankfully there is little chance of David Schwimmer popping up in anything and setting me off again.

Rachel gets her first big career break, and Ross ruins it because he is jealous of Mark, her colleague. His possessive behaviour almost gets her fired. Ross and Rachel break up because she’s working too much and he won’t give her any breathing space. When they split up I say ‘Huzzah’, then they get together again and I’m supposed to be pleased – all the studio audience coo and aww when they kiss. I say ‘Bollocks!’.

They were not on a break.

Ten series in, and things are starting to get wrapped up. Phoebe has Mike and a ‘quirky’ (but let’s face it, entirely conventional) life ahead of her. Monica and Chandler have babies and a house in the suburbs. Joey has, well, a short-lived spin-off sitcom* in his future. Ross gets tenure – despite being the most unconvincing academic I’ve ever heard. Rachel gets an amazing job offer – wow, the journey is complete…except it isn’t. Here’s Ross again – how can he manipulate things so that Rachel stays in New York? He tells her ‘I love you. Stay here’ and she does. That’s her happy ending. I had actually convinced myself, prior to watching the final episode again, that Ross moves to Paris with Rachel and their kid. I think my brain did what my mum used to do when I was a kid and she would edit books on the fly to make them less sexist (Julian always washed the dishes in the versions of The Famous Five that I heard at bedtime). I was so disappointed when Rachel decided to stay to be with Ross. Idiot!

* When posters for the new series ‘Joey’ started popping up around Leeds, someone wrote the words ‘Twat Rascal’ across Matt LeBlanc’s face. Possibly my favourite billboard vandalism of all time.

Obesity

fat monica

It’s kind of funny that fat Monica is probably thinner than about 50% of the American population now. I’ve seen a chap running a British Heart Foundation obesity awareness stall who was fatter than fat Monica.


So, now I’ve finished watching Friends I need a new box-set to watch – anyone got any recommendations? Anything worth a second viewing? Anything new to recommend?

Stuff and Nonsense

TV shows about hoarding have recently replaced my previous addiction to TV shows following the police around (before that I was a bit obsessed with shows about completely anal Australian Customs officials).  Although I was once briefly involved in a police car-chase (I hadn’t noticed the flashing lights behind me, as I was very engrossed in belting out a Blondie song while driving – which may have also contributed to the fact that I was doing double the speed limit), I have much more in common with hoarders than I do with cops and robbers.  I feel very attached to my stuff.  I have a lot of stuff.  I also have a very small house which I would like to sell.

The hoarding shows on TV seem to work on the premise that people keep stuff to fill a void in their lives – usually caused by the death of a loved one, divorce, or abuse – but I can’t really say that that applies to me.  I do think that being a student for many years may have contributed to the stash – firstly because I lived like, well, a student and it was perfectly acceptable to have kitschy nick-nacks adorning every spare surface because that’s really the only way one can personalise a rented space.  Secondly, I lived for years on no bloody money and every treat from family and every 3 for 2 book deal was valued and special.  When I finally entered the workforce and had spare cash I started treating myself to books; I’ve never been one for flashy holidays and things like that, but being able to read a book review and then go out and buy it (in paperback, of course, I’m not blummin’ Rockerfeller) seems to me to be the ultimate luxury.

There is also the clothing issue.  The older I become the harder it gets to throw clothes out – partly because I now know the fickleness of fashion and am pretty sure that everything I own will at some point be ‘in’ again.  Ah if only I had kept my puffball skirt and my collection of batwing jumpers in zany prints.  Now there’s a bit of 90s grunge revival going on and I’m bringing a few of my old favourites back out from the back of my wardrobe.  Only a few though, since I was a lot thinner before I went to university and lived on pizza for the best part of a decade (and it was the best part of a decade – Lucky’s pizza was delicious!).  But perhaps I’ll lose a lot of weight when I successfully manage to stop eating crisps/complete a 500cal fast day without cracking/discover a form of exercise that doesn’t make me want to fucking kill myself.  Then those size 12 corduroy trousers bought in a variety of colours from Top Shop will fit me again.  So I really shouldn’t throw them away.

I also blame ‘the parents’.  I’m not saying that I grew up in a dirty home, but I did learn that stacking shit up in cluttered piles was a valid form of tidying up.  Evidence for the Prosecution – returning home from school one day, I pottered around the house for almost an hour before my mum got home and pointed out that we had been burgled.  Evidence for the Defence – I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the house was on fire or had been transported to a strange land, inadvertently killing a witch, as I was that kind of kid.  My bf grew up in a very tidy home, his parents even had a special folder in which they kept receipts and warranties for all major purchases.  Everything had its place.  Unfortunately my bf will put a carrier bag filled with receipts and bills and old tissues and out-of-date throat lozenges and reams of paper on which he has practised writing Japanese characters up in the loft, rather than sort it out.  So maybe I can’t blame the parents.

And now I’m trying to sort it all out, but when I watch shows like The Hoarder Next Door I can hear myself in their justifications for keeping an old dog-eared copy of The Daily Express – “But I may want to look at it one day”, “No, I must keep this broken ornament because it belonged to X”, “I’m SURE that this will come in useful”.  Even though I see myself in them, I also find myself shouting at the telly “THROW THE SHIT AWAY, YOU MENTALIST! YOU HAVEN’T USED IT FOR FIFTEEN YEARS YOU WILL NOT MISS IT”.  I really need to take my own abuse advice.  So now there are books and clothes going to the local PDSA shop (I am hoping that this will lead to the gentrification of my neighbourhood, with the people of Bramley suddenly embracing literary fiction and shunning tracksuits for my donated corduroy wonders) and the really crappy stuff is going in the bin.

I’ll never be a minimalist, but if I can get rid of enough stuff to make my house look normal, then I can sell it and buy a bigger house that I can fill with even more shite tastefully decorate and display the things that are actually important to me.