Ten years ago, it would have been unfathomable that I would be putting Friends at number four on my favorite shows list. It was cemented at the top of my favorite shows list whenever I would create them (which was frequently...I've always been a list boy). Completely granite at number one. My own personal Mount Rushmore. Every Thursday night for years and years (from when I was far too young to watch to when I could almost relate to the earliest episodes of the series) I sat, glued to what would happen next with Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Monica. It was a show that I couldn't live without.
And in some ways I still can't. It is, after all, numero four on this list and the highest rated traditional sitcom. But other shows have come into my life and tastes shift as you get older. At this point I would greatly prefer a show that had multiple characters and long plot arcs like Mad Men or Game of Thrones, and it is a sign for the shows that proceed it on this list that all favorites are just waiting to be one-upped.
The show is still intensely watchable, even if ten years later it's weird to see Jennifer Aniston, MOVIE STAR, on a sitcom each week, sometimes not even as the lead. Or to wonder how even in the nineties a show could be pretty blatantly homophobic (seriously-rewatch the show and think of how some of these jokes about Chandler feel like they were told in the 80's). I love the way that these six became so co-dependent on each other, forming their own family. They were indeed, friends, and like all good friends, they were there for you when you needed them. Perhaps part of my love of this series is that I remember watching the One with the Routine after my first breakup and sitting in my mom's old chair watching Ross say Rachel instead of Emily. I remember bonding with my friend Kristin over our shared love of the series and stuffing into a college dorm filled with twenty people to catch the finale. It was a show about Friends that made you want to share it with your friends. It was, in that way, forever perfect. And while it may not stay at the top of the list, it will always be in a special place in my heart-permanently perched like an old pal you can always call when you're blue.
No show quite did Turkey Day like Friends, and what better way to celebrate that fact than by including multiple past Thanksgivings? I don't know if it's the way that Phoebe loses her arm in a past life (only Phoebe!) or the way that Joey's head got stuck in a turkey, but this is such a brilliant illustration of how some of the best moments of your life are spent ruminating about some of the worst. And of course, we were treated to a pivotal "I love you" in what would become the other major love story on the show-Chandler and Monica.
I take pride in each of these lists having at least one episode that is just for me to hug and claim all my own, and that's what this one is, as it rarely shows up in "best of" lists for the series. Perhaps I loved it because Rachel/Chandler episodes were always wonderful together-they so rarely interacted, but with his self-loathing and her occasionally shaky moral compass, they were the perfect combination to randomly start stealing cheesecakes from their neighbor. I remember toward the end of the series when Chandler says goodbye to Rachel how I wished that he had brought a cheesecake-sublimely funny (and Monica getting back at her cousin was a perfect side story).
8. "The One with All the Poker" (#1.18)
The first thing I think of from this episode is not the poker, but the dancing. The first season of the show was markedly different from the remainder of the series as you got truly random, tangential moments like the guys deciding to dance to The Tokens, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Later on in the series (in the Super Bowl episode) this would be called back when they had to sing it to Marcel. The rest of the episode, of course, is what brings this to the table, as we got a taste of Monica's hyper competitiveness while playing games and Ross's complete adoration of Rachel (giving up his winning hand to let her have a victory after losing her job). And that dance-pure joy.
The first of the show's wildly successful bottle episodes, it brilliantly relies on the chemistry between the six actors themselves. In later episodes, the annual bottle episodes and Thanksgiving episodes were something that we desperately relied upon and relished, because it brought them all together as a group (too often they were pulled apart as the seasons continued, though of course that would be realistic as they got older). The Friends MVP's here were clearly Chandler and Joey, fighting over, well, Joey stealing the "essence of the chair" ("that's right-he's stealing the essence!"), and Joey wearing all of Chandler's clothes. Awesome and breezy (though does that negate it...?)
6. "The One with the Prom Video" (#2.14)
"He's her lobster!" Say that sentence to anyone born before 1988 and they will giggle with delight, because that's what happened here. After a year and a half of waiting, hoping, pleading, begging, and praying that Ross would finally get his dream girl, a video of Ross trying to save Rachel at the Prom finally brought our two lovebirds together. It's hard to imagine years later that their initial dating life would only last a season before they "took a break," but it started so perfectly that the writers could convince their audience to spend seven years holding their breath for these two to find each other again. After all, Ross was indeed Rachel's lobster.
Yet another Thanksgiving episode, this one with Joey and Chandler fighting over multiple episodes (though they bickered more than any other characters on the show, they rarely had it carry from one episode to the next). Chandler had to stay in a box throughout the episode in a similar fashion to when Joey stayed in their entertainment center earlier in the series while the guys were robbed. The plot was utterly ludicrous, but that didn't stop it from being completely hilarious (Chandler's one-liners in this episode were amongst the best of the series), and eventually poignant when Chandler is willing to sacrifice his relationship with Kathy for his friendship with Joey. Throw in Monica bizarrely inviting Richard's son over in a misguided romantic gesture ("it's like inviting a Greek tragedy for dinner") and you have a classic installment for the gang.
4. "The One with Monica's Thunder" (#7.1)
Courteney Cox was bizarrely the only cast member of the show that never enjoyed an Emmy nomination, and that's a damn shame as she slowly became the MVP of the series as it progressed through its run (her lack of a citation for Cougar Town makes me wonder what the TV Academy has against her). This is absolutely her finest hour, as hyper-competitive Monica gets into a fight with Rachel and Ross, constantly keeps dragging Chandler on her campaign, and sets Phoebe off on one of her tangential song-writing soliloquies. A brilliant episode from start to finish, and absolutely Emmy-worthy.
Once upon a time children, in a land long ago, there was no Brangelina. Instead, everyone in America spent all of their time simply talking about Brad and Jen. Brad Pitt, at the height of that mania, made a guest appearance in a gut-busting cameo as someone who loathes Rachel, despite her attraction to him (he is, of course, Brad Pitt). This is the episode with the rumor (that Rachel was a hermaphrodite cheerleader from Long Island), but it was also the episode where Pitt's playful side cut loose and made everyone a little bit wryer-Phoebe flirting, Rachel gasping, Ross denying-it was absolutely delicious. And the best Thanksgiving episode of the series.
2. "The One with the Embryos" (#4.12)
That may be the title, and it is indeed sweet when Phoebe talks to the embryo, but ask any Friends fan worth his or her salt and they know what this episode is called: "The One with the Trivia Contest." Seriously-could you get any funnier than Rachel and Monica taking on Joey and Chandler for their apartment, with Ross moderating (poor, gleefully nerdy Ross)? From Chandler being afraid of Michael Flatley (his legs flail around as if independent from his body) to Monica's nickname in field hockey ("Big Fat Goalie") to the eleven ways that Monica categorizes her towels (don't you want to know what the Fancy Guest ones look like?), this is a Friends fan's personal nirvana. Add in a bit of Ms. Chanandler Bong ("we steal that TV Guide every week!") and you have a truly masterful episode.
Widely regarded as the best episode of the series, I'm not going to argue with consensus as I've been trumpeting it since the moment it aired. I could not stop laughing, and it's difficult to pinpoint a favorite moment (okay, Chandler and Phoebe's "first date" is a solid gold medal). I love the way that poor Joey becomes a pawn between Chandler/Monica and Rachel/Phoebe, the way that Phoebe uses the greatest tool at her disposal (her sexuality, natch), and the many throwbacks to past or future episodes (this is both the last episode featuring Ugly Naked Guy (with Ross's cup from the hockey game!) and the first appearance of Joey's nighttime penguin pal Huggsy)-it's a compendium of all the reasons to love this show. They are a show about friends getting caught in the middle of schemes and romances and entanglement and life-but always, friends.
And there you have it. I say this frequently, but I KNOW that you have opinions on your own favorites that I missed, so the comments section should be flooded (or I should at least get one). Tell me all about how much you love this show (and how that reunion special needs to happen)!
For more of my favorites: Girls, Pushing Daisies, How I Met Your Mother, Game of Thrones, The Office, Ally McBeal, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, South Park, Mad Men, The Twilight Zone