Foreword: As with my soulmationship series where I introduced what I’m doing, I’ll do the same here (i.e. a foreword won’t be present on the remaining episodes). I’m doing a rewatch — to what end? I’ve always wanted to create a personal rank the episodes of Friends but I think it requires more than seeing a list of titles, I wanted to do a rewatch and, as I watch, rank them above or below the episodes I’ve already seen. So for instance, treating the pilot as my first episode, it ranks 1. Then with episode 2, I’ll rank it above or below this one, and so on until I have a list of all of them.
For these reviews, I’ll start with a plot summary (going over the A, B, C-storylines) followed by analysis where I’ll give my thoughts on what the episode is about, followed by closing thoughts or general feelings on the episode (especially looking back, and I’ll close out with it’s current rank.
(Also, no I don’t think the first episode sucks, it’s simply my a truncated version of my favorite line in the episode, “Welcome to the real world, it sucks, you’re gonna love it!“)
A storyline – Monica begins and ends her relationship with Paul (the Wine Guy).
B storyline – Rachel ends her engagement to Barry and moves in with Monica promising to start a new life.
C storyline – Ross is trying to recoup as Carol moved the last of her things out of his apartment today and he puts together furniture with the only thing he got in the divorce: his friends.
Monica’s plot starts with the first line of dialogue, downplaying to her friends that she’s not going on a date, just “meeting” with a man. It’s apparent her friends think differently and given their light jabbing at her dating life, it’s clear she’s setting her expectations low.
Monica’s brother, Ross, enters the coffee shop — obviously distraught. Monica informs the group that Carol (Ross’ soon-to-be-former wife) moved out the remainder of her stuff from their apartment. As they seek to comfort him, Rachel enters the coffee shop in a wedding dress and explaining that she’s run out and effectively ended her engagement and her life’s trajectory.
The gang migrates to Monica’s apartment where Rachel indicates she’ll be moving in when Paul (the “not date”). At this point, there’s a marked shift in how the friends treat Monica’s date. They went from nonchalant, light jabbing, to enamored. Monica’s aloof sentiment transforms into genuine excitement sa Paul gets buzzed in and Monica goes to get changed. Despite Rachel’s current free fall and Ross’ depressed demeanor, she’s met with encouragement from all her friends to go on the date.
At this point, all the friends splinter off:
- Monica goes on a date;
- the boys go to Ross’ to assemble furniture;
- and Rachel leaves messages for her family and (former) fiance explaining why she left.
On Monica and Paul’s date, the two appear to have a genuinely good time with a palatable chemistry between them. Monica has gone from “aloof” to “excited” to “seeing a potential future” when Paul asks her if there’s going to be a fifth date, and Monica believes there will be. This is when Paul confesses he’s been unable to be have sex in 2 years. Although initially surprised by the admission, Monica feels empowered as Paul takes on this innocent quality. Paul’s confident in a future (5th) date with Monica but lacks confidence in his ability to perform sexually due to the hurt he’s been through. For Monica, who has already been razzed for drawing in stinkers, this seems to imply Paul can’t and won’t hurt her.
Meanwhile, the boys “assemble” furniture while Ross worries his love life is at an end while Chandler and Joey offer questionable advice. And, at the purple apartment, Rachel continues leaving voice mails for her fiance.
The next morning, Paul exits Monica’s room, the two of them excited and eager to see where the relationship goes. Her friends offer congratulatory regards. Then at work, Monica’s co-worker reveals she too slept with Paul which leads back to the coffee house, where Monica’s friends tell her it’s a line guys use to sleep with women, caving in the future Monica was imagining and bringing her back to the status quo at the beginning of the episode, i.e. Monica downplays the dates because the guys she dates are never on the same trajectory she is.
The episode concludes with Ross inconclusively asking if he can ask Rachel out — which reminds me of the joke in Baseketball when Doug Remer tells his friend he’s going to get Jenna a pre-commitment ring, “I’m giving Jenna a pre-commitment ring. It’s a promise to pledge that we’ll think about getting engaged just as soon as we’re ready to make a commitment.” Surprisingly, Rachel welcomes this and accepts the non-commitment proposal.
Thus, Monica’s story is open and shut while Ross and Rachel plant the seeds of what’s to come.
At its core, this episode is about figuring out who you are, sometimes, independent of your partner, and other times, because of your partner.
Who is Ross?
You have Ross in a state of shock, not knowing how to react to Carol’s lesbianism. He doesn’t know who he is without her and no where is this more apparent than the following exchange:
Ross: I’ll be fine, alright? Really, everyone. I hope she’ll be very happy.
Monica: No you don’t.
Ross: No I don’t, to hell with her, she left me!
Ross vacillating between empathy to hatred is evidence enough that he doesn’t know what he’s feeling more of. He believed in a future with someone that was ripped away. On the other hand, he clearly understands that she can empathize with how he’s feeling since her future was ripped away as well:
Joey: And you never knew she was a lesbian…
Ross: No! Okay?! Why does everyone keep fixating on that? She didn’t know, how should I know?
The thing that’s drawing ire is that Carol replaced Ross.
Why the furniture?
One of my favorite aspects of Ross’ story is how assembling furniture becomes a metaphor for his divorce. He’s missing the integral pieces to his furniture and the bookshelf is not holding together despite the best efforts of his friends. Removing the context of “furniture” from the equation. He’s missing his wife, “can’t feel his legs,” is falling apart despite his friends trying to help him up.
Who is Rachel?
Rachel’s plight is even more explicitly stated as we see the girl in free fall. She loses her entire future and all the foundational blocks that were going to get her there.
Monica: C’mon, you can’t live off your parents your whole life.
Rachel: I know that. That’s why I was getting married.
By the end of the episode, she’s lost access to her dad’s money, her fiance isn’t returning her calls, and she’s been laughed out of several interviews. She doesn’t know who she is, all she knows is she doesn’t want to be what she was on track to be, i.e. “it’s like all of my life, everyone has always told me, ‘You’re a shoe!’. And today I just stopped and I said, ‘What if I don’t wanna be a shoe?’
Of course, Rachel later goes out and buys “boots” which, in my brain, is a shoe, and so her friends take it upon themselves to get her to “cut” the credit cards. They’re not trying to make her life harder, just be the support she needs to not be “a shoe.”
Why the Oreo?
In the final scene, Ross and Rachel split an Oreo. I’m pretty confident this is to indicate they’ve both had a “split” and what was once a foregone conclusion for how their lives will play out, has become “open-ended.”
Who is Monica?
And finally there’s Monica who, at the start of the episode, has convinced herself that she will be alone and this is not a date that will impact her life. Over the course of the episode, we see her nonchalance transform into “this guy could be the one” only to have it all come crashing down. Monica’s story however answers the question of “Who am I without my partner?”
Over the course of dinner with Paul, the two trade stories about what they’ve done to their exes:
Paul: Well, you might try accidentally breaking something valuable of hers, say her-
Paul: That’s one way! Me, I went for the watch.
And later, after Paul’s admission:
Monica: I’m glad you smashed her watch!
This comes full circle at the end of the episode when Monica almost fakes sentiment when Rachel finds Paul’s watch and Monica tells her in a soft tone that she can just leave it there… before stomping on it on her way to bed.
While Monica’s vision of a future with Paul was ripped away, presently, she’s taken what she’s learned from the experience and put it into practice already. Monica learned from Paul that the way to handle a breakup is to break something valuable of theirs. She’s not pining for Paul, but she’s carrying the weight of their relationship with her. It redefines who she is with the knowledge she now has. Take the past into future opportunities.
Of course, it makes sense that Monica’s story answers the question the two B- and C-storylines leave lingering. From the first episode it’s clear Monica is the backbone of the group and, in my opinion (at this point), the protagonist. It’s an ensemble show, sure, but Monica is the only character to feature multiple scenes away from the friends. Her date with Paul is exclusively her and him and her scene at work is solely her and her co-worker. We see multiple shades of Monica, how she is naturally, how she is in a relationship, and how she is broken up. What’s more, the bulk of scenes take place in Monica’s apartment which has an open-door policy considering her friends were over before Monica and Paul even got out of bed the morning after. Between the friends congregating at Monica’s apartment and asking/prying intimate details about Monica’s dating life throughout the episode, it’s clear with the friends actions and sentiments that they’re all invested in Monica — pulling us in to be invested too.
Moreover, given that Monica is the connecting tissue between Rachel and the rest of the group and Ross and the rest of the group, it’s clear she’s the backbone. This can even be interpreted from Ross’ entrance:
Joey: This guy says hello, I wanna kill myself.
Monica: Are you okay, sweetie?
Ross: I just feel like someone reached down my throat, grabbed my small intestine, pulled it out of my mouth and tied it around my neck–
Monica: Carol moved her stuff out today.
Joey and Chandler offer no help to Ross who’s clearly in pain. Monica however, relays the pertinent information to the group, which causes them to shift their tones — starting with Phoebe who seeks to cleanse his aura.
Last, it’s worth noting Monica’s frame over the peephole in her apartment. This episode featured Monica perceiving a possible future with Paul and falling into a future with Rachel. The frame in the peephole could be argued is symbolic of how anyone who enters Monica’s home has a chance to join the core group. The person you see through the peephole, may become one of the framed individuals in her home. This is most apparent when Paul confidently strolls into the apartment to welcomed cheers from her friends. He makes his way to the sitting area as though he’s already welcome.
Who are Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe?
While the remaining 3 friends are not the focus, they are featured prominently and the first characters the audience is introduced to. By the 3-minute mark, you know exactly who Joey, Chandler, and Phoebe are. From small details like Phoebe doing origami with her napkin and cleansing Ross’ aura, to Chandler giving intimate details about his dream, treating his friends like as a therapeutic sounding board while Joey serves as the straight-shooter, brutally honest, “guys’ guy”. They serve as the foundation (in this episode) for the ensemble nature of Friends.
Consider that there are several points in the pilot where the majority behave in unison.
- Joey, Phoebe, and Chandler all razz Monica about her upcoming “not date” with Paul.
- Joey, Phoebe, Ross and Chandler all chant for the soap opera actress to push the other down the stairs (and all clap at the climax).
- As Monica leaves to go on a date with Paul, all of her friends join her in celebrating this outing (Ross going so far as to mock his own sadness) as well as all welcome Paul into the apartment with open arms.
- As the friends huddle around Rachel telling her to “Cut! Cut! Cut!” her credit cards.
While we get insights into each of these three a little, it’s immediately apparent how this show is different. The friends form a unified opinion to whatever individual friend is having issues. If one person is razzing someone, they’re all razzing that someone; if one person is showing support, they’re all showing support.
I’m hooked! Go figure. It’s a great first episode. I’m invested in Monica and I’m already rooting for Ross (moreso than Rachel, but she’s alright). I had to rewatch that scene where Rachel doesn’t rebuff Ross’ advances, but instead says, “Yeah,” then wistfully, “Maybe” to Ross saying he might want to ask her out. In the past, I’d always read this as a, “oh, Rachel is into Ross too,” which is what made it seem strange that she’s suddenly surprised when the finale rolls around.
This time though, it seems less that she’s “into” Ross and more empowered, like at least she has 1 option. Her previous life was mapped out and it’s gone, she went out to get a job, and couldn’t. She’s only now becoming conscious and she’s terrified. She doesn’t. know who she is, so Ross saying he’d still pick her after she ran away is less “Ooo, Ross likes me” and more of a “You want me on your team? I’m not going to be picked last?” Jennifer Aniston nailed it.
I also — I could be wrong, but — I think this the only episode that features a scene transition to the same setting. It is strange that the first scene takes place in the coffee house, then fades to… another scene in the coffee house, then fades to… yet another scene in the coffee house. I know the series at one point was going to be titled, Insomniac Cafe so maybe this structure is a layover from that? It is strange though.
I do like how the coffee house becomes home base, even moreso than Monica’s apartment. For instance, each friend turns to the coffee house when their relationships turns sour.
- Ross enters the coffee shop to whimper about his failed marriage.
- Rachel enters the coffee house to explain why she ran out on her wedding.
- And concluding with Monica who complains that she was lied to from a guy she liked.
Last couple things before I wrap this up.
First, there’s a moment when Joey hits on Rachel that is a little cringey in 2021, but they fix it within the episode (intentional or not). I’m talking about the moment when Joey rests his hand on Rachel’s trapezius and says:
[Y]ou can always come to Joey. Me and Chandler live across the hall. And he’s away a lot.
What I like about this is, despite being a come-on, it establishes Joey and Chandler as a faux married couple since Joey feels the need to let her know his “partner” will be away a lot. I mean, Monica had a guy over when all her friends were in the apartment the next morning, so clearly it’s a jealousy thing, right Joey?
However, the way Joey grips her trapezius feels inappropriate, and it is. However, he grips Ross’ trapezius when they’re alone in his apartment. This leads me to think this is just how Matt LeBlanc touches people. In any case, touching Ross in the same weird, grippy way, made the cringe during Rachel’s a bit more bearable.
Second, I’m sure this is partially everyone feeling out their characters (or maybe being on camera and on-stage), but there’s a lot of hunching. LeBlanc in particular feels like he’s at odds with his confident character since every chair he sits in in the coffee house, he looks like he’s drowning in it. Monica and Paul’s date too though, they both hunch over the dinner table. There’s just a lot of hunching. It’s a little weird.
Last, I’m a sucker for stuff like this:
Ross: I grabbed a spoon.
Lines of dialogue that make sense to the audience but not to the characters in the scene. A LOT of shows will do this wrong, but here it’s done perfect. Monica just smiles as Ross closes the door as she doesn’t need to prolong the visit, but it’s a cute nod to us.
Given that this is the first episode in my rewatch, it’s ranked 1. As I continue, this is going to get more complicated, but for now. It’s ranked one, highly watchable, and outside of their clothes being remarkably oversized, it feels relevant; I genuinely don’t notice everyone isn’t on smartphones.