A storyline – Chandler dates a polyamorous woman.
B storyline – Joey lands a role in a movie (as Al Pacino’s butt).
C Storyline – Monica grapples with her need to have things clean.
At the end of the performance, Chandler notices an attractive woman and is terrified at the prospect of asking her out. You might say that, much like his roommate, Joey, he can’t perform. Despite the single most awkward dialogues to date, to Chandler and his friends’ surprise, Aurora says “Yes.” This fills him with enough confidence to flatly tell Joey the play was awful. Despite this, Joey feels reinvigorated as an agent left him a card. To which Phoebe delivers one of my favorite lines:
As an aside, I’m a sucker for inflection jokes.
We finally get back to the coffee house (always the coffee house) where Chandler enters and informs the group about his date which took place at the coffee house the previous night and well into the morning — I guess Central Perk is open 24/7; it’s a nice touch though to show the chairs at the table behind them turned up. It turns out Aurora was in the Israeli army which is indeed quite a twist and as she tells the story of a stray bullet hitting the engine she pauses and invites Chandler to talk. And here’s a great Matthew-Perry-shines moment, as he tells an (intentionally misdirected) story with so much poise, I found myself more captivated by the ride to Brooklyn than Aurora’s shootout at the border.
The date scene concludes with Aurora revealing that she has a husband and a boyfriend and sees her relationship with Chandler being primarily sexual. This is an interesting twist, but I’m surprised that after the play the two stayed in a coffee house until 2am where she proceeded to talk about herself in detail. Different strokes for different folks I suppose, but Chandler would be forgiven for not realizing Aurora was after a fun, sexual relationship.
Anyway, as far as gender lines go, Monica and Phoebe offer their condolences before Chandler corrects them, seeing this as a win.
The gang leaves the coffee house to introduce us to the wilted C-story of this episode, i.e. Monica likes things clean. They move to Monica and Rachel’s apartment, where Rachel has cleaned. Monica doesn’t see this as a courtesy but a disruption of the “normal order” of things. The ensemble poke fun at Monica’s need to have everything organized and clean — and it helps offer some insight into why the set / apartment always looks pristine. While this introduces us to a character quirk of Monica’s, it’s barely a story. Ultimately, this storyline features a handful of one-liners about Monica liking things clean, only to end with her rolling in bed realizing she’s a kook.
Moving to the more prominent stories, Joey enters the apartment reveling in the fact that he not only has an agent but that said agent just scored him a job as Al Pacino’s butt.
We then do a time lapse of the neighbors (Rachel / Monica & Chandler / Joey), all in their robes, all preparing for the day. It’s a neat slice of life that also dives into how close — and seemingly platonic — all the friends are. Chandler of course is gathering supplies for breakfast for Aurora and hails the benefits of being the third cog in her harem. He gets all the key moments, none of the dull or confrontational moments.
The story cuts over to Joey on set wherein he’s objectified — albeit far less sinister than it sounds. He’s asked to disrobe and “act” less, but Joey tries to a do a lot with a little. Later, we learn this costs him the role.
Chandler’s story then wraps up when he discovers Aurora has added a fourth to her harem and Chandler is faced with the reality that fun and sex isn’t enough. Now he’d lose more time with Aurora — something he was already kicking himself for earlier when he jokingly tells Rachel and Monica he’s wasted 37 seconds with them.
And this is great growth for Chandler — a character who, up until this point — we’d seen little of romantically. His first story was quitting smoking and his second story was dumping a perfectly competent and beautiful girlfriend for seemingly no reason. A casual watcher would be forgiven for not knowing the difference between characters if this was all they’d seen up to this point. However, this episode we see Chandler struggle nervously to ask someone out, date confidently, and wrestle with the duality within everyone — that animalistic side and the thoughtful side.
Analysis – Great Expectations
From the opening lines, there’s a great expectation brewing for Joey’s play. Rachel is excited and not only does Chandler curb that excitement, but then doubles down the mounting anticipation.
“You can always spot someone who’s never seen one of his plays before. Notice, no fear, no sense of impending doom”— Chandler Bing
We’re as excited to see Joey actually perform as we are to see a dumpster fire. Phoebe’s line reiterates the expectation, drawing attention to the fact that the play is titled “Freud!” with an exclamation mark.
This idea of “expectations” then continues through the main two storylines: Chandler and Joey’s.
Joey – The Idea vs The Practice
Since the first episode, Joey takes pride in being an actor. He reveals this relatively unprovoked to Rachel asking, “You guys all have jobs?” Monica flatly says, “That’s how we buy stuff,” but Joey takes the initiative to offer what is job is. As we learn however, for Joey, it’s less of a job and more of an identity made abundantly clear in the last episode wherein Joey’s ex tells scoffs that he goes on three auditions a month and calls himself an actor.
In this episode, we see the fantasy clash with the reality in every scene Joey’s in.
To begin with, Joey recognizes his friends collective praise as evidence they didn’t like it. This alone showcases how his friends pull this routine so often that Joey’s cracked the code. Joey however doesn’t let the fantasy collapse, defending the play by negging, “It was better than that thing I did with the trolls.” For Joey, a “less bad” play is progress. For him, he’s paying his dues and believes it will eventually turn into something big. This becomes more evident when Estelle’s Talent Agency leaves Joey their card. Joey feels he’s moving on to something big. He’s giddy when he hops off the phone with his agent and again plays up the fantasy before the cold reality comes in. Compare the dialogues in TOW Monica’s Gets A Roommate:
Joey: (proud) Yeah, I’m an actor.
Rachel: Wow! Would I have seen you in anything?
Joey: (sounds important) I doubt it. Mostly regional work.
Monica: Oh wait, wait, unless you happened to catch the Reruns’ production of Pinocchio.
Chandler: “Look Gippetto, I’m a real live boy!”
Joey: (proud, slightly smug) That was my agent. (He tosses and catches the phone.) My agent has just gotten me a job… in the new Al Pacino movie!
The Friends: Oh my God! Whoa!
Monica: Well, what’s the part?
Joey: Can you believe this? Al Pacino! This guy’s the reason I became an actor!
Phoebe: Seriously, what’s the part?
Joey: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
Ross: C’mon, seriously, Joey, what’s the part?
Joey: … I’m his (mumbles)
Rachel: You’re, you’re ‘mah mah mah’ what?
Joey: I’m his butt double.
Joey constantly focuses on the fantasy and it’s his friends who pull him back to reality. Joey enters the room full of confidence in front of people who just watched a play wherein he was the lead and couldn’t muster genuine praise.
These are the great expectations. Joey scores the lead in a theatre production, rehearsing for months, expecting greatness only to have a lukewarm reception. Joey gets signed by an agent… only for the agent not to cast him for his talent, but for his butt, which segues into Joey getting the role in a big, Hollywood movie starring Al Pacino… only to be the butt double. Even when Joey then rationalizes to himself and to friends that this is a big deal, Joey walks on the set trying to be professional (“human” at the very least), only to be thought of as a “prop”.
Joey: I just wanna thank you for this great opportunity. Look I mean, listen, I know this is just a first step but I hope this…
Director: Lose the robe.
Joey believes each role he takes is a step up, not willing to acknowledge that his career hasn’t taken off; he remains on the same flat line, at best, making lateral movements.
Joey’s acting here — as a butt — is one of the most honest moments of his career (and certainly of his character at this point). He wants to believe he’s going somewhere and that he has what it takes to be an actor. The phrase, “no small parts, only small actors” applies and he takes a pathetic role and tries to show how he’s different. If he’s been cast as an ass, then he wants to prove he’s more than that; that he actually has talent and isn’t meant to be just be a lump of meat. “I was going for quiet desperation,” is literally what Joey was feeling. He wasn’t acting anymore.
By the end of the episode, Joey appears to accept this reality, saying, “I’ve done nothing but crappy plays for six years. I finally get my shot, and I blow it!” And this could take Joey to dark place — the Monica place — but being a sitcom, his friends come to the rescue. Rather than pull Joey to reality (as they’re wont to do), they raise him back into fantasy.
Monica: Maybe this wasn’t your shot.
Ross: I think when it’s your shot, you know it’s your shot.
Phoebe: I don’t think this was your shot. I really believe big things are gonna happen for you… [Some]day, some kid is gonna run up to his friends and go, “I got the part; I got the part! I’m gonna be Joey Tribbiani’s ass!”.
Chandler – The Girlfriend Fantasy
Chandler’s expectations are blown to smithereens as quickly as Rachel’s expectations for Joey’s play. Chandler needs coaxing just to approach Aurora, saying, “What would my opening line be? Excuse me. Bleaaaaaghla–” followed by “could she be more out of my league?” Even once he gets out the words to ask her out, Chandler plays into his expectation before she can respond, “Would you like to go out with me sometime, thank you, good night (and he turns to leave)”.
Chandler lives in a fantasy though, juxtaposed to Joey, his is not full of grandeur but destruction. He doesn’t believe he can approach a beautiful woman, let alone date one. His friends (specifically Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe) push him to a reality that’s more grounded.
Monica: Go over to her! She’s not with anyone.
Rachel: She’s a person, you can do it.
Phoebe: You always see these really beautiful women with these really nothing guys, you could be one of those guys!
None of these people are promising Chandler the world. Rachel and Monica are specifically encouraging Chandler to get out of his nihilistic fantasy and at least see what reality has to offer (even if it’s only a rejection). Phoebe levels with Chandler a little, essentially telling him he can continue to put this stranger on a pedestal and think of himself as inadequate because that does happen from time to time.
Chandler then has his date and it operates as a fun parallel to Joey. When Joey enters Monica’s apartment, he’s full of confidence and swagger, only to have his friends mock him. Joey then defends his position, trying to convert the nonbelievers. Chandler does the same, entering the coffee house with confidence, only to have his friends tell him he’s in trouble, while Chandler defends his position and tries to convert the nonbelievers.
Chandler enters the coffee house and says, “I can’t believe I’ve been here almost seven seconds and you haven’t asked me how my date went.” When they ask, he immediately dives in, “It was unbelievable.” So when Chandler reveals that Aurora has both a husband and boyfriend and is mainly seeking a sexual relationship with Chandler, Monica and Phoebe assume Chandler has faced the reality, only to discover he’s all for the fantasy.
Monica brings Chandler down to reality, telling him it’s twisted and he shouldn’t get involved in a polyamorous relationship, to which Chandler responds, “The way I look at it is, I get all the good stuff: all the fun, all the talking, all the sex, and none of the responsibility. I mean, this is every guy’s fantasy!”
Joey nods in agreement and while Ross makes a valiant effort to fight it, recognizes it is what he’s also always hoping for too.
What isn’t spoken about until Chandler and Aurora break up, but heavily implied is Chandler, in this scenario, feels the same way many paramours do — that one day their lover will leave their spouse and run off with them instead.
Chandler struggles with confidence — we saw this when he needed coaxing to ask Aurora out and then when he asked Aurora out. He’s a bundle of nerves and anxiety with women. However, when we see Chandler on his date with Aurora, he’s cool, collected, and confident. While he doesn’t outright say it, he essentially feels as if he’s better than her other two lovers (one husband and one boyfriend). This becomes evident when he tries to keep Aurora for longer…
Aurora: He’ll be waiting for me.
Chandler: What? I thought you talked to Rick.
Aurora: It’s not Rick.
Chandler: What, Ethan? He got to spend the whole day with you!
Aurora: No, it’s… Andrew.
Chandler: And Andrew is?
Aurora: He’s… new.
Chandler: Oh, so what you’re saying is you’re not completely fulfilled by Rick, Ethan and myself?
What’s fascinating here is we get to see how Chandler views the hierarchy. Chandler sees the husband as a non-threat — which makes sense, Rick’s the husband and okayed Aurora’s relationships. Plus, the fact that Aurora pursues other men is evidence that Rick is not fulfilling.
However, Chandler is threatened by Ethan. Earlier in the episode he says as much to Monica, “Yeah, well, I only have twenty minutes until Ethan, so you know–” And in the exchange (above), he’s clearly resentful that she spent all day with Ethan yesterday as though she prefers spending time with him. Chandler, on some level, believed she sought to continue the relationship with him (Chandler) due to the fact that he fulfilled something Rick and Ethan couldn’t. So when Aurora announces there’s an Andrew, he feels snubbed. It’s the classic, “if they could do it to your enemy, they could do it to you.”
Chandler recognizes the fantasy for what it is, an illicit affair, and makes the decision to end it.
I like it. I like Chandler and, for its time, I think it was progressive to have a polyamorous woman rather than a polyamorous man getting involved with one of the main cast. Chandler’s story is strong and Matthew Perry shines the whole way through. When he fumbles through asking Aurora out, he feels real. Chandler stammering with his words isn’t played for laughs, it looks like real insecurities. All the self-deprecating jokes leading up to this moment were not over-exaggerated, Chandler is genuinely terrified and Perry plays this marvelously. It’s the same reason why when he’s articulating to Aurora about how there’s a part of him that wells up when the Grinch’s heart grows, it doesn’t feel corny, it feels like the most honest analogy for him to communicate what it is he’s feeling now. If I wasn’t already in love with the character of Chandler, this episode would do it. And again, despite it currently being the year 2021 and I’ve seen more than enough posts over the last decade saying there’s tons of homophobia in Friends, I gotta say, choosing a story like this wherein Chandler recognizes that masculine-stereotypical part of himself isn’t who he wants to be — or at least, isn’t who he’s going to listen to — is progressive.
I also like the Joey storyline as far as a character arc goes… but it doesn’t bring the funny. While Chandler’s story has a mash of comedy and drama, Joey’s story makes him the butt of the joke. He gets knocked down by his friends, agent, movie set, and although there’s support in the end, I don’t feel good at the end of it. In some respects, it’s insight into why Joey is the way he is. He wants to be passionate about what he does, but he’s objectified, a tool only used for his looks.
Meanwhile, while the C Storyline starts the whole “Monica = clean” thing, it’s only there to elongate scenes to hit that 22 minute run time. Monica’s “story” is more a collection of one-liners and observations. On a whole, it’s a weaker episode.
This one was written by Adam Chase & Ira Ungerleider and just in terms of structure, I think they did a great job of having parallels between the two main plots. Plus, diving deeper into Joey and Chandler after the first 3 episodes being so laser-focused on Ross, Monica, and Rachel, again is welcome. In this episode, Joey and Chandler feel fleshed out. They also have a balance of sentiment and humor that I appreciate although again, in my opinion, I prefer when the friends’ jokes aren’t at someone’s expense. Joey gets support in the end, but seeing how Joey is treated outside of the group just made me wish Joey communicated what he was feeling with his friends. They comfort him in the end, but he has a fragile ego.
As an aside, I feel like this is something a reboot or remake should fix. I love the ensemble-ness of Friends but kinda wish one of the friends was genuinely engaged with Joey’s acting. I suppose having them all roll their eyes helps to not have any scenes that feel self-aggrandizing, but flash forward to Ross playing piano and one of the most fun aspects is that Phoebe adores Ross’ playing while everyone else does not.
Also, last thing I want to call out is actually the director. The scene where Chandler enters the coffee house and discusses his date (at the coffee house) is executed so well and Arlene Sanford (director) deserves a shoutout. It’s brilliant to have Chandler and Aurora sit in another section to better distinguish the two. But even the cuts and interjections from the friends in the “present coffee house” reinforce the jokes and that synergy with the friends. It’s timed exceptionally well.
It’s also incredible that Aurora is telling a story about being under fire during a military mission and Chandler’s (intentionally misdirected) story about taking a bus captivates me more. So props to Matthew Perry as well.
It’s still better balanced than the TOW The Sonogram at the End and it’s a little better balanced than TOW The Thumb. TOW The Thumb had more laughs, but the B storyline (of Monica’s boyfriend who everyone likes) left me with mixed feelings. I didn’t know if the friends were honest or not versus this episode (TOW the Butt) where I knew exactly how I felt in each storyline.
Also, while not a “ranking” factor perse, I will say, that when I read the title of this episode (before rewatching), I genuinely couldn’t place what episode this was. I remembered Ross’ thing on his butt but know that’s seasons away and I remembered TOW the Boobies, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of whose butt this was referring to. So if “memorability” was a factor, that’d knock some points off.
- 105: TOW the East German Laundry Detergent
- 104: TOW George Stephanopoulos
- 101: TOW Monica Gets a Roommate
- 106: TOW the Butt
- 103: TOW the Thumb
- 102: TOW the Sonogram at the End