A storyline – Ross and Rachel have a pseudo-date doing laundry together.
B storyline – Joey lulls Monica onto a double date to breakup an existing couple.
C Storyline – Chandler and Phoebe break up together.
We’re introduced to all three main plots in the coffee house — Phoebe will help Chandler breakup with Janice (her first appearance) and she’ll break up with her current boyfriend. Joey wants to win Angela — former girlfriend — back, but she’s dating someone new, so Joey enlists Monica to help him under false pretenses. Ross and Rachel, by virtue of a freaky “fluffy rat” coincidence, are going to do laundry at the Laundromat.
Joey genuinely plays like a dog in this episode. It may be that I just started owning a dog, but you gotta temper their impulses so when they see another dog across the street they don’t clothesline themselves on their own leash. Joey, seeing a pretty lady in a red dress that — in her words — “accents her breasts” moves to get up, then down, then counts (mississippily) and gets up to greet her. Alas, for the “man’s man,” we finally get to see the type of women who go for Joey’s shallow and insensitive ways.
The sequence naturally progresses to a Ross & Rachel moment. And as far as “moments” go, this one is so honest and awkward — I love it! Ross trying to spend more time with Rachel and lying his way around why he can’t use his building’s laundry machine is beautiful. I’m reminded of the Annie Hall sequence:
Alvy: You-you wanna lift?
Annie: Oh, why- you gotta car?
Alvy: No, um I was gonna take a cab.
Annie: Oh no I have a car.
Alvy: You have a car? I don’t understand why, if you have a car, then why did you say “Do you have a car?” like you wanted a lift?
Ross — as anyone who’s attempted to ask someone out who genuinely seems oblivious does — tries to be casual only to be caught in a lie and rather than admit he just wants to spend more time with her, covers it up with a lengthy and peculiar scenario that could only be fabricated by someone who doesn’t know how to lie well. This is as humiliating as it is endearing. His lie is, there’s a fluffy rat problem — it says a lot about someone’s character to make a cute analogy like that.
When we zip back to Joey and Angela, the scene plays out in such a way that I genuinely needed to slow it down. These two are such sluts for each other, damn near romantic, like when the two villains in a long-running animated series get together.
Joey: We were great together and not just at the fun stuff, but like… talking too.
This is a slappable moment; a backpfeifengesicht. And Angela’s response is a loving, reminiscing smile sigh.
But then, more for herself than to Joey, she reminds herself:
Angela: Yeah, well, sorry, Joe. You said let’s just be friends, so guess what?
Angela: We’re just friends.
The “yeah, well, sorry” might as well be for herself. Replace “Joe” with “Angela” and if this had been a show about Angela, we’d have gotten the same line as her internal thought.
Joey even plays the line as a “What?” with a toothy grin thinking Angela means “friends with benefits.” After this, Angela moves away from the counter and it feels an awful lot like she needs to pull herself away from Joey or she’ll slide back into bed with him.
Also, it’s worth mentioning now that Joey’s advice to Chandler, not a moment ago, was, “Be a man, just stop calling.” Which either means Joey’s a liar about how he breaks up with women or we’re meant to believe Joey really had something with Angela — and I believe it’s the latter.
Of course, neither of our two slitherans bat an eye at this overt sexual tension and flirting when Joey says, “Why don’t the four of us go out to dinner tonight… you and Bob, and me and my girlfriend.” Now, granted the scene ends immediately after, but this is why they share that villainous flag here. Rather than throw shade at the guy who hit on her while in a relationship with someone else, we’re led to believe Angela just said “Sure,” because in the next scene, Joey needs a date to dinner.
These two are perfect for each other — almost rethinking the soulmate series.
Joey convinces Monica to go on the double date, who acts as the audience surrogate to say what we’re all wondering, “You go out with tons of girls, what’s so special about her” and considering Joey has no issue with ghosting girls, the fact that he at least told her he wanted to just be friends gives us enough information to surmise there is something different about Angela.
We move on to Chandler and Ross who gets the news Monica won’t be coming, so Chandler tells Ross he’s going on a date.
Again, in terms of making us root for Ross. Great f***ing job. They make it clear how innocuous Ross’ proposal of “doing laundry” was. He panics at the thought that it’s just him and Rachel. He didn’t want to “score a date”, he just wanted to find more time to hang out together. He’s not ready.
Then of course the irony of not bringing your dirty laundry to do laundry is the icing on the cake. Again, who hasn’t overthought a date to this degree? I once wanted to take my date out to dinner at your favorite sushi restaurant only to be advised by my friends it might come across as racist (she was Korean, but my friends convinced me that would be even more diabolical if I’m assuming all asian peoples like sushi — for the record, I just like sushi and thought she might too, especially because all the chefs get involved in your decision making — so we wound up doing pizza, but as it turns out, she was lactose intolerant).
Anyway, time moves forward and everyone’s Saturday “date” night kicks off. We get introduced to Janice, whose first line on the show is “Oh my God” though not in her usual nasaly way, but fitting nonetheless.
At the laundromat, Rachel gets accosted by this cartoonish Egyptian woman — which is not meant as a racial thing, I just mean her hat and eyeliner makes her look like a classic hieroglyphic. Anyway, the actress (Camille Saviola) deserves high praise at making the most realistic, PG-rated, New York rudeness you can imagine — she’s great!
Anyway, Ross trying to be smooth, only to realize what he’s saying is weird is so meta and refreshing. Rachel saying “I’m a laundry virgin” and Ross saying, “I’ll use the gentle cycle” is the kind of line that sounds great in your head and not out loud — which Ross realizes and quickly readjusts.
And here. episode 5, we get the first potentially incongruity. Monica goes to the bathroom to freshen up with Angela who mentions that Bob (who Monica still thinks is Angela’s brother) is great in bed. To which Monica says, “My brother never even told me when he lost his virginity” yet in the last episode, Monica is the one that’s hoping Ross doesn’t remember (because she does) the night he lost his virginity 10/20. Unless… unless Monica knows the date was Ross and Carol’s “first time” not his “first time ever.” I suppose there’s some wiggle room, but… I mean, if you’re advertising to your sister the date you had sex, I imagine there’s not much you’re omitting.
They cut back to Chandler and Janice — and this is one of the things that Friends does and to anyone uninitiated, this is what critics talk about when they mention “jokes with setups and payoffs.” Chandler ordered a latte and espresso for himself and Janice in the coffee house in their first scene together. Chandler downs the espresso so he has an excuse to get advice from Phoebe who’s sitting at the counter. The setup. So, when we cut back to Chandler and the camera idles for a minute on the 5 empty espresso cups, we know Chandler is wired, has been there awhile, and still hasn’t broken up with Janice. We see the duration and the effect of a breakup not going well. Then of course, the payoff being when he accidentally hits her in the eye — while she’s crying — because he’s nervous and full of caffeine.
When we zoom back to Monica and Joey’s date night. Monica is telling the story of Underdog getting away — which is either a reference to a future episode or this does happen more than I thought — until she realizes that she’s been bamboozled by Joey. Joey (now better known as Monica’s little devil on her shoulder) quickly turns Monica to the dark side wherein they agree to break the couple up. Monica being overly touchy and Joey ordering another plate of wings for Angela to nibble which — although they haven’t revealed in the series that Joey loves food — Joey seems to actually adore about Angela. He seems like he’s smiling, not solely for poisoning Bob’s perspective of her, but Joey seems like he actually finds it endearing.
We then get the conclusion of Ross and Rachel’s storyline wherein Rachel sticks up for herself against the horrible woman and in a moment of jubilation, gives Ross a kiss which — for a guy, not intending for a date, is more than enough validation he’s on the right trajectory. And then it ends with an adorable pratfall.
Then we end back at the coffee house with Rachel pampering Ross, Joey and Monica celebrating their success, and Chandler screaming he’s free.
Analysis – Lies are Sprints; Honesty is a Marathon
In this episode, everybody lies — except Rachel (I’ll get to her later). Ross lies about his buildings’ laundry machine to spend more time with Rachel. Joey lies about dating Monica to snag an opportunity to spend time with Angela. Joey lies about how he breaks up with women (clearly didn’t stop calling). And Chandler, presumably lies, in the same way Phoebe lies to their respective partners, i.e. neither have any idea a breakup is coming because they’ve maintained the facade that everything is fine; evidenced further by Janice coming into the coffee house with a small, sweet gift — not a hail mary to save a relationship, just a caring gesture.
Lying is easy, it’s a short-term win as evidenced by Joey’s storyline wherein each scene his lie implodes. First he lies to Angela that he’s seeing Monica; to get Monica to the date, he lies and says it’s a double date; he lies when Monica asks where they (Bob and Angela) grew up; then Joey lies to Bob to get him to venture toward Monica; then Joey admits he lied to Monica but lies again for good measure so that she’ll help satisfy his short-term gain.
Being honest requires commitment. It’s why all the friends — in this episode — are honest with one another about how they feel in the coffee house because they see each other everyday. Chandler groans about Janice, but when Janice arrives, she seems bright and chipper about their relationship. Phoebe bemoans how little fun she and her current boyfriend Tony have and how she wants to break up with him. The friends are (mostly) honest with one another and don’t need to adopt a persona like they do with their one-time romances.
Ross – Ego, Personal Consciousness, Collective Unconsciousness
Even Ross (a standout in this episode) who has good intentions is constantly vacillating between Jung’s Ego, Personal Unconsciousness and Collective Unconsciousness. There’s his dutiful self (Ego) which is genuinely teaching Rachel how to do laundry; his personal unconsciousness which bubbles to the surface whenever an opportunity for intimacy arises and his collective unconsciousness (in part bestowed upon him from Chandler) where he thinks he needs to put forth a hyper-masculine facade. He demonstrates all three in one line after Ross dismisses the horrible woman:
Rachel: That was amazing! I can’t even send back soup.
Ross: Well that’s because you’re such a sweet, gentle, uh… Do you, uh–Oh hey! You must need detergent. (Pulls up box of Uberweiss)
Ross’ personal unconsciousness takes over for the “sweet, gentle” line before he catches himself, returns to the dutiful ego “you must need detergent” and pulls out the collective unconsciousness (or societal expectation) with the massive and masculine East German laundry detergent Uberweiss.
All three go on display not a minute later, where you can watch him segue from collective unconsciousness to ego to personal unconsciousness:
Rachel: Ok, you caught me, I’m a laundry virgin.
Ross: Uh, well, don’t worry, I’ll use the gentle cycle (collective unconscious). Ok, um, basically you wanna use one machine for all your whites, a whole ‘nother machine for colors, and a third (ego) for your, uh, your… uh, delicates, and that would be your bras and your under-panty things (personal unconscious).
To wrap out their “date” he again, transitions through all three.
Ross: You were incredible! Brand new woman, ladies and gentlemen (collective unconscious).
Rachel: I could not have done this without you. (Kisses Ross leading to stunned silence as we see Ross’ personal unconsciousness on full display).
Ross: Ok, um, more clothes in the dryer? (Back into ego).
This, is what it’s like to date, torn between what you want instinctually vs who you really are vs what society wants and this is why lying is easier — like Joey.
Joey – Id, Ego, Superego
Unlike Ross, Joey lives more by the Freudian variation of id, ego, and superego, but Joey is dominated by the id’s demands. Joey wants to sleep with Angela and he will sacrifice anything to achieve it. For instance, with no humility, he emasculates himself in front of Bob (Angela’s current boyfriend) to serve his endgame, i.e. Joey (a stranger to Bob) confesses he can’t handle Monica sexually.
When Joey’s id fails to achieve its purpose, he’ll rely on one of the other two, ego or superego. For instance, when Angela makes it clear she’s not going to sleep with Joey since she’s dating Bob, he then pulls out the Superego. Joey knows Angela won’t go to dinner with him alone and she won’t agree to dinner with him and Bob, so he relies on the Superego, the thing that is societally acceptable, i.e. she can go to dinner with him if both are “unavailable”.
Similar thing happens when Joey needs to convince Monica to go on the date. Although, rather than play to the Superego, he plays to the Ego. Monica is not swayed by the prospect of going on a date, she’s swayed because she believes she’s helping her friend, Joey. Without giving Monica any details, he simply alludes that there’s a deeper level:
Monica: What’s going on here? You go out with tons of girls.
Joey: I know, but… I made a huge mistake. I never should have broken up with her. Will you help me? Please?
Monica is convinced because Joey appeals to her sympathy. He’s not just trying to sleep with her again, he’s trying to catch something he never should have let go — or so the id would have her believe.
Once Monica discovers the ruse and threatens to leave, Joey doubles down on a new lie.
Joey: Wait, wait, wait. You want him; I want her. He likes you.
Of course, Joey fails to mention that he’s advertised to Bob that Monica is too much for him (Joey) in bed and, what’s more, has no reason to believe that Bob likes Monica, he’s just saying this to enlist her into his service (again). Joey will lie repeatedly to get what he wants even when the lie is obvious.
Joey has no shame. His lies get him from Point A to Point B. Telling Monica they’re going on a double date is so quickly found out. In fact, Joey barely saves it within the first 5 minutes of meeting Bob and Angela for dinner when Monica asks where they grew up and they respond with different cities. Joey interrupts with:
Joey: Oh my god… I suddenly had the feeling I was falling, but I’m not.
Much like disclosing that he’s sexually unfit for Monica, Joey embarrasses himself in front of all three to avoid the truth. Lying is a sprint and Joey knows this, therefore he needs to satisfy the id before everyone catches on. Fittingly his storyline captures the “first date” and “breakup.”
Chandler / Phoebe – Honesty is Hard
The Phoebe / Chandler storyline is setup in the cold opening.
Phoebe: You know what I don’t get? The way guys can do so many mean things, and then not even care.
Phoebe actually gets the answer to this in watching / assisting Chandler’s breakup. Janice has no idea Chandler is unhappy. While we haven’t seen an ounce of their relationship up until this point, what we know is that Chandler has no plans for Saturday (the alleged “date night”) and that he’s trying to break up with Janice. So when Janice shows up with the thoughtful gift of socks, it’s clear that Janice is going to be blindsided — in more ways than one because he hits her in the eye.
For Chandler, honesty is hard, made abundantly clear by his inability to break up with Janice and also with his example of how he’s broken up with women in the past.
Chandler: It’s just so hard, you know? I mean, you’re sitting there with her, she has no idea what’s happening, and then you finally get up the courage to do it, and there’s the horrible awkward moment when you’ve handed her the note.
Chandler can’t do it. So even in breaking up, he settles with palavers.
Chandler: It’s like, we’re different. I’m like a bing, bing, bing and you’re like a boom, boom, boom.
And then he hits her in the eye, so to answer Phoebe’s question, of not knowing how guys can do so many mean things and not even care… in Chandler’s case, he’s doing a plethora of mean things in an effort to be honest. It’s easier to lie.
Lying is a sprint and Chandler’s “million” shots of espresso signify this. He’s prolonging a “sprint” into a “marathon”. Lying clearly comes easy or Janice wouldn’t be the unassuming victim.
Of course, once the deed is done (vicariously), Chandler runs outside screaming “I’m free! I’m free!” indicating he can be open and honest.
Rachel – the East German Laundry Detergent
Out of everyone in the episode, Rachel is the only one that is honest from start to finish. Rachel is naive in more ways than one. She’s oblivious to Ross’ advances; she’s inexperienced in how to do laundry; and she’s uninformed about the rules regarding laundry at the Laundromat.
Rachel, much like Ross’ Snuggles, starts off “sweet, gentle” backing off when the horrible woman tells her too. However, for Rachel, this is an episode about growth. She’s put a value on doing laundry since, for her, doing laundry is one of the things she’s never done, but has control over. The episode starts with:
Rachel: My father… he wants to give me a Mercedes… it’s a Mercedes if I move back home.
Monica: Did he give you that whole, “You’re not up to this!” thing again?
Rachel: Actually I got the extended disco version with three choruses of “You’ll never make it on your own.”
So when Rachel is with Ross, she confides:
Rachel: If I can actually do my own laundry, there isn’t anything I can’t do.
So when Rachel is confronted with a horrible woman who keeps telling her “No” and “You can’t do that,” she finally snaps from the “sweet and gentle” Snuggles to the east German Uberweiss.
Rachel: This is our cart.
Horrible Woman: Hey-hey-hey, there aren’t any clothes in it!
Rachel: Hey-hey-hey, quit making up rules!
Horrible Woman: Let go!
Rachel: (climbing into cart) All right, listen, missy, if you want this cart, you’re gonna have to take me with it!
At this point the horrible woman storms off — horrible because it says so in the script, that’s not a judgment call on my part by the way. Despite even laundry trying to manipulate Rachel into this pink, cuddly girl, Rachel takes a stand against her oppressor.
Again, honesty is a marathon. From the getgo, Rachel admits she’s never done laundry and doesn’t know the rules of the laundromat, but she has propensity to learn and the will to succeed. She sets her own goals and acts upon them.
Similar to the first episode when Rachel utters “Maybe” to Ross saying he might want to ask her out. For Rachel, this is a personal victory made all the more evident by the fact that the laudromat is empty. When Ross first admonishes the woman, there’s audience and Ross responds with a false self telling people “there’s nothing to see here.” With Rachel, the laudromat is empty — even Ross is absent — for when Rachel stares this woman down, it’s personal growth, not some imposed societal expectation, it’s all Rachel. That’s what makes it rewarding.
This episode was written by Jeff Greenstein & Jeff Strauss and if I’m ranking writers, these two are up there with Alexa Junge as of this moment. They have exceptional pacing and a perfect balance between storylines with Ross and Rachel having a first date; Chandler and Phoebe ending a relationship; and Monica and Joey doing a microcosm of both, i.e. doing a first date and ending relationships — this is how you structure an episode.
Plus, the supporting cast, Kim Gillingham (Angela Delveccio) and Camille Saviola (the Horrible Woman) are tremendous. Both do so much with so (relatively) little. As I said, for Angela, her line of dialogue with Joey could be read as dismissive, but her quiet smile into his eyes shows plenty of subtext into their relationship. Meanwhile Camille can do so much with nothing but a look and a laugh.
Meanwhile all three stories are a hoot, but there’s a fair amount of genuine emotion tugging at the Ross/Rachel thread. Ross and Rachel’s storyline is by far the slowest with infrequent laughs but it’s no less engaging since there’s a myriad of “desires” on full display. Ross’ lines ooze with subtext while Rachel serves as an audience anchor, doing what most of us have had to do at one point or another–
(As an aside, I’ll never forget visiting my girlfriend’s apartment where everyone was panicked about getting the property manager to fix their washer and dryer because one of the six roommates claimed the washing machine was broken. I was asked to look at it and it looked fine — I mean I’m no expert but there were no blinking lights or obvious problems. When the collective then asked the roommate how they knew it was broken, she responded, “it started filling with water.” Then it dawned on all of us she had never done laundry before.)
All and all, a solid and memorable episode that also forwards the Ross / Rachel narrative but doesn’t sideline any characters to do it. We see a bit of Monica’s dark side; get a glimpse into Chandler’s insecurities; and (for the first time) the type of women who go for Joey. It’s as world-building as it is succinct.
TOW George Stephanopoulos was great, but TOW the East German Laundry Detergent offers the same level of relatability but with some progression toward the season-long arc of Ross and Rachel. So far, top of the list.
- 105: TOW the East German Laundry Detergent
- 104: TOW George Stephanopoulos
- 101: TOW Monica Gets a Roommate
- 103: TOW the Thumb
- 102: TOW the Sonogram at the End