phoebe and david in front of movie poster

110: TOW The Monkey: Luminous With A Kind Of Delicate Grace

Plot Summary – Review

A storyline – Phoebe falls in love with David the Scientist Guy
B storyline – Chandler gets everyone to make a no-date pact for New Years.
C storyline – Ross gets a monkey.

Ross brings home a monkey. It could be that when I started watching Friends I was knee deep in later seasons… or maybe the years — decades — since this show aired have finally cataracted my rose-colored glasses for this series, but why does Ross get a monkey?

The Long Road to the Monkey

Let me start over, I know there’s an episode later wherein there’s a parallel of Ross taking care of a monkey to examine his fears of taking care of a baby… but this is quite possibly the most roundabout way to get there. A part of me thinks this was written because they didn’t realize paleontology and anthropology were two different studies; like someone thought, “Ross works in a museum and believes in evolution… hey! He should have a monkey.”

Part of the reason this monkey thing doesn’t work is because Ross just “pops in” with it. We’re given one expository line of dialogue:

Ross: My friend Bethel rescued him from some lab.

…Kay. Who is this friend? What lab? Also, why would a friend rescue a monkey they had no plan for? I’m beginning to think Bethel rescued the monkey and had a The Graduate moment.

And not to get ahead of myself too much, but they remedy this problem later with Joey and Chandler’s adoption of a chick and a duck. We get into Joey and Chandler’s mindset, we find out why they pursue these animals, we see them bond and it makes the zany nature of it work.

While this may be episode 10 of a new show (at the time), Ross is NOT the character that adopts an imported monkey. Ross likes things preserved (his infatuation with Rachel and focus on history), predictable (likes routine and the day-to-day of a married life), slow (takes his sweet time wooing Rachel and evolution is a slooooow process). Ross is not the character that spontaneously adopts a monkey. You don’t need to look far to say, you know who would adopt a monkey? Phoebe. You know who would have a friend named Bethel who probably rescues monkeys from labs? Phoebe.

So… why isn’t this reserved for Phoebe? My best guess is someone said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa… giving Phoebe a monkey is too far. People like how kooky and zany she is, but if we give her a monkey then she becomes that weird monkey lady — like the “crazy cat lady” moniker, but worse.”

So then they must’ve worked backwards from there? Monica wouldn’t take in a monkey, she likes things clean. Rachel wouldn’t take in a monkey, she only cares about herself (currently). Joey could do it, but how would he go on auditions? Chandler wouldn’t do it because he may be the most well-adjusted to life in the big city. Would Ross? No, but maybe we can draw a parallel between taking care of a monkey and taking care of a baby. Great; cut, print.

The thing is, a stunt like this feels like something you do if your show is failing to find its legs. It feels uncharacteristic of a show I’ve seen 9 episodes of. It’s weird. But I digress. I’m not a fan of this overarching plot, but something that helps is how this episode handles its pacing.

Meanwhile… back at the plot

So the driving force of most of the friends’ agenda is how they consign to a “no-date” pact for Chandler, but for themselves as well. Course, similar to TOW Underdog Gets Away, one by one they each abandon their plan and bring a date. Course, despite (almost) everyone breaking the pact, they inadvertently rejoin the pact by the end of the episode, just in time for New Years.

To the show’s credit they also get one of those lingering questions every audience member is likely to consider at one point. As Chandler points out, there’s three girls and three guys, why don’t they kiss? They bypass it with a lot of logic. First, no one is attracted to Chandler — that’s the sad truth as he comes across as desperate and needy. Second, Ross and Monica are related. Third, if a romance were to happen between Phoebe and one of the guys, it would’ve happened already considering how quickly (and how hard) she falls for David the Scientist Guy.

Say Hello To Your Leading Recurring Characters

Surprisingly, this episode adds a lot of first appearances (and one second) recurring characters. For instance, Janice makes her return and she’s as charming as ever. They introduce Fun Bobby and David the Scientist Guy and Marcel. Kinda impressive world-building. Plus, while it’s an obvious joke to have “Fun” Bobby be unfun, Vincent Ventresca’s performance is great and so remarkably human.

The best part about Fun Bobby being the “life of the party” is just as he would’ve brought the party “up,” he also brings the party “down”.

Despite the wealth of new characters, part of the reason this feels as organic as it does is likely due to the stretch of time this episode covers.

Timing is Everything

I simultaneously have to sing the writers praises for covering such a lengthy span of time (seemingly the end of Thanksgiving, through Christmas to New Years) because… it might be the single longest stretch of time in any Friends episode. In general, most episodes feel like they take place over the course of a few days or a week. Even if it’s less/more than that, they feel like a week due to characters anticipating what they’re doing that night or what they’re looking forward to tomorrow and typically the only reason they cover longer periods is to demonstrate something has become a pattern of behavior — like Chandler’s smoking. It probably took place over a week or two, but it still feels like a week.

Part of the reason this episode feels like it’s more than one episode is they tell you what’s going to happen, skip what happens, so the next scene they can rehash what happened. As a show that’s focused on “friends,” this is what I want to see, how you communicate with friends about the people you date.

They waste no time doubling up on lines that can serve as plot and jokes. When David (Hank Azaria) does his tremendous meet-cute line to Phoebe, Joey’s line of “He’s going home with more than a note” then essentially fades to Monica and Rachel’s apartment where Rachel says “I can’t believe he hasn’t kissed you yet”. And yet, as a viewer, there’s no whiplash, and I say this as someone who watched the episode straight through (i.e. no commercial breaks).

They continue this method with Marcel where Chandler offers to babysit Marcel for Ross, then in the next scene Chandler mentions having a blast with the monkey.

This isn’t even including all the lines that imply events occurred in between. For instance, we know from the first scene of this episode that Ross just got a monkey and we know from the middle of the episode that Marcel is kind of a nuisance (messing with Monica’s spatulas) and it’s why, towards the end, we don’t bat an eye when Monica criticizes Ross for bringing Marcel to the party, “I’m thinking your new girlfriend wouldn’t urinate on my coffee table.” This isn’t a hypothetical dig at the monkey as Ross defends Marcel, “He was more embarrassed about that than anyone.” letting us know this happened. You could create a whole episode full of the skipped sections in this one, but due the core stories being David & Phoebe and the New Year’s party, they rightly prioritized what should be shown.

What we “don’t” see helps indoctrinate the new character (Marcel). Already Marcel has a relationship with 3 of the main cast.

And David the Scientist Guy

Look, I’ve already sung the guy’s praises, so there’s only so much more I can say here. I love his meet-cute with Phoebe which is timed perfectly. It comes after we do a fade cut from Phoebe starting a depressing song into a much more depressing song. Everyone is having a negative reaction to Phoebe’s music. The camera pans across a bored Rachel, a perplexed Joey, a sullen Chandler, and two depressed Gellers. So when you start to hear two men in the background speaking loudly, you assume they must be complaining, debating leaving, or discussing how bad she is… so when it’s revealed that David sees beauty, how can you not fall in love with him? What’s more, despite David’s nervousness, he’s extremely articulate, which is why when he’s caught off-guard (by Phoebe), he has trouble getting through his words, but when tasked (by Phoebe) to walk her through them, he’s extremely articulate and responds verbatim. As an audience, we know he’s not “making this up” to score a date or to cover what he was actually thinking. For someone insecure, he’s remarkably articulate and this makes David all the more endearing.

I even love that the source of their conflict is that David puts Phoebe on a pedestal:

  • He hasn’t kissed her yet, because it has to be this phenomenal thing.
  • He can’t pursue his career because he found someone he’d rather pursue.
  • He can’t make the decision, so he lets Phoebe decide.

And I like that Phoebe empowers and tears down David’s perceptions.

Phoebe: I think you are a sweeping sort of fella.

Empowering him.

Phoebe: Just say, “Phoebe, my work is my life and that’s what I have to do right now.” And I say, “Your work? Your work?! How can you say that?!”

Tearing down the pedestal.

And as much as David really does steal the show, it’s also a tremendous character study on Phoebe. Why would Phoebe push away potentially the love of her life? A love she’s always wanted? We know how quirky and zany Phoebe is… so there’s an argument to be made that Phoebe also puts David on a pedestal. She doesn’t see herself as worthy of this type of love. Phoebe either pushes David to go to Minsk because she doesn’t want him to always wonder “what if” — which would kill their love — or she believes he deserves someone better.

It’s excellent and unforgettable.

Also, in hindsight, does anyone else think this was the template for pitching The Big Bang Theory?

Analysis – Romantic Addicts

What I like about this episode is how it captures our instincts where we cover up our soft underbellies by putting up walls. But in classic FOMO fashion, we’ll make ourselves vulnerable and let others in… only to hurt them or get hurt ourselves, making the situation worse than before and swearing we won’t do it again.

This episode has all the trappings of addicts making it fitting that Chandler’s the one to propose “No Dates” rule. You’ve got Monica picking up an ex-boyfriend in fun Bobby; Chandler picking up his ex-girlfriend, Janice; Rachel playing the “I’m only a social drinker” by acting like Paolo’s flight has curbed her passion (only for her to get the brunt of the side effects); Joey being Joey; and Phoebe picking up a new drug, David.

Starting the episode by swearing off dates sounds like the buddy system for quitting a bad habit — something we’ll see Rachel do in TOW Rachel Smokes. But of course, one-by-one they relapse, before all of them winding back up where they started and worse for wear.

Even the alias for Monica’s ex, “Fun Bobby,” sounds like a drug akin to “Special K”. The fact that Fun Bobby isn’t so “fun” for Monica and it brings the party down, not up, can be read into as a very real reaction to drugs.

Meanwhile Joey is hoping for a night of ecstasy, but the kids are manifest as his sort of paranoia. He’s unable to perform or function with the children present.

Chandler realizes he’s taken too much “romance” and wishes he could undo it.

Ross, in this case, not taking any “romance” is true to his narc-like character. And Joey and Chandler’s kiss at the end plays out like two friends who did something wild and wacky while they were out of their mind and aren’t sure how to feel about it.

Closing Thoughts

You can tell they didn’t know if they wanted Phoebe to be talented or not. She’s got a mic in the coffee shop and is allegedly back by popular demand. There is a captive audience as well, so that’s saying something, but I agree with later episodes that she should mostly be treated as ambiance — a notch above the homeless person outside a coffee shop playing guitar.

Additionally, something I love is that they do a subtle callback! Phoebe mentions in TOW the Blackout that she was the last to know when Chandler got bitten by the peacock at the zoo and — surprise, surprise — we get Chandler telling a woman about the story!

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but since I know how to make gifs now… Joey tucking in the kids is epic.

Not only is this a huge character development on Joey who essentially reveals, it’s not that he’s opposed to dating moms, just that he’s cognizant of how his behavior could affect them. He’s considerate of the kids’ feelings above his own desires.

And, in some ways, this is a great way to end his minor storyline in this episode. Joey didn’t get the part of “Santa” at the local mall this year and yet, right here, Joey may have been cast as an elf, but this behavior is uncannily St. Nick.

Last, another Joey thing I love — but had never caught before — is Joey hitting on someone else at the party before his date arrives. I won’t deny this is d-baggery, but it’s true to Joey’s character without “rubbing our noses” in his behavior. In other words, this doesn’t feel like a celebration of the polyamorous man.

Rank

It’s a hair above TOW Underdog Gets Away because it has David — one of the cutest guest characters to grace the set of Friends — and has some fun callbacks, such as Chandler and Janice on-again/off-again relationship and his incident with a peacock. It also introduces Fun Bobby, David, and Marcel. Plus, in all seriousness, their pacing with “time” is extraordinary.

Surprisingly, this was written by Adam Chase and Ira Ungerleider who previously wrote TOW the Butt. The one resemblance I can find is the duality of a person in dating. In TOW the Butt, it was Chandler who struggled between his two halves whereas in this one, it’s Phoebe who simultaneously wants to keep the romance but doesn’t want to be the reason he’s not happy. Both relationships, while absurd in their own ways, have one of the core roster struggle between what they think they want and what they really want. The breakup between Chandler and Aurora doesn’t hit as hard as Phoebe and David, but both equally delve into the core cast member’s psyche.

It’s not as good as the pilot, but it’s pretty dang close.

  1. 105: TOW the East German Laundry Detergent
  2. 104: TOW George Stephanopoulos
  3. 107: TOW the Blackout
  4. 101: TOW Monica Gets a Roommate
  5. 110: TOW The Monkey
  6. 109: TOW Underdog Gets Away
  7. 106: TOW the Butt
  8. 103: TOW the Thumb
  9. 102: TOW the Sonogram at the End
  10. 108: TOW Nana Dies Twice

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