I know there’s an episode where 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 which is kinda like believing in monkeys… 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 Graduate moment.
And here’s the thing, you can add exotic (or at the very least, uncommon) animals and have them mean something. Take Joey and Chandler’s adoption of a chick and a duck. We get into Joey and Chandler’s mindset, we see Joey hurting from his relationship, causing him to adopt a chick. We see them bond and it makes the zany nature of it work.
While Ross’ adoption of a monkey 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 an exotic animal on a whim? 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. At least in the reunion David Schwimmer helped get rid of it.