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How the Friends pilot married up to the final episode

I watched both the pilot and finale of Friends and had so many thoughts.The first episode of Friends screened in 1994 and the final episode went to air in 2004. While my four daughters, born between 1988 and 1995, were too young to watch the sitcom the first time around, they certainly watched a lot…

I watched both the pilot and finale of Friends and had so many thoughts.

The first episode of Friends screened in 1994 and the final episode went to air in 2004. While my four daughters, born between 1988 and 1995, were too young to watch the sitcom the first time around, they certainly watched a lot of re-runs in their teens.

I admit I dipped in and out of the series, which hits streaming on Binge this Thursday, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few episodes over the years and it was interesting to watch the first and last episodes all over again.

Besides the obvious things like the physical appearances of the characters, there were a few more substantive changes over the course of the decade.

THE PILOT

The opening scene at the coffee house, Central Perk, basically sets up the next 10 years. Joey (the actor) Phoebe (the masseuse/musician) Chandler (whose role is always a bit of a mystery but in the early days he worked in IT procurement) and Monica (the chef) are present, and we find out Monica is going out to dinner with a friend from work, who subsequently tells her he hasn’t had sex for two years. This encourages her to sleep with him, and afterwards she finds out it’s his pick-up line and she “accidentally on purpose” destroys his watch.

Ross (the palaeontologist) is unhappy because his wife has left him and moved out. Joey’s suggestion to make Ross feel better is a strip joint. Ross replies, “I don’t want to be single, OK? I just want to be married again.” Joey tells Ross to “grab a spoon,” likening women to ice-cream flavours.

Rachel, wearing a wedding dress and veil, walks into the coffee shop after walking out on Barry, her husband to be. She states that she is more attracted to a gravy boat present than to Barry, and realises he’s always reminded her of Mr Potato Head.

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Rachel, supported by the other friends, cuts up her credit cards, finally becoming independent of her father. She moves in with Monica and Phoebe.

Rachel gets her very first job – serving coffee, not making it, much to the relief of her friends.

We find out about Ross’s long-held feelings for Rachel (it’s no surprise to her) and she agrees that it would be OK if he asked her out: “Sometime … maybe.”

Every episode of Friends hits streaming on Binge on September 17. Get a free 14-day trial. Sign up at binge.com.au

THE FINALE

Rachel has been offered a job in Paris and plans to move there with Emma, Rachel and Ross’s daughter.

Ross and Rachel have happily spent the night together. Ross speaks to Phoebe and says he’s realised he loves Rachel and wants her to stay.

Phoebe convinces Ross to tell Rachel how he feels. They set off for the airport but realise they are at the wrong one. Phoebe calls Rachel and tells her to get off the plane – there is a problem with “the left phalange”.

Rachel finally acknowledges she is in love with Ross and gets off the plane.

Monica and Chandler’s adoptive baby unexpectedly turns into two babies, and they adopt both and confirm their decision to move to the suburbs to bring up their children.

Seeing the twins, Mike tells Phoebe he wants one and Phoebe agrees, saying she wants to make a whole bunch.

Joey buys a baby chicken and duck (Chick Jr and Duck Jr respectively) for Monica and Chandler as a wedding present (echoing Chandler and Joey’s past chick and duck companions), and they get stuck in the beloved foosball table. Monica happily destroys it to rescue the birds. Chandler tells Joey he can take care of them and they hug it out.

The friends work out they’ve all at some point lived in Monica’s apartment and leave their keys behind. (Joey leaves a lollipop.)

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The last line in the final episode is Chandler’s. The friends decide to grab a coffee, and he says, “Where?”

MY THOUGHTS

The good:

Even though it was clear in the pilot that Phoebe had a difficult family history, she was portrayed very much as the ditzy blonde. In the final episode, her faith in Rachel and Ross’s relationship is unwavering, and she saves the day. Rachel and Ross’s relationship is a fitting conclusion to what was hinted at in the first episode.

Comparing the pilot to the final episode, Joey, like Phoebe, shows a great deal of character growth. In fact, Joey looked much more comfortable in the final scenes caring for Chick Jr and Duck Jr than Chandler did when he held his child (even though it was clearly a doll).

The not so good:

There were a few things in the pilot and the last episode that the scriptwriters wouldn’t (I hope) have written in more recent times.

A joke is made of the fact that Ross’s first wife has left him to be with a woman (he muses that he should have known she was a lesbian by her drinking beer from a can) – so what? Also, Phoebe’s mention of suicide would hopefully have been dealt with more sensitively today.

Chandler only seems to want one baby? All turns out OK of course (this is Friends after all) but I wasn’t keen on the way the final episode dealt with the treatment of Erica, the birth mother, or the adoption of the babies.

In the pilot episode, Rachel has never had a job. Eventually, work at the cafe leads to increasingly satisfying roles in the fashion industry, which culminates in her dream job with Louis Vuitton in Paris. Couldn’t Ross have considered moving to Paris so that Rachel could have taken advantage of this career opportunity? There are dinosaur bones in Europe so he could have worked as a palaeontologist there. Why does Rachel have to stay in the US with him?

TO CONCLUDE …

Friends is a series that has meant a great deal to many people, not only in the 10 years in which the episodes were filmed, but in countless re-runs since. The connections between the characters – bonds of friendship, trust, forgiveness, laughter and love – are elements that we can all relate to and celebrate.

Penelope’s latest book Up On Horseshoe Hill is out now

You can stream every episode of Friends now on Binge

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