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The One About Friends And The Critic - THE COMMENTARY

By Joseph Planta

When Seinfeld went off the air last season, critics and fans alike thought that Frasier would be the sitcom all of America would deem “must-see.” It inherited one of television’s most prime pieces of real estate, the Thursday, 9:00 PM time slot on NBC. A season later, NBC isn’t as “must-see” as it was a season ago, Frasier is under performing in that time slot and it isn’t the most watched sitcom in The United States. Frasier has failed to garner the same water cooler distinction as Seinfeld and week in and week out Friends has surprised all. Friends is the number two show at NBC (behind the top rated ER) and in the Neilsens, for that matter. It’s consistently funny and well written. Rarely in television does a sitcom last. Rarer is one that maintains a well oiled machine that is dependent on an ensemble cast. Even rarer is one that’s over 5 years old.

Going into it’s 5th season in September of ‘98, everyone was worried that Friends has guzzled its last cup of java and that the creative spark was gone. The first few episodes milked off the cliffhanging season finale from the previous June where Ross said he’d take Rachel, instead of Emily. During the same time, The National Post’s TV critic Deirdre Dolan, wrote a fitting piece claiming the show was heading down the hill. Ms. Dolan declared that during one episode during the November sweeps, “the life was sucked out of the show and by the end of the episode it was clear the show would never mean as much again.” At the time I agreed, because it was a campy scene where Rachel or one of the other girls went down to the storage room and was chased out of the room, because there was some sort of shadowy figure lurking in the dark, a la Psycho. It was a downer and I whole heartedly agreed with Ms. Dolan’s diagnosis, Friends now stoop to the level of ABC’s T.G.I.F.

I’ve been in this writing business for a week or so now and have learned no to contradict oneself, so low and behold not two months later the same Ms. Dolan writes an article for The Post with the headline, “Friends, getting better with age.” Again, since those pathetic episodes in November, Friends by January had picked up steam and become watchable again. The episodes were fresh and it seemed like it reinvented itself. Dolan goes on to kiss ass saying Friends deserves the old Seinfeld time slot and that, “Friends is a culmination of everything you’ve learned about sitcoms in the last 30 years.” Friends did become better, so the qualm I have is with the critic, not the show. She did not even credit the story she did in November and wrote the January piece like she’s boosted Friends since day one.

Deirdre Dolan aside, Friends is consistently funny, well written and well acted. The cast easily joins the list of great ensemble casts in television history: Cheers, Mary Tyler Moore, Newsradio, Seinfeld, ER and Hill Street Blues. It deserves the Thursday 9:00 PM time slot, then again it gets a bigger audience already. The cast deserves a pay hike to a $100,000 per episode, just for staying fresh and enthusiastic. The enthusiasm on this show is rarely seen on a new series, let alone one that’s heading into its 6th season. And come August, Friends should get an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series.

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An archive of Joseph Planta's previous columns can be found by clicking HERE .