Yesterday (September 22, 2019) was the 25th Anniversary of the day the pilot episode of Friends aired in the U.S.
I wasn’t a huge Friends fan always. In fact, I only remember watching a handful of episodes live in the later seasons, and it made decent background noise when it was in syndication and I was sitting around in the afternoons. But after the show went off the air – in fact, when they released a boxed set of all 10 seasons on DVD – that’s when I got hooked. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
So even though I can’t say I’ve been a die-hard fan for twenty-five years, I can call myself a die-hard fan (my team did win pub trivia, after all!). And as such, in honor of this major anniversary, I’ve decided to go through and pick my personal favorite episodes from each season.
A few notes: these aren’t necessarily the “best” episodes of each season, and they aren’t even the most famous/well-known of each season. They’re just my favorites, for reasons I will explain in the descriptions of each. Some seasons (5 & 6) this was exceptionally difficult for me to narrow down from a huge list of favorites, and by the 30th Anniversary, my opinions will probably change. Other seasons (4, 9, & 10) it was exceptionally difficult for me to pick because I don’t really have a strong favorite – mostly because I think those are the weaker seasons of the show. Also, some of my favorite moments from the show aren’t featured here (PIVOT!) because while I like that scene, the episode as a whole doesn’t rank for me.
Okay, here we go…
Season 1, Episode 7: The One with the Blackout
There are so many things to love about this episode. It’s when we first hear Ross & Carol’s “Disneyland Story” (which, by the way, I think about EVERY TIME I ride the Small World ride…), we get a glimpse at Monica’s complicated relationship with her mother (“Who am I gonna meet during a blackout? Power company guys? Eligible looters?”), and we hear one of Phoebe’s best original songs (“New York City has no power and the milk is getting sour, but to me it is not scary, ’cause I stay away from dairy…”).
This episode also gives us a great glimpse into just how close Joey and Chandler are as friends and roommates. Who else but your best bestie can translate what you’re saying when you mumble through your teeth?
We also meet two very important characters in this episode. One is Paulo, who sucks and we all hate him, but he is crucial in the Ross/Rachel/Will-They-Won’t-They plot line, so his arrival is significant. We also meet Mr. Heckles for the very first time.
Mr. Heckles is, without a doubt, one of the best recurring characters on this show.
Season 2, Episode 14: The One With the Prom Video
This episode is classic Friends. Pretty much everyone, even people who haven’t seen the show, can quote this episode.
By the way, after years and years and years of watching and quoting this episode, I finally looked it up, and…lobsters don’t mate for life. Lobsters mate for about two weeks and then never see each other again. So, really, Joey is Rachel’s lobster, but we’ll get to that in about eight seasons (much to the dismay of, well, pretty much everyone.)
But aside from its most famous quote (above), “The One With the Prom Video” gives us a lot of great moments and important developments between the friends. This episode could’ve also been titled “The One With Chandler’s Bracelet.” Now that Joey’s making money, he gifts Chandler a gold bracelet. This actually ends up becoming one of the first Joey/Chandler fights we see on the show.
The episode could also be called “The One With Monica’s Interview” where she’s forced to make a salad for this guy:
That scene is short, awkward, and BRILLIANT.
The other important thing about this video, which you will see becomes a recurring theme in my list of favorites, is The Gellers. Jack and Judy Geller are the best recurring characters on this show. Yes, better than Gunther. Yes, better than Janice. Yes, better than anyone else you want to try and @ me with. Not only are they exceptional characters on their own (hi, these are two people who taped over their kids’ high school prom video in order to make a sex tape — THOSE ARE INTERESTING CHARACTERS!), but you also really get to see how much they love their kids, how they raised their kids, and how Ross and Monica’s relationship grows and changes in relation to them. More on that in a future episode on this list.
And, of course, this is when we see Ross and Rachel’s big kiss, so everyone is happy…for a while, anyway.
Season 3, Episode 2: The One Where No One’s Ready
Really, I could just leave that .gif and call it a day, but let’s dive in to some things that make this episode cool (that costuming brilliance aside).
First, it’s a bottle episode*. A bottle episode is when an entire episode of a television series is done in one single set/location. There’s a famous episode of Community that does this as well, and in their meta-Community way, they actually call it out while it’s happening.
But this episode of Friends takes the bottle episode one brilliant step further — the episode is filmed in real time*. From the time Ross arrives to the time they leave the apartment (when it was on the air, factoring in commercial breaks), it takes 26 minutes. Which is exactly how much time Ross tells them all they have upon his entrance. This is the only episode where we see the events unfold this way.
*Okay, technically, there’s a tag scene that plays during the credits that is (1) not in the apartment, and (2) not in real time, so both of these statements are the equivalent of a steroids stat in baseball, I guess… but, it’s still pretty cool!
Once again, we get a really interesting Joey/Chandler dynamic in this episode. We begin to see the cracks in Ross and Rachel’s relationship. Phoebe is pretty peak Phoebe, and Monica’s post-breakup meltdown is amazing. Courtney Cox was the first person to say “period” on television (for a commercial, not for this), and knowing that tidbit makes the outgoing message Monica records on Richard’s machine all the more entertaining to me.
Season Four, Episode 12: The One With The Embryos
A lot of the episodes I’ve picked for this list feature the six friends together, which really is where this show was at its best. They were an ensemble, and they worked best as an ensemble.
However, I picked this episode because while we do get great ensemble work with the quiz games and apartment switching, which is just hilarious and delightful, we also get one of the most brilliant performances from Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe on her own at the fertility clinic, and frankly, I wish this show had given Kudrow/Phoebe more time to just be brilliant like she is in this episode. The scene of her talking to the petri dish of embryos before her implantation is a perfect blend of sweetness and humor that I came to love about Phoebe across all ten seasons.
This episode also makes the list because Giovanni Ribisi as Frank Jr. comes in second place behind The Gellers as the best recurring character for me. (Again, don’t @ me for this). He and Phoebe’s relationship is one of my favorites, and we’ll see it again in another episode on my list. Plus, we get this hilarious moment:
Followed immediately by this touching and sweet one:
For me, that’s one of the things this show did so well. The balance of comedy with touching, sweet, moving moments was really well done. It made us laugh, yes, but we really did care about these people. We root for them; we want them to get what they want, and we want them to be okay. All of that happens in this hug.
Season 5, Episode 14: The One Where Everybody Finds Out
This episode really does mark the first major shift for our beloved friends. Yes, the Ross/Rachel break-up was tough, but we’re well beyond it at this point (he’s already been married and divorced again), and now everyone knowing Monica and Chandler are in a serious relationship…the dynamic begins to shift.
In pretty much every book/article/retrospective you’ll read about Friends, they talk about the show existing in a period of life when your friends are you family. And as these characters begin to grow and change, to find serious relationships/coupling, and eventually, to have kids, we see a shift away from that. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a marker of change. For me, this episode is where that change really begins.
Plus, it’s the first time we get to go inside Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment:
and the first time we meet Hugsy, Joey’s Bedtime Penguin Pal. And we get one of Chandler’s best responses when Ross describes how excited his colleagues got over a basket of mini-muffins:
And, of course, Monica and Chandler are in love.
Season 6, Episode 9: The One Where Ross Got High
No one does a Thanksgiving episode like Friends. No one. And of all ten Thanksgiving episodes, “The One Where Ross Got High” is absolutely the best.
We get hilarious bits from Joey and Ross who want to go hang out with hot dancers, we get a weird quirky Phoebe story about her vivid dreams, we get Rachel’s cooking disasters…
And, once again, we’re back to my favorites Jack and Judy. We get to see Ross and Monica’s competitiveness and their incessant need to please both their parents. The climax of the episode is when each character begins screaming their various secrets:
And then Christina Pickles (Judy Geller) gives this incredible response, with inserts from Elliot Gould (Jack):
Judy: That’s a lot of information to get in thirty seconds. All right. Joey, if you want to leave, just leave. Rachel, no you weren’t supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did not taste good. Phoebe, I’m sorry, but I think Jacques Cousteau is dead. Monica, why you felt you had to hide the fact that you were in an important relationship is beyond me.
Jack: And we kinda figured about the porch swing.
Judy: Ross… drugs. Divorced, again.
Jack: What happened, son?
Ross: I was tricked into all those things.
Judy: And Chandler…you’ve been Ross’s best friend for all these years, stuck by him through the drug problems! And now you’ve taken on Monica as well. What can I say? You’re a wonderful human being.
Chandler: Thank you!
Jack: No! Thank you!
I love this scene so much I just typed that entire thing from memory. Seriously. It’s probably my favorite moment in all ten seasons of the entire show. We see Ross and Monica compete, yes, but we also see them have each other’s back. We see how hard Jack and Judy were on their kids (in very different ways!), but we also see how much they really love them – and how much they love their friends. In this moment, Judy is acting as mother to the entire ensemble, but you can see how she and Jack are also seeing this shift in the dynamic — their kids are grown. They’ve got these other people forming their family, but Jack and Judy are still an important part of it.
Seriously, best of all ten Thanksgiving episodes, and quite possibly my favorite episode of the entire series.
Season 7, Episode 14: The One Where They All Turn 30
So, amusingly, I hate clip shows. I know they’re usually done as fillers/when the cast needs a break, but I don’t like them. I do love fake flashback episodes, which Friends is great at, and this one is one of the best.
While I’ve said I really like ensemble episodes (and I do!), I also do like when we get a little standout moment from each character individually. We don’t really get Chandler — we get Joey twice — but we do see how differently each character responds to the birthday milestone.
I also love when Lisa Kudrow gets to play Phoebe and Ursula:
And I love when Courtney Cox does pretty much anything “outside the norm” of Monica. It’s crazy to me she never won any awards for this show. Her humor is more subtle and contained, but damn it, she’s talented and really was the glue holding everything together:
Also, once again, we have a serious retrospective moment mixed within all the humor. Rachel really does need to consider where she sees her life going and what her goals for it are, and that leads her to breaking up with Tag. Yes, I’ll admit, I missed seeing Eddie Cahill on my screen, but I feel like by this episode that relationship had really run its course, and it was a great way to end it while still keeping good feelings about everyone involved.
Season 8, Episode 18: The One in Massapequa
Jack and Judy again, this time celebrating their 35th Wedding Anniversary. And Alec Baldwin as Phoebe’s current paramour Parker is absolutely hilarious.
This episode is weird in a lot of ways, but it makes me laugh every time. Rachel’s insane over-the-top wedding description (blind Belgian nuns? C’mon Rach…) is just hilarious, and once again, we get it balanced by Ross’s sweet proposal story. Wouldn’t we all have loved to actually see that proposal moment?
I tend to not like awkward situational humor (which is why it’s a miracle I made it through any seasons of *The Office*…) but Monica’s toast is one that I actually find amusing. Perhaps it’s because these reactions are so great:
But if I’m being totally honest, Season 8 was…really not my favorite. So among 24 “eh, these are all okay or have some good single moment” episode choices, this is the closest I could find to a WHOLE episode I really loved.
Season 9, Episode 18: The One With The Lottery
This episode is bringing us back to what we loved about Friends in its earlier seasons — six people, together, sharing one event with one another. Yes, there are other story lines happening throughout, but at its core, the A-story is about the six of them trying to win the lottery together.
I also love this episode because we’ve seen Chandler and Monica go through a lot at this point, and Chandler being offered the Junior Copywriter job is a huge win for him (and for them as a couple). I like that he’s finally getting to love his job as much as the other five do.
Season 10, Episode 2: The One Where Ross is Fine
Okay, so… no one was thrilled about Joey and Rachel. From interviews I’ve read, it turns out even the cast hated it. Which is probably why it didn’t last very long. But, we needed something to happen to (1) break that weird sexual tension that had been building between them for seasons now, and (2) push Ross and Rachel back on track towards one another. Ross being “fine” was a great direction for that.
The episode begins almost as a “to be continued” from the first episode, with Ross walking in on Joey and Rachel kissing and the two of them having to scramble to explain the situation.
Then Ross being, well, Ross, invites them over for a double date. Reminder, at this point, Ross is dating Joey’s ex-girlfriend Charlie.
Aisha Tyler was fantastic, by the way. I’m sad they didn’t really use her comedy skills even more in this show, but I’m glad we got her for as many episodes as we did.
And, once they’re all together, the insane awkwardness ensues, and we get some of the most hilarious David Schwimmer Ross moments from all ten seasons:
The episode ends, once again (see a trend in my favorite things?) with Ross coming to terms with his and Rachel’s past and her (potential, but not really) future with Joey. Sweet moment, reflection, hilarious follow-up with high-fiving his burned hand.
The B-Story of the episode with Phoebe and Frank Jr is similar.
Humor comes in Frank’s exhaustion and he and Phoebe negotiating which of the three triplets she could take (“Alice would never go for it.” “I dunno, she’s pretty tired too…”) and ends with Frank realizing his deep love for his children and Phoebe promising to be more involved in their lives and help out.
I can’t find any good .gifs of the C-Story about Monica and Chandler visiting Phoebe’s friends Bill and Colleen, but it gives us great Chandler foot-in-mouth moments, which again hearkens back to earlier seasons, and as the show is coming to a close, I appreciate those moments more.
The One Where I Really Didn’t Like it…
Not going to offer the same detail, but I did go through and make a list of my ten least favorite episodes from each season. Most of them are on here because I felt like they were too much of a character departure, made the characters go from “sassy” to just straight up mean or unlikable, and/or they were a clip show:
- Season 1, Episode 20: The One with the Evil Orthodontist
- Season 2, Episode 21: The One with the Bullies
- Season 3, Episode 18: The One with the Hypnosis Tape
- Season 4, Episode 21: The One with the Invitation
- Season 5, Episode 6: The One with the Yeti
- Season 6, Episode 20: The One with Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E.
- Season 7, Episode 16: The One with the Truth About London
- Season 8, Episode 17: The One with the Tea Leaves
- Season 9, Episode 10: The One with Christmas in Tulsa
- Season 10, Episode 13: The One Where Joey Speaks French
So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your favorite (and less favorite) episodes! Leave me a comment or tweet me @ThatColette.