Television Review

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The Independent Culture
TO WRAP UP its fourth series, Friends (C4) came to London. Twice the length of a normal episode, last night's offering was approximately half as funny. "The One With Ross's Wedding" will go down in history as the two with no jokes. On one level, of course, this made it a huge disappointment, notwithstanding the sly plot twists: at the altar, Ross addressed Emily as Rachel, while Chandler and Monica, the two romantic losers, slept together. On another level, it was a fascinating experiment in comic miscegenation.

The result of this British-American experiment is pretty conclusive: in comedy, there is no such thing as the special relationship. We laugh at their best shows. They laugh at our best shows. But that doesn't mean that the two comic traditions should hang out together. We probably already knew that. I've always thought, for example, that Daphne, the Mancunian character in Frasier, is a fish out of water, and you'll remember that Roseanne reached its nadir in the episode when Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley guested as Edina and Patsy. It's no coincidence that Friends has never trusted Helen Baxendale with her own punchlines: as Ross's British fiancee, she has always been the straight man.

You can only assume that the scriptwriters simply did not know their way around the territory and, like Joey, decided to navigate with the help of a pop-up map of familiar landmarks. Up, therefore, popped a couple of imports from Absolutely Fabulous, a duchess, an airline owner and a bunch of toe-curling simplifications of Englishness. When Phoebe, pregnant in New York, called Emily's house to warn them that Rachel was on her way to spoil the wedding, the phone was answered by a housekeeper played by June Whitfield at her starchiest. Is that really how they still see us?

Even the regular characters started doing things they would never do back home. Ross put his trousers on back to front, not once but twice. Chandler tripped over and fell backwards into a flower stall. Outside Westminster Abbey, Joey filmed Chandler over the following exchange: "They're thinking of changing the name of this place." "Really? To what?" "To Put The Camera Away!" "Man, you are Westminster crabby."

The interesting thing about the script was that it seemed to know it was a Yankee tourist. When Joey switched on the television in his hotel room, the theme tune from Cheers was playing. I read that as a coded message from scriptwriters homesick for a place where everybody knows your name. When Chandler stood up to give his best man speech, the joke was that his jokes didn't travel. The entire show should never have boarded the plane either.

Just occasionally, the script accepted the chance to look from the outside at its characters. Hugh Laurie, seated next to Rachel on her transatlantic flight, told her she is "a horrible, horrible person". But the rest of the show argued the opposite. When Emily's parents tried to defraud Ross's parents into funding the renovation of their house as part of the wedding expenses, I took it to mean that the British are horrible, horrible people. Friends indeed.

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