Twenty years ago on Monday, the US network NBC broadcast the very first episode of a series which would go on to change your social life forever.
Much like the pull of gravity, the influence of Friends is so all-pervasive we often take it for granted. Now that it’s possible for a twenty-something to have been born in an era without the definitive twenty-something sitcom, it’s time to reflect. Here are six things we wouldn’t have without Friends.
1. Consistent laughs
Whatever you might have read in Friends ‘Til the End: The Official Companion Book, this was never cutting edge comedy, especially when you consider the brilliance of British comedy at the time. The year Friends launched (1994) was also the year that gave us The Day Today, The Fast Show and Knowing Me, Knowing You With Alan Partridge. The year before, it was Shooting Stars and the year after, the first episode of Father Ted.
But what Friends lacked in genius, it made up for in comforting consistency. In ten series we never went more than 60 seconds without a punchline. Such is the power of the team-writing system.
2. The true spirit of camaraderie
They don’t call David Schwimmer “the Bob Crow of situation comedy” for nothing. It was his idea that the cast of Friends should collectively bargain for their pay, a strategy which eventually netted them $1m each per episode - a new record in television.
This might never have been possible if creators Marta Kaufmann and David Crane had not also steadfastly rejected suggestions that scripts be redrafted. The studio wanted a more traditional structure, featuring one dominant character and five supporting ones, but eventually saw sense. Speaking of which...
3. Proof that the suits don’t know a thing about comedy
Here are a few of the terrible ideas proposed by nameless NBC execs during the development stage of Friends: 1) An older character called ‘Pat the Cop’ who gave the twenty-somethings relationships advice 2) That the coffee shop setting be replaced with a diner, because it was ‘too hip’ 3) A central romantic storyline between Monica and Joey. No, no, no, no, no.
4. A Nationwide caffeine addition
Coffee as cultural pastime was actually the invention of Georgian London’s coffehouses, but until the cast of Friends started sipping lattes during normal working hours, it was long forgotten on these shores.
It’s no coincidence that the mid-nineties arrival of ‘Central Perk’ coincided with the UK’s embrace of franchised coffee shops with nice soft furnishings. Progress has its downsides, however. Whatever happened to a nice cup of tea and chocolate Hob-Nob?
5. An irritating way of speaking
Linguists have studied the dialogue of Friends and concluded that its influence on the way English is spoken globally goes way beyond Joey’s “How you doin’?” catchphrase.
There’s also Phoebe’s ‘upspeak’, Chandler’s sarcastic inflection and the word “so”, which replaced “very” or “really” as the most popular intensifier, thanks to Rachel and Monica’s regular gossip exchanges. Could a sitcom be any more influential?
6. Some admirable aspirations
Much is made of ‘the Rachel’ haircut, but what really made Friends such aspirational viewing had nothing to do with style. Their clothes were dowdy, their taste in music was abominable (Hootie & The Blowfish? Really?) and their Manhattan loft apartments were very obviously sound stages in a Los Angeles studio.
Even so, audiences - often unconsciously - imitated Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe and Joey. Perhaps that’s because unlike the characters in Seinfeld, Cheers or most other great sitcoms, Friends was about people who were not only funny, but also functional. They were well-balanced, fundamentally decent people who looked after each other. They were Friends.
Comedy Central will be broadcasting back-to-back episodes of Friends from 10.30am to 9pm on Sunday.
Best celebrity cameos in Friends
Best celebrity cameos in Friends
1/20 Brad Pitt, series 8
Brad Pitt played Will Colbert, the boy Rachel used to bully at school (we know, how could she?). The pair were still married in real life at the time
2/20 Robin Williams, series 3
Robin Williams and Billy Crystal played best friends who crashed the iconic orange couch in Friends coffee shop Central Perk (awkward). Williams' character began stressing over his suspicions that his wife was cheating on him, while the bemused group of friends listened in
3/20 Freddie Prinze Jr, series 9
Freddie Prinze Jr played Rachel and Ross' male nanny Sandy, much to Ross' initial disapproval. He had a tendency to cry but put on flute and puppet shows for Emma
4/20 Charlie Sheen, series 2
Charlie Sheen played Phoebe's former Navy man lover Ryan in 'The One with the Chicken Pox'. Ross' son Ben had chicken pox and the couple, who had never had the virus, ended up falling ill. Needless to say, Ryan didn't show up again
5/20 Danny Devito, series 10
Danny Devito starred as 50-year-old stripper 'Officer Roy Goodbody' at Phoebe's bachelorette party. He broke down in tears after the friends were initially unimpressed, bu then Phoebe told him to give it his all...
6/20 Elle Macpherson, season 6
Model Elle Macpherson made an appearance as Janine Lecroix, Joey's roommate and eventual girlfriend. No, we weren't quite convinced by that one either...
7/20 Jennifer Saunders, series 4
Absolutely Fabulous' Jennifer Saunders starred as Ross' mother-in-law to be, Emily's mother Andrea. Let's just say it's a good job he said the wrong name at the wedding
8/20 Bruce Willis, series 6
Bruce Willis starred as the father of Ross' girlfriend Elizabeth. He did not like Ross. In fact, he really, really didn't like Ross. But he did like Rachel. So that was all a bit awkward
9/20 Brooke Shields, series 2
Brooke Shields made one of the early cameo appearances as Joey's crazy stalker Erica. She believed he was actually Dr Drake Ramoray, the character he played on Days of Our Lives. Then there was some hand licking...
10/20 Alec Baldwin, series 8
Alec Baldwin played Phoebe's new boyfriend Parker in 'The One in Massapequa'. He drove everyone mad with his incessant OTT compliments and Phoebe demanded he 'be much less happy'
11/20 Sean Penn, series 8
Sean Penn played the fiance of Phoebe's twin sister Ursula. But when Phoebe met her brother-in-law to be she found out that Ursula had lied to him about, well, pretty much everything
12/20 Denise Richards, series 7
Denise Richards appeared in 'The One With Ross And Monica's Cousin' as Cassie. The Gellers hadn't seen her in years and her utter gorgeousness caused Ross to overstep the mark. To be fair, we don't blame him
13/20 Julia Roberts, series 2
Don't believe that Julia Roberts would ever date Chandler? That's because her character Susie 'Underpants' Moss was out for revenge after Chandler pulled up her skirt at school. He ended up wearing nothing but her knickers in a restaurant toilet
14/20 Jennifer Coolidge, season 10
As Phoebe and Monica's old roommate Amanda, Jennifer Coolidge was a bit of a handful (ok, that's an understatement). 'Look at me!'; 'Smell my neck!' were just some of her remarks. And then she went and told Monica that Phoebe had once attempted to 'cut her out'
15/20 Winona Ryder, series seven
Winona Ryder played Melissa, one of Rachel's old school friends. The pair had shared a kiss during a sorority party. Years later, Melissa declared her undying love. Rachel said: 'I'm just a good kisser'
16/20 Greg Kinnear, series 10
Greg Kinnear played the boyfriend of Ross' new flame Charlie. Dr Benjamin Hobart was a Nobel Peace Prize-winning paleontologist - who also happened to run the grant committee Ross had applied to. Dr Hobart wanted Ross to break up with Charlie; but then Charlie realised she still loved him and they got together anyway
17/20 Paul Rudd, series 9 and 10
Paul Rudd played Mike Hannigan, Phoebe's boyfriend and eventual husband. They met after Joey failed to set up a blind date for his friend and then randomly shouted out 'Mike' in Central Perk. Well, it's an alternative to Tinder...
18/20 Dakota Fanning, series 10
Dakota Fanning played the precocious daughter of a couple whose house Monica and Chandler were viewing. She befriended Joey, who wasn't too happy about his friends moving to the suburbs
19/20 Jeff Goldblum, series 9
Jeff Goldblum played director Leonard Hayes. He was seriously impressed by Joey's audition for his play, but didn't realise his agitated performance was fuelled by a desperate need to pee. Until Joey relieved himself when the pair hugged...
20/20 Christina Applegate, series 9
Christina Applegate played Rachel's younger sister Amy. Rachel and Ross got pretty mad when she mistook Emma for a boy and kept calling her Emmitt. She insulted everyone else to boot
What I watched this week
Scotland in A Day, 4oD
After all the referendum rows and talk of lasting division, there’s something healing about Jack Doherty’s Life in A Day-style ‘self-shot’ mockumentary. Brian Cox, Douglas Henshall, Kayvan Novak and Doon Mackichan star as ordinary Scots on all sides of the argument - and they’re all as silly as each other.
The Leftovers, Sky Go
Three years after two per cent of the world’s population disappeared without a trace (an event known as the Sudden Departure) and the town of Mapleton, New York is trying to return to normality. The Guilty Remnant, a strange cult of white-attired, chain-smoking mutes has other ideas. The first episode you watch of this dour, frustrating drama may also be the last, but it’s essential viewing, all the same.
Cilla, ITV Player
Girl-next-door and tough cookie Sheridan Smith is perfectly cast as girl-next-door and tough cookie Cilla Black. This three-part drama follows Black’s early days of stardom on the Merseybeat scene as she pals around with a little-known band called The Beatles and tries to persuade Brain Epstein to give her a shot at the big time.
Peaky Blinders (series one), iPlayer
I wasn’t completely enamored with Birmingham’s answer to Boardwalk Empire first time around (the trendy soundtrack seemed try-hard). Then they announced the casting of Tom Hardy as a London gangster in the upcoming second series and I felt suddenly inspired to give it another go. Go figure. BBC Two have been re-running series one all week, which means it’s now available for catch up on iPlayer.Reuse content