In 1994, a little sitcom with a bunch of relative unknowns debuted on NBC and redefined (along with ER) “must see TV.” Now, that little sitcom with its easily recognized title song (the Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You”) has arrived on Blu-ray in individual seasons (affordably!) so that you can reconnect with the six friends from the Central Perk coffeehouse to be reminded why they’re so funny and how they changed ideas about friendship… forever.
Remember when Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) first met the gang? How she stumbled into a Central Perk discussion by Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), his sister Monica (Courtney Cox Arquette), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Joey (Matt LeBlanc), and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), in her wedding dress? Or how about the tentative attempts by Ross to date Rachel, and then her attempts to reciprocate by Season Two? Tom Selleck’s divorcee pre-Blue Bloods dating the much younger Monica?
Unlike so many sitcoms with twenty and thirtysomethings, where the hinge scenes played out in a bar, this one takes place (at least early on) at the coffeehouse and Monica’s apartment. It revolves around Rachel’s attempts to get a job and finally cut the purse strings to her parents, establishing herself as an adult; around Chandler’s attempts to find the right woman (if you’re a fan, you know where that’s going); around Ross trying to re-establish a connection with his high school crush, Rachel; around Joey’s misadventures in love and acting. So much of it revolves around missing the “right one” right in front of you all along.
While there is sex, the sitcom seems to disprove Harry’s proposal to Sally that “men and women can’t be friends because sex always gets in the way.” These folks actually seem to care about each other, protecting each other, and working to make things right, often with the worst advice ever! It’s caffeinated, sharp, and even with its pop culture references, it stands the test of time. Not everything is still funny nearly twenty years later, but with Ross’ directness/naivete, Monica’s boldness, Phoebe’s abstract/bizarre behavior, and the boys’ (Chandler and Joey) bumbling girl chasing, it’s a mixed bag of silly, smart, entertaining, exploration of life as the young, working middle class.
It’s hard for me (after over a decade of marriage, and now time as a father) to imagine what it’s like to be their age and not have a family to fall back on… til you realized that the friends of Central Perk are actually FAMILY. When your family proves to be unsustainable, in the cases of the Gellers and Rachel, then your friends become the “family you choose for yourself.” Do they always like each other? Do they always get along? No and no. But at the end of the day, their loyalty to each other is bigger than any of the insecurities, troubles, layoffs, setbacks, losses, or failures can overcome. They struggle on together and it’s because they bear each others’ sorrows that they can move forward, and ultimately, celebrate their triumphs together.
In HD, it looks better than many of the episodes I saw originally on small, bad televisions in high school and college. With special features like commentary and features on guest stars, episodes, and more, fans will dig in all over again. And it beats watching out-of-order reruns on TBS… or wherever you find the show in late night!