Sunday, August 2, 2009

Friends Project

Originally Posted 3-23-08

During the 1990s, I distinctly remembered that the '80s were a constant source of derision. While I have a certain fondness for that decade, since it was the decade of my childhood, I understand that the '80s are ripe for the pickin’ when it comes to that sort of thing. At the time, I had figured that this is the sort of thing that happens. It didn’t matter what decade it was, everyone would make fun of the decades that preceded it. I was looking forward to making fun of the '90s. While wearing the same flannel day in and day out seemed like a good idea, the Gin Blossoms never made sense to me. I was looking forward to a time when I was able to make fun of Alison Road.

Here it is, 2008. By my calculations, in less than five years, we should be making fun of the '00s, however we’ve still yet to rip into the '90s as much as we could have. I mean think about Vanilla Ice, the Backstreet Boys, and everything in between. No one wants to get in on this? Fine, suit yourself.

For reasons that escape me, I recently got a hankering to see some episodes of Friends again. Now Friends is one of those shows that is always on TV. However, I don't actually watch TV that much anymore. Any television entertainment comes through Netflix or sites that allow me to see whole episodes with minimal commercial interruption. But if I'm going to watch the show, how do I choose where to start? Do I start randomly? Should I start at the very beginning, and just put the whole series on my queue to watch whenever I choose?

In a moment of impulse, I decide that I should, actually, do just that. I should have every episode of Friends delivered to my house.

This would be my secret, only to be shared with the people at Netflix.

Except that day I made the addition, I told my friends. “Okay, so I added something to my queue. It’s a total guilty pleasure. It’s a shit-com, but you know what? It’s a good shit-com!”

As it is with Netflix queues, it took a couple of weeks for Season one, disc one to get to the top of the disc to get to the top of my list.

Finally, I got the first disc. That’s when it hit me that I should probably get this down. I should keep some sort of journal of this. I’m embarking on a journey of six friends that apparently did something and something or other.

Look, I’ll be honest, I enjoy the show as a guilt pleasure. I’m hardly a fanatic. I know that in the last episode, “she gets off the plane.” I’m aware of most of the things that happen in between.

I know that Friends was heavily influenced by popular culture of the time and vice versa—unlike, say, Seinfeld, which I’d say that was more of a one-way road.

So, this is my pet project for now.

I'm not out to change the world or to have Friends viewed as something it's never been thought of before. I'm not sure what it is. It's just something I'm doing.

Join me.
Or don't, I don't care.

UPDATE: 8-1-09

Blogs are traditionally posted in reverse chronological order. I figured since this has a beginning and an end, it wouldn't make sense to read about the series backwards, so I figured Blogger had a way to have the posts go in reverse-reverse order
—aka, in order—but when I completed everything, I came to find out there isn't a way to do that. If I wanted to do that, I'd have to change the post date in all of the entries, so that it appears that I wrote the first post most recently.

So that's what I did, because I'm ridiculously anal-retentive. I assure you, I didn't bang out this entire thing in one day, publishing a post once every 29 minutes. (Why 29 minutes? Again, because I'm ridiculously anal-retentive.)

Don't think about how confusing it is to find newer posts when you click on 'Older Posts.' I know it's a little nutty. Just go with it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Under the Purple New York Sky

Originally Posted 3-26-08

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."

I once said that to someone for some reason, and he replied, "Great movie."
Now, I didn't exactly know where I got that quote from, but it wasn't from a movie. For all I knew, it could have been something referencing a movie. What do I know...ever...I mean really. So, I said, "Huh?"
"Kung-Fu," he said.
"Oh, right," I pretended, and the conversation ended.

I couldn't tell you who the other person was in this conversation. I'm 99.992836747362% sure it's someone I haven't spoken to in a few years.

I never looked into the origin of this quote, because I never really cared enough to devote any time to it. For some reason, I thought the quote would be a good way to start this thing, but that previously mentioned exchange is forever ingrained into my psyche whenever that quote comes up, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Since I was thinking about this, I thought it would be a good idea maybe look into it once and for all. I have to be honest, once I started looking into it, I stopped caring, like, right away. IMDb says it's not from Kung-Fu, and Google says it originally came from Lao Tzu. Normally, I like to get at least two references for something like this, but like I said, I really lost interest right away.

There still are two Kung-Fu connections, however—and that's just off the top of my head.

For starters, Jennifer Aniston's character in Office Space admits to loving Kung-Fu.

Also, Kung-Fu starred a white guy playing an Asian. Another case of a white person playing an Asian was Marlo Thomas in an episode of Bonanza. Marlo Thomas played the mother of Rachel Green.

Look at that! See, this is fun!

Okay, down to business.

The main menu is actually pretty creepy, more so when animated. It's the New York skyline, and there's nothing wrong with that. When animated, the ominous purple clouds move much quicker than clouds move naturally, even when clouds are moving fast before a storm. It's enough to make me think that this shot takes place about two minutes before the apocalypse. Add to that the chipper theme sans vocals. It wouldn't surprise me that if the end of days were to descend on Earth, the music of the Rembrants would play heavily somewhere in there.

The Pilot isn't very good. Maybe that's unfair, because there needs to be an establishment of backstory, but the timing is off. It's different than the rest of the series.

The overall feel is a bit different than the rest of the series. Boyfriends and girlfriends are acquired with no mention of them in later episodes, or they're suddenly there without any previous mention. Maybe that's just them figuring the show out.

Monica has some interesting series firsts. She's the first character named in an episode—in the pilot. Her character has the first line. She is also the first character to sleep with someone; although Joey goes on a date, we assume—because it's Joey—that he sleeps with that date, we don't actually see the date. But we see Monica's date.

I wouldn't normally post a picture of "this momentous character that has a few lines." However, I wanted to share Monica's outfit. Yeah, what's going on there?

Other egregious fashion miscalculations include Chandler's...well, I wouldn't know how to describe this:

I find it extremely difficult to acknowledge that this short sleeve/vest/tie combination was ever fashionable, little yet in my lifetime, or even within the past 15 years.

Other things to note in this picture:

Yes, that is Gunther in the background. While he seems to have been present for a lot, if not all, of the scenes that take place in Central Perk—dutifully serving patrons—he is still yet to have a line.

Also, check out the length of the antenna on that cordless phone. That's one of those things that I'm going to have to explain to my kids. "No, they weren't cell phones, it was for your land line...but that was before anyone ever used the word 'land line', because this was at a time when only the unnecessarily wealthy had cell phones."

Chandler's fashion misstep is nothing in comparison to:

Joey's hair in the Pilot upsets me. Also, his belt buckle. That doesn't look like something guys wore. Maybe that's why the '90s aren't made fun of as much as the '80s. '80s fashion consisted of bright colors, acid washed jeans, side pony tails...the sort of thing that visually punched you in the face. Whereas the things I'm pointing out here from the '90s just seem to be bad choices in accessories. Suspenders, vests, and belts. The fashion mistakes of the '90s were way more understated than the fashion mistakes of the '80s.

Hey, remember this trend?

It's a schooner!

I have to come clean, but I was in the small percentage of people who were never able to see anything with these Magic Eye things. Luckily 1997 came around, people forgot about Magic Eye and it was no longer an issue.

Remember the old Snapple Iced Tea bottles? Possibly not. Snapple was a staple in our house in the early '90s, so I'm quite familiar with these bottles. Back when Snapple was a Long Island cottage industry before being bought out by Quaker Oats, which was later bought out by Pepsi, the Snapple Iced Tea bottle labels had a depiction of the Boston Tea Party.

Later, I heard some rumor that they changed it because "it was really a depiction of a slave ship." Also, people supposedly believed that the K that was circled with the word "PAREVE" next to it was some sort of acknowledgement to the KKK, and not something saying that the stuff was Kosher. I have no idea if this was actually what people thought, or if this was something that people were saying people believe.

Another race issue...I seem to remember a big hullabaloo because "There were never any black people on Friends." I remember hearing this while the show was in its later years. Yeah, well not true:

Here's Monica getting advice from a co-worker about another boyfriend who has since disappeared.
Unless the issue was that there weren't any reoccurring black characters.
If that's the case, then I have yet to see that.

Here's some weird product placement...

I'll be honest with you. I'm about as mad about saffron as anyone's ever going to be; meaning I loves me the Mello Yello. This coffee table seems to be fitted with, count 'em, FOUR cans of Mello Yello. Where one could find Mello Yello in New York is far beyond me, since I had any direct contact with the product until a trip to Nashville, TN in 1999.

Seriously, I really freakin' love the Mello Yello.
Sun Drop is also another citrus soda I love. Yet the only citrus soda readily available that's worth anything is Mountain Dew, but I'm afraid to be seen drinking it.

Chandler's seen here smoking in a coffee shop. The idea that people were legally allowed to smoke in a coffeehouse blows my mind, but it shouldn't. This was still legal in New York, and probably the rest of the United States at this time.

Also...Merrill Markoe apparently works with Ross at the museum. Sadly, according to IMDb, this will be the last time we see her in this series.

I feel like I'm the only person my age who knows who Merrill Markoe is, which is a shame. David Letterman's "Stupid Pet Tricks" were her idea.

NBC Cheap Tie-in Fest '94

Originally Posted 3-29-08

New Yorkers remember the big blackouts throughout history. November 9, 1965, which my mom tells me was pretty fun. It was her mother’s birthday, so a party had been planned. People partied in the dark
There was the one in 1976, the same summer of the Son of Sam. That’s all I know about that one.
There was the one in 2003. For, like, two seconds, everyone thought it was terrorists, forgetting that the northeast occasionally gets hit with things like this. I was in Philadelphia that summer, which was unaffected. Strangely enough, about half of the city had lost power earlier that week.
I remember hearing that the cause was some grid thing in Ontario, and then they learned that it was actually started in Ohio. The next week, I played Blame Canada on the radio show I had at the time, forgetting that the word “fuck” was in it. Oops.
There was also a blackout on November 3, 1994.

This started when Paul Buchman decided to steal cable while keeping it from his wife, Jamie. When Jamie threatens to call the cable company to complain about less than stellar reception, Paul and Cousin Ira go to the roof to try to fix it, accidentally cutting off cable to the rest of the building. An attempt to fix this leads to NBC’s entire Thursday night Must See TV lineup to suffer a blackout—except for Seinfeld, who I imagined didn’t want to have to write an episode around the premise of a blackout. Instead, George ate an ├ęclair out of the trash, Kramer had kidney stones, Jerry dated a Romanian gymnast, and Elaine tried to wrestle her boss, Mr. Pitt, from a—wait for it—Magic Eye poster.

NBC did something similar to this in 1991, when the Saturday night shows based in Miami—Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Nurses—got hit with a hurricane.

Onto another topic, I have trouble with Chandler’s shirts.

What, exactly, is going on with this shirt? It’s plaid, for a 9-12” strip down the front, but the rest of the front is black…but the rest of the shirt is gray. This, unfortunately, was a continuing theme.

Yeah. But then there’s:

I have never seen a dress shirt with such large pockets. I suppose that would come in handy. Maybe he was nursing joey twins. If that were the case, you’d wonder what biological purpose the '70s tie serves.

However, Chandler’s co-worker, appears twice, and both times is wearing something atrocious.

I was hoping she would appear again to fulfill that comedic rule of threes. This character showed up to work like this!

What is interesting about this episode is that this ill-wardrobed character tries to set Chandler up with a guy. Chandler explains that he’s not gay, but freaks out about it because that’s what he does. Later we see the would-be set up guy. This guy explains that he knows that Chandler isn’t gay because he has “a sort of radar for that sort of thing.” Technically, I shouldn’t have put that in quotes…but that was the gist. What I find interesting was that this may have predated the phrase “gaydar.” I know it was used in the coming out episode of Ellen, which was 1997. I would think that the writers of Friends would have used it if it had been out there somewhere—maybe even coin the phrase. But no. “Radar for that sort of thing,” is what they went with.

Rachel, on the other hand, should be put in higher regard. This, considering that she spawned an actual haircut—“The Rachel”—which I’m trying to think of another TV character to do so. I mean there was a Farrah, or a Mary Tyler Moore, but those were the actual actresses. It wasn’t called the Jennifer Aniston, it was “The Rachel”. There was never “The Winnie Cooper” or “The Corky Sherwood.” That’s what makes the above outfit all that much harder a pill to swallow.

Okay, enough picking on fashion. Imagine you’re a props master for this show, and the scene calls for Ross to be sitting in Central Perk, reading a magazine. What magazine should it be?

Apparently, the words you’re looking for are Anthropology Weekly, which, according to Wikipedia, never existed. Did someone create this magazine specifically for this reason? If so, why? Only people like me would notice. Have him read some real science magazine.

Thank you Google Maps for being able to kind of recreate this picture.

Well, sort of…

So, if these were real people, you know where you can go to find where they once lived. Although this building doesn't seem to have Monica's balcony, nor does it have Central Perk on the first floor.

If my memory serves, I’d have to say that this is Diet Peach Iced Tea. It’s a little upsetting that people just walk into Monica’s apartment and help themselves to Snapple. I understand it’s Rachel’s place too, but really, Monica’s the one that keeps it stocked.

Guest Star Watch

So, the manager at Central Perk probably seems a bit stressed. On top of having hired a seemingly useless waitress, his home life is also a little hectic, considering the fact that he’s got a teenage daughter, a young son, and an alien living with him.

That’s right, Rachel’s manager is none other than:

Willy Tanner!

While I’m on the subject, has anyone heard the story about Max Wright smoking crack on the set of ALF? This is one of those stories that are supposedly true, but there’s nothing backing it up. It gained some sort of credibility because it was just so unbelievable—kind of like the one that said that Mayim Bialik died of a drug overdose. Why does this happen? The more unbelievable something is, the more believable it becomes. It really defies all traces of logic.

I knew that Hank Azaria played Phoebe’s one-time physicist boyfriend who went off to Minsk. What I realized about David is that his voice is a mix between the nervous Frank Grimes and Professor Frink, Springfield's resident scientist. This makes sense. Both are voiced by Azaria, and David is a nervous scientist. I’d have to say that I’d like to hear David yell, “GLAVIN!” Just because it’s funny when Frink does it.

Crossover Kookiness

Originally Posted 4-4-08

It happens every time. You see a promo for an upcoming episode of a show, and you can tell that there is some sort of gimmick that seems to try harder than other recent gimmicks. You wonder what the deal is, until you realize that it’s actually November, February or May, and that it’s sweeps. You sigh, knowing that it’s going to be a month long period of this crap. I guess if you’re conscious enough about this sort of thing, you flip the calendar to a sweeps month, and you think, “Ugh, here we go.”

This is a luxury that you are not given when you watch a TV show on DVD. You don’t know what the original airdate was. Maybe you can apply some guesswork. Figure out that there have been x number of episodes between the Christmas episode and the one you’re about the watch. You could be happily moving along in the episode, unsuspecting of any would-be shenanigans. Then, Jon Lovitz shows up:

Then you know that after this episode, you’ve got a few more of gimmicky episodes.

This February, Friends packed a parade of gimmicks in one episode, in a two-parter that mixed the introduction of Phoebe’s estranged twin sister with a wacky sitcom crossover.

Lisa Kudrow—who had been playing Ursula, the incompetent waitress at Riff’s, frequented by Paul and Jamie Buchman of Mad About You—played both character in this episode.

Of course, to get the full flavor of a crossover, Jamie Buchman, herself, stops by Central Perk.

But the cavalcade of Thursday night NBC stars ends not there. When Rachel hurts her ankle, two doctors treat her. Apparently, the New York hospitals are so overstaffed that you are able to see two doctors at the same time, even when you come in with a simple injury.

This may not classify as a crossover, per se, since these doctors have different names from the ones that serve that hospital in Chicago. Which is good. They'd have to explain why Dr. Clooney and Dr. Wylie are both serving this hospital in New York.

Melora Hardin’s appearance as Ross’ girlfriend definitely wouldn’t classify as a Must-See TV crossover either, since this episode aired a full decade before she was introduced as Jan Levinson on The Office. It's still an amusing coincidence.

In other news, I have come to realize that Ross’ Snapple drinking is a little bogus. As someone who once drank Snapple, heavily, I know that one usually stuck to one or two flavors.

Lemonade and Raspberry Iced Tea make it the third and fourth flavor I've noticed. I find it hard to believe that he has no preference. Maybe he’s just forced to drink whatever Monica buys, and her Snapple selection runs the gamut. This wouldn’t surprise me, given the way she shops for beer:

She seems to buy two kinds. Expensive-looking foreign beer, and as-generic-as-possible “Beer.”

In an odd moment in Central Perk, Ross gets up, goes behind the counter, and serves himself. It’s not explained why he does, and no one says anything to the extent of, “Sir, you’re not supposed to be here.” I understand, he’s there all of the time, but you don’t do that.

While I was questioning this, I noticed that Ross was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Noticed I said “hooded sweatshirt,” and not “hoodie.” That’s because in 1995, “hoodies” were called “hooded sweatshirts.” Just two years earlier, Adam Sandler appeared on Saturday Night Live singing Red Hooded Sweatshirt. If he came out with that song ten years later, people would have said, “Who calls it a hooded sweatshirt anymore?” Although if it were ten years earlier, it could have been about a Kangaroo Jacket, so there you go.

Ross is a unicorn! Unicorn Power!

Gunther has still yet to utter a word on camera—nor has he been named yet—but he still gets invited to Phoebe’s birthday party. I admire the show’s extras casting. The fact that they’d even bother casting the same person to work at Central Perk is somewhat impressive. There are other workers, besides him and Rachel, who come and go, but they kept Gunther. It’s kind of neat how that worked out for the actor. He gets an extras gig, that turns into a reoccurring extras gig, which turns into a reoccurring role with lines. Now IMDb says that he has appeared in more episodes than anyone else—besides the six friends, obviously. Some of those are probably uncredited appearances, still though.

I’d like to know why Chandler is a Toronto Blue Jays fan. Don’t get me wrong, he’s allowed to be a Blue Jays fan. There has to be a story why a guy in New York, whose apartment is strewn with items showing support for the Knicks, Rangers, and Giants—less so, the Giants—is enough of a Blue Jays fan to put their cap in his work cubicle. He’s clearly a supporter of New York sports teams and has two baseball teams to choose from. There has got to be a story of why he root, root, roots for the Great White North's team. Interestingly enough, there is a lone Mets hat in his apartment. Maybe we’ll never learn what’s going on there.

This scene takes place at a men's room in a restaurant. What exactly is going on here? Chandler is talking to Joey while he’s peeing. Only Joey appears to be standing on the edge of a stall. It could be argued that he’s standing at a separate urinal, walled off from the rest of the bathroom, but that’s kind of a weak argument. I wasn’t able to get a wide shot of the bathroom, but if I were, you’d be able to see that this is not the case. If it were, that would leave no room for actual stalls. However, if you were to still argue this case, then I would ask you why a urinal would have its own door. Okay, maybe this is a VIP urinal. It gets its own stall with a door, when normally, the most men can hope for is a simple wall of separation. Yeah, well, this isn’t a very practical door, since it appears that the door cannot be closed while it’s being used.

Here’s my guess of how this went down:

“They” were saying that the scene should take place in the men’s room. In the interest of dramaturgy, the scene opens, and both characters need to be kept busy somehow. There’s only so much one could do in the bathroom—Sen. Craig activities excluded. So, one has to be washing his hands, and the other needs to be peeing, since they can’t have them both doing the same activity—in the interest of dramaturgy. However, they can’t show someone standing at a urinal. This is a guess. I’m sure it is, or was, not allowed by the censors. Someone peeing on Prime Time Network TV? Even if he’s got his back to us. Great, our kids will see it and think it’s okay to urinate whenever they’re in the bathroom.

Ya know, I was being sarcastic, but now that I think of it, I probably wouldn’t necessarily want to see it either. Even if he’s got his back to us. Not that I would be offended by it. It's just not something I need to see.

True story. I paused the show to use the bathroom—probably influenced by those wicked, wicked urinating men on TV—and this is where I stopped it. Had to share.

One Down, Nine to Go

Originally Posted 4-13-08

The stars keep coming in.

The original Jeanie Bueller is playing the former best friend of the Jeanie Bueller from the Ferris Bueller's Day Off TV series. An appearance of that magnitude doesn’t really call for a sweeps month episode, so this was an April episode. Not like Jonathan Silverman, who played the doctor who delivers Carol’s baby. (Sorry, the picture’s not available. I took one, but it didn’t save properly, and I didn’t notice it until the disc was sealed and sitting in a lovely blue mailbox, waiting for a nice postperson to pick it up and take it back to its home.)

The interesting thing about Jonathan Silverman’s appearance is that his show, The Single Guy didn’t premiere until the next fall. Did NBC do this on purpose? Like “Hey, remember how we had Jonathan Silverman guest star on a Must-See TV show? How would you like it if he starred in one?” Who the hell knows? I feel like I’ve already invested too much time thinking about the guy who played the guy who spent that weekend with that dead guy…and then another weekend.

The other thing that interests me about this whole Ross fathering a baby that was going to be raised by a lesbian couple thing is that all of this was happening 3 years after the whole Dan Quayle, Murphy Brown thing. Quayle spoke up about Murphy Brown raising a child out of wedlock, and how it shows the decay of family values. You’d think a lesbian couple raising a child would anger morons more than a single woman. Of course, by this time, there was a different Vice President. Instead of worrying about the comings and goings of fictional characters, Al Gore invested his time with things more important, like the environment.

Hot and Hotter

So, we’ve got Jennifer Aniston. Knee high socks, nice. Plaid skirt, nice. And a sweater? Okay, it was 1995. Two out of three, I suppose. By the way, that’s Marla Hooch from A League of Their Own. What a hitter!

Phoebe, looking sultry while playing an old school Game Boy. Yeah, I’m going to have to go with Phoebe and the Game Boy.

I guess since I brought up technology, I’ll share some other finds.

Ross is learning Chinese on a walkman. Remember having a walkman, and then being stuck with the same 90 minutes of music? I have a feeling this concept will completely baffle my future children. It kind of makes think about how crazy it was, and I had several walkmen throughout my formative years.

I never had a beeper, though.

However, there was a period of time when my family had the same exact wireless phone as Monica and Rachel.

I think AT&T made it.

This isn’t a “Hey, look at this antiquated phone” thing—although you can look at it and comment on its comical outdatedness. This is something else. Apparently, Central Perk has a phone that any of its customers can use without asking. It’s there on the counter, and if you get a beep, feel free to grab it and make a call. I question this establishment’s business model. Between hiring Rachel, who isn’t the best waitress in the world, and their communal “Feel free to call anyone on us” phone, it makes me wonder how this place is able to stay open. My guess is that they charge $10 for biscotti the size of your thumb. How else would they be able to afford to keep their furniture clean?

Seriously, Chandler, no shoes on the couch. I understand you had an unconventional upbringing, but I venture to guess that you weren’t raised in a barn. Would you climb all over your furniture? Better yet, would you like it if I came over and climbed all over your furniture?

Once again, I am floored by the way the hospitals in New York are supposedly run. A woman is giving birth, and in there with her is her ex-husband’s sister, her roommate, and their neighbors. Seriously, anyone can just go in and watch this birth? That seems exceptionally unhygienic. Thankfully, when the father and the mother’s life partner, the nurse spoke up and kicked out everyone who hadn’t had sex with the mother in the past year.

It may be months after he was first spotted reading an issue of Anthropology Weekly, but Ross is still on the same issue. It’s a weekly publication. I wonder what was in this issue that makes it so difficult for him to put it down.

Joey and Chandler are missing a spice. I may speak for no one here, but I really want to know what spice is missing. Maybe it’s just on the counter, having just been used. No, still, put it away. If I had that spice rack, I probably wouldn’t be able to handle one spice not being put away. Oddly enough, I’d be able to handle multiple spices not being where they belong. If I were making something where I used two, I’d probably not put them away, and then the next time I used another spice, I wouldn’t put that one away, because that would mean that I’d need to put the other two away. But just one not being put away? I don’t know how anyone could live like that.

Monica’s boyfriend wears a watch during sex. I mean if you’re going to be taking everything off, you might as well take the watch off, too. It’s a lot less awkward than taking off socks before sex, but it looks just as ridiculous to have sex with it on. Plus, that thing can scratch or get caught in hair. Why would you need to know the time? You’re having sex! Besides, Monica probably has a bedside clock if you need to know the time that much.

Despite it being May, the Empire State Building is still lit up with Christmas colors. C’mon, City of New York, get on the ball. You used to change the lights to blue for Sinatra’s birthday—one day. Christmas colors in May? Now, you’re just getting lazy.

I bet they have a spice rack with one spice not put in as well.