I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Rating: 4 Stars
All of what follows might seem a little strange to anyone who knows me and realizes that I am about the same age as the characters...when the show was ending. That's right folks, I was there from the beginning, right there at age eleven. Before you start questioning the parenting in my family, relax. It's not like I was obsessed with the show from the start. But we stumbled on this funny show about six people living in a city I'd always been completely enamored with, and from then on I never missed an episode if I could help it. and when I did have to miss one, thank goodness for VCRs. Some of the topics went right over my head, and that's okay - they should have. But still, what I got was this message that friends can be every bit as important as family...and that getting a huge apartment in NYC is totally doable for someone just a few years out of college.
If I am being totally honest, this book really isn't a four-start read. Part of my brain automatically rates the book a little higher than it deserves because I love this show so much. As in yes, I STILL love this show so much, and it is 2018. When I saw this come up on NetGalley I was super excited and waited not-so-patiently for an approval. I checked compulsively, sometimes multiple times a day, to see if I had been approved - sometimes publishers (though rarely in my experience) don't send an email telling you if you have been approved or denied so I pretty proactive when it is something I MUST get my hands on ASAP. Well over a decade ago I received The One With All Ten Seasons for Christmas and up until my daughter was born in 2013, I'd fallen asleep to FRIENDS every night (I still do when she is at her dad's house). It's the show that I have counted on time and again to get me through rough break-ups, real life friends turning out to be assholes, and a myriad of other situations more or less important. It's also the show I know I can fall asleep to because I have literally seen the series hundreds of times, it is not as though I will stay up late to watch. Even in my half-asleep state I might chuckle at Chandler as I drift off to sleep, but I know it will be there when I wake up in the morning and that is comforting. And seriously, a few close friends and I can have entire conversations only using quotes from the show. It's a gift - along with the years and years of re-watching it took for those precious lines to be seared into our brains forever.
I am THAT fan, okay? And I ain't sorry about it one bit.
Now that my insanity has been firmly established, on to the book.
It is...decent. A solid three actual stars for the writing, maybe two and a half for the content, which sounds weird when the content is some I LOVE MORE THAN ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD. The thing about that content is though, that there is not exactly anything new or groundbreaking here. We can all agree that there are some very problematic things with the show, and some of the things they got away with then would not be allowed now. But the thing about that is, those things have been addressed multiple times, any time that meme comes up stating how old Ben, the twins, and Emma would be now. Lack of diversity (though everyone seems to forget about Julie (Lauren Tom) early on, and only remember Kristen (Gabrielle Union, season seven one-off and Charlie (Aisha Tyler, story arc season 9) is a problem, and questions about whether the show was steeped in homophobia for all the jokes made at Chandler's expense, etc. But then one must only go back to the VERY FIRST EPISODE OF THE WHOLE SERIES, to be reminded that Carol and Ross divorced because she realized she was a lesbian. In 1994, that was HUGE. There were not a plethora of gay or lesbian characters on television, and FRIENDS started with one right out of the gate. While Carol and Susan were not constant fixtures on the show, we saw some of their biggest moments - Ben's birth, their wedding. And let's also discuss one of my favorites, Chandler's dad. I don't think anyone could have played that role better than Kathleen Turner, hands down. Still, the references to Chandler being gay were pretty common, and it's not exactly cool to make someone's sexuality a punchline. However, I think because we are all very widely aware of how much the world has changed just since the show started and ended, we can recognize the show's shortcomings and still embrace it as one of the game-changers and greatest shows of all time.
I really did not like the constant mentions and comparisons to Seinfeld. It happened A LOT. I get it, the temptation is there, two insanely popular shows about people living in NYC. But come on. The so-called DEFINITIVE book about FRIENDS doesn't need the constant Seinfeld comparisons. If you want to talk about Seinfeld so much, write a book about it.
Perhaps it is kind of ironic that I am writing this review (FINALLY) just a few days before Thanksgiving. I love the show (obviously), but those Thanksgiving episodes were the best. So, because I can, I will quickly rank all ten Thanksgiving episodes from worst to best:
10. Tricked ya! There was not really a Thanksgiving episode in season 2. The holiday gets mentioned in The One With the List but it is not a Thanksgiving-centric episode like all the others.
9. The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs
8. The One Where Underdog Gets Away (season 1)
7. The One With Rachel's Other Sister (season 9)
6. The One With All the Thanksgivings (season 5)
5. The One With the Late Thanksgiving (season 10)
4. The One With Chandler in a Box (season 4)
3. The One With the Rumor (season 8)
2. The One Where Ross Got High (season 6)
1. The One With the Football (season 3)
If you've never seen the show, then I first must inquire as to what rock you've been living under. Second, I must direct you to watch all of these first. There's not really a Thanksgiving episode that I did not like, and this list even changes from time to time, but #1 and #2 always remain constant.
There are a lot of good things in this book, even if there are no new facts, no new revelations or theories or ideas. As I mentioned above, criticism over lack of diversity has been mentioned time and time and time again in various media outlets and blogs and articles and everything. It was being mentioned when the show was airing, after all. So, I did not find anything in the author's interpretations as new or bold or earth shattering.
I can appreciate the author's observations about just how deeply FRIENDS impacted pop culture, and she does go into detail about many areas. One of the things that I have always been bothered by was the show's very subtle illusions to 9-11. Regardless of the fact that this show is a comedy, it always seemed very odd to me that there would not have been a direct impact on any of their lives. You know, those lives that they lead in LOWER MANHATTAN. I certainly would not expect the 'A Very Special Episode' treatment, but not acknowledging this massive national tragedy was a huge miss to me. They could have done it well, and in a tasteful way. Ignoring it all together never made sense to me. For many, I get it that FRIENDS is a source of comfort. It is exactly that same thing to me to, those six are friends of yours and mine, we know nearly every intimate detail about their lives for TEN YEARS. Maybe it is exactly because the show is set in lower Manhattan that they could not reference it, that the show had to remain that temporary escape from the real world where things were normal and perfect.
Even with the criticism, there is no denying the staying-power of the show. It has aired in reruns pretty much as soon as it went off the air. It was a HUGE deal when Netflix acquired rights and we suddenly got to watch the show WITHOUT CHANGING DISCS!! (Though to be honest I would rather be up changing discs every couple of hours, as the Netflix episodes are the cut, standard versions, not the extended episodes from the DVD collections).
Still, I appreciate the book because I love the show. I love it as much now as I did then. Even though there was very little offered in the way of new evaluation, it was a nostalgic trip down memory lane - even though I still take that trip regularly. Perhaps I found the book comforting though because we were also presented with reminders of the behind-the-scenes things we already know so well - particularly the detail regarding the salary negotiations. Some people don't realize how close the show came to not even making it to ten season in those later years. I also appreciate the author's mention of other projects that some of the actors and actresses had going on there in the beginning, and what it took to get the show going to begin with. Had any one of them decided to hedge their bets on a different pilot, we might never have seen the inside of Central Perk. That's not a world I want to live in.
Despite my best intentions, I have come to realize that I rapidly nose-dived into making this review about the show, not the book. I can't help it, when the show we are talking about is FRIENDS. But, I'll try again. It is obvious that the author loves FRIENDS, and just might be on my level of crazy about it. That love shows throughout the book, but still there could have been so much MORE. New commentary or observations, new anything. But really, there just wasn't and maybe that's because we have talked about this show now for so many years that there is literally nothing new left to say about it. It is often judged now based on the cultural changes we've gone through since the show aired its final episode (our first black president, the legalization of gay marriage, etc) and that's not exactly fair. On the other hand, just because the jokes made were 'normal' in the 90s does not make them okay. It is a fine line to walk, especially now that the show has no chance to change its course, what with NOT BEING IN PRODUCTION ANYMORE.
Overall, this is something that I think would be most enjoyed by fans who were there for the original run of the show, who remember the cultural impacts of the show as they happened - can you believe I made it THIS FAR without mentioning The Rachel? I know, right? I just don't think the book will read the same way for those who have come to the show much later, especially in the last five years, simply because the show doesn't come across in the same way now as it did then. Of course the show is dated, for so many things besides the major diversity and representation issues. Seriously, remember Chandler's new laptop?! Or the fact that cell phones were still in their early stages in those last couple years? I would certainly still recommend the book for anyone who loves the show, regardless of when they started watching it, but just know that it will be a slightly different experience depending on that very fact.