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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Spectator by Seema Goswami: The one in which…

Friends turns 25…Celebrating the show that was the soundtrack of our lives

brunch Updated: Oct 11, 2019 20:48 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times
The themes this series explored were universal in their scope and all-encompassing in their reach
The themes this series explored were universal in their scope and all-encompassing in their reach(Photo Imaging: Parth Garg)
         

I still remember the first time I caught an episode of Friends. I was flying to New York and the in-flight entertainment system featured a few episodes of this new hit show. Bored out of my skull on that long, interminable flight, I tuned in – and in less time than it takes to sing ‘I’ll be there for you’ I was hooked.

It helped, of course, that as a 20-something just venturing out on her own with a brand new career in journalism, I had a lot in common with the 20-something cast of Friends, who were also beginning to negotiate their own adult lives on the show. But it also didn’t matter that there was a lot that we didn’t have in common either.

These ‘Friends’ lived on their own or with roommates in nice apartments in New York; I still lived with my parents in Calcutta. They spent all their spare time – and unlike me, they seemed to have loads of it – at a funky coffee shop called Central Perk (get it? Of course I did!); the only place I got to hang out with my friends/colleagues was at the shabby roof-top cafeteria at the ABP offices in a crummy Calcutta bylane where we quickly grabbed some bread pakoras before heading back for another shift before the computers. And of course, they all looked super hot and very glamorous; me, not so much.

But none of these differences mattered as I fell deeply in love with the show and its characters. And that’s because the themes the series explored were universal in their scope and all-encompassing in their reach.

As I grew up, both in my professional and personal life, so did the cast of Friends. I laughed along as Pheobe sang ‘Smelly Cat’; I grew indignant on Rachel’s behalf when Ross insisted that they were ‘on a break’ (okay, they were; but that didn’t excuse his behaviour); I giggled helplessly as Joey spouted ‘French’ (as in gibberish) in one of his auditions; I rooted for Monica and Chandler to become more than friends with benefits; and of course, like the rest of the world, I grew endlessly frustrated when Ross and Rachel didn’t seem to get that they were meant to be together (though, thankfully, they made it by the end of 10 seasons).

The thing about Friends is that even though it ended many years ago, it remained within easy reach, offering a comfort watch at the end of a challenging day

By the time the show ended, like most of my generation who had grown up with these characters, I felt bereft. But I didn’t have to mourn long. The repeat telecasts began soon after and there was never an evening when you couldn’t find an episode or two of Friends airing on one of the entertainment channels. So often did I watch these that I knew the scripts well enough to deliver the punch lines a beat before the characters did.

The thing about Friends is that even though the show ended many years ago in a sense it never went away. It remained within easy reach, offering a comfort watch at the end of a long and challenging day, almost like a bubble bath of sparkling comedy you could immerse yourself in to wash off your accumulated tiredness. It became the soundtrack of our lives, the laugh lines coming nice and easy every single time we tuned in.

So, you will understand why it came as a bit of shock to me when I read that Friends was now celebrating its 25th anniversary. My first thought was: when did I get so old? And the second was: My god, I am officially old.

But once I was done mourning my younger self, I began thinking about what Friends had taught me about youth and growing up. And it turns out, it was quite a lot. Here’s just a small sampling:

 In the first episode itself, in which Rachel makes an appearance as a runaway bride, there was an important life lesson for women of my generation. Don’t settle for your ‘Barry’. Make a run for it, no matter how embarrassing it may be. Hold out for the Real Thing, no matter how long the wait.

 No matter what the cost, follow your passion. It may be dinosaurs or massage therapy, acting or cooking. But do what makes you happy, even if it involves a late-life change in career like the one Chandler affects.

 Everyone has a talent; it is only a question of identifying it and making it work for you. Even Rachel, who starts out as the spoilt rich Daddy’s girl whose only skill is shopping, ends up making it big in the world of fashion, scoring a job in Paris no less.

 There is someone for everyone. Even the supremely weird Phoebe ends up with two men fighting over who gets to propose to her. The awkward, ad-libbing Chandler ends up in wedded bliss with his best friend Monica. And after torturing us for 10 seasons with will-they or won’t-they questions, Rachel and Ross finally get together (“she got off the plane!”).

 But the show also reminds us that if you do end up alone like Joey, that’s no reason to fret. You can always move into the apartment above the garage of your best friends, and be the fun uncle who spoils their kids silly. Just retire the phrase ‘How you doin’?’ when you hit 40, and you should be fine.

Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, October 6, 2019

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