Judge Patrick Bromley thinks a lifetime's not too long to live as friends.
Our reviews of Friends: The Complete First Season (published June 11th, 2002), Friends: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published May 7th, 2013), Friends: The Complete Second Season (published September 16th, 2002), Friends: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published May 7th, 2013), Friends: The Complete Third Season (published June 18th, 2003), Friends: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 8th, 2003), Friends: The Complete Eighth Season (published February 2nd, 2005), Friends: The Complete Tenth Season (published November 28th, 2005), Friends: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012), Friends: The Complete Series Collection (published January 24th, 2007), Friends: The One With All The Babies (published April 26th, 2006), Friends: The One With All The Birthdays (published May 31st, 2006), and Friends: The One With All The Weddings (published May 10th, 2006) are also available.
Ross: "I didn't give her that ring."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Facts of the Case
All 23 episodes of the penultimate season of Friends are included in the Friends: The Complete Ninth Season boxed set. Titles and synopses follow:
• "The One Where No One Proposes"
• "The One Where Emma Cries"
• "The One With the Pediatrician"
• "The One With the Sharks"
• "The One With Phoebe's Birthday Dinner"
• "The One With the Male Nanny"
• "The One With Ross's Inappropriate Song"
• "The One With Rachel's Other Sister"
• "The One With Rachel's Phone Number"
• "The One With the Christmas in Tulsa"
• "The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work"
• "The One With Phoebe's Rats"
• "The One Where Monica Sings"
• "The One With the Blind Dates"
• "The One With the Mugging"
• "The One With the Boob Job"
• "The One With the Memorial Service"
• "The One With the Lottery"
• "The One With Rachel's Dream"
• "The One With the Soap Opera Party"
• "The One With the Fertility Test"
• "The One With the Donor"
• "The One in Barbados"
I'd love to say that Friends was on its last legs—that it had, for lack of a better phrase, jumped the shark—in its second-to-last season. That the show had exhausted all of its narrative and character possibilities after eight long years on the air, and that by its ninth season it was essentially just running on fumes. That it was impossible to care by this point. That the series, once the most popular sitcom on television, had simply run its course.
I might even be right too—there's a reason I included the above quote from the ninth season's premiere episode—if I really felt that this season of Friends was such a far cry from the show's previous years. It isn't. Does anyone else remember an extended storyline involving a monkey? Multiple childbirths, including the one that concluded the previous season? Ross and Rachel's secret marriage? Kathleen Turner as Chandler's father? The doctor that loved "Fonzie"? Did I mention the monkey? The show has a long history of missteps and unfunny ideas that continue on long after they've worn out their welcome. It's never been a perfect show. Friends: The Complete Ninth Season isn't really any different in that regard.
That's not to say that I'm condemning Friends or its ninth year. The show is what it always is: a comfortably predictable, sometimes smarmy, well-acted and (occasionally) well-written ensemble comedy that, if it didn't exactly redefine the traditional sitcom format, certainly set the standard for a time. Yes, Season Nine can be maddeningly uneven, but that's the show—and I say that as someone who's been a fan (or at least a viewer) from the very beginning. Yes, there are just as many lame and contrived moments as there are funny ones. Yes, Season Nine is guilty of stretching what little credibility many of the characters already had. And yes, Season Nine is guilty of introducing a baby into the mix (previous babies on the show—and there have been several—lived in some off-camera universe), typically the death rattle of any sitcom—though one could argue that within a few episodes, the baby is all but forgotten (which actually calls into question the parenting of a couple of characters, but let's not lose sleep over it).
What's best about the show (and it hasn't always been the case; the later seasons are better than the early ones) is the easy chemistry among the ensemble and the almost ridiculous comfort level they have playing their characters. By this point in the series, the six leads have so fully inhabited their respective parts that they're often able to pull laughs from the most unexpected places; watching them work at this stage of the game is like watching any seasoned pro—it's a blast. Courtney Cox and Matt LeBlanc in particular have used the run of the show to develop two especially inspired comic creations—they don't really resemble human beings any longer, but damned if they don't squeak out at least a couple of laughs per episode (Cox's evolution has been especially interesting / impressive, considering she began the series as nothing more than the straight gal). David Schwimmer, who was possibly the most promising in earlier years, has gone the other direction by Season Nine; his Ross has become a whiny cartoon character, overacted to the point of being out in the stratosphere. Kudrow, Aniston (who's also grown to be quite a nimble comedienne), and Perry, rounding out the ensemble, are as consistent and dependable as always; Kudrow, probably the most instinctively funny person on the show, has always been let down by a character that's difficult to write and next to impossible to play. That she's made it work for so long is a kind of small miracle.
If nothing else, Friends has always made for good romantic comedy—something television is lacking in the age of reality shows and police procedurals. I'll admit to being something of a sucker for the genre, which may color my opinion of the series but shouldn't detract from the strength of the show's deft combination of romantic possibility and humor. The Complete Ninth Season runs low on this commodity, most likely because the writers have exhausted all of the Ross-and-Rachel and Chandler-and-Monica storylines (the latter couple's secret romance story a few years back might have been the series at its most inspired). The Rachel and Joey story, which begins and ends the season but is forgotten for most of the middle, is a poor substitute—Aniston and LeBlanc have the wrong kind of chemistry, both as actors and as characters, and the whole thing feels forced at best.
Friends: The Complete Ninth Season comes to DVD as a four-disc set courtesy of Warner Bros. For anyone who's been collecting the season-length sets as they've been released, there should be no surprises with this one. The episodes, which run roughly 23 minutes apiece, are presented in their original full-frame television aspect ratio. The picture quality on the shows is about what it is on TV—it could be better, but it's still acceptable. The same goes for the 5.0 audio track; it's an improvement over the two-channel stereo tracks that most TV-shows-on-DVD feature, delivering the dialogue strongly without going overboard on the laugh track, but it doesn't hold up against some of the better tracks out there (to be fair, those typically belong to movies). The episodes on the set also run slightly longer than they do on television; a few jokes, originally cut from the broadcast versions for time purposes, have been reinserted—that's why the box art refers to them as "uncut," but don't expect anything subversive or racy.
There are no surprises in the extras department, either. The same three people—producers Marta Kaufman, Kevin Bright, and David Crane—assemble to deliver commentary tracks over three episodes. Their talks are quite listenable and contain a reasonable amount of behind-the-scenes information, but after eight previous boxed sets it's hard for the group to avoid repeating themselves. Also included is a lame trivia game complete with creep bobble-head cast likenesses, an even lamer "preview" for the show's final season (which contains no actual information, so what's really the point?), a short Flaming Lips video that plays more like a Lisa Kudrow retrospective, and a gag reel that contains some legitimate laughs—the relationships the cast have formed over the years come through in the way they try and crack each other up.
Friends isn't a show for everyone, in that it actually is for everyone—some people are put off by that. It doesn't break any new ground or challenge the viewer the way a great series does, but does what it intends to do with skill and energy. The Complete Ninth Season is far from being the series' best (and does suggest that it was just about quittin' time), so I wouldn't recommend a newcomer getting started here, but, then, why would you? That's a bit like wandering into a movie during the last ten minutes and deciding whether or not you like it. Pick it up only if you've been buying the damn things all along—and if you are, in the words of one insightful reader, a "completist whore" (like I am), you will.
Look, we only have to put up with them for one more season and we'll never have to hear that damn theme song again. Let's leave them to sit in the corner and drink coffee all day. They're not hurting anyone, right?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Marta Kaufman, Executive Producer Kevin S. Bright, and Executive Producer David Crane on "The One With the Male Nanny," "The One With Rachel's Other Sister," and "The One in Barbados" (Parts I and II)
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