Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 25, 2003)
Time for more Friends! With this new set, we get all 25 episodes from Season Three. From here, I’ll offer brief discussions of all the episodes, listed in their broadcast order. The synopses come straight from the package’s liner notes. As a helpful guide, an asterisk denotes shows that also appeared on any of the prior “best of” DVDs that Warner Bros. released before they came to their senses and started to package Friends in season sets.
In addition, apparently all of the episodes include footage cut for their broadcast appearances. This means the running times vary. I’ll include the length of each episode on the DVDs. (For reference, a standard broadcast program lasts about 22 minutes.) I’ll also toss in a favorite “demo line” from each show.
The One With the Princess Leia Fantasy (24:39): Ross’s (David Schwimmer) secret fantasy doesn’t stay secret for long after he confides in Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). Chandler (Matthew Perry) begins to rekindle his relationship with ex-girlfriend Janice (Maggie Wheeler).
Whereas Season Two of Friends opened with the second part of a cliffhanger, “Leia” launches Season Three on a smaller note. I don’t regard that as a bad thing, for I always disliked some of the series’ soap opera elements. Few of those appear here. Monica pines for her ex-boyfriend, but that offers the smallest of the three plots. Mostly the program splits time between Joey’s (Matt LeBlanc) efforts to cope with his dislike of Janice and Ross’s issues dealing with the fact Rachel keeps few secrets from her female pals. The episode seems good but not great; Joey gets some of the best moments, such as those related to his misinterpretation of a Wheel of Fortune puzzle.
Demo line: Chandler: “And by the way – there is no ‘Count Rushmore’!” Joey: “Yeah? Then who’s the guy who painted the faces on the mountain?”
*The One Where No One’s Ready (23:51): Ross gets riled when his friends fail to be ready on time for a museum fundraiser where’s he’s giving a speech.
Although I’ve seen this one a number of times, it remains absolutely hilarious, and I laughed much more than usual during it. The multiple storylines blend together cleanly and the result is a terrific episode that seemed funny from start to finish. In addition, “Ready” introduces the phrase “going commando” to the mass public. This remains one of the better Friends programs ever made.
Demo line: Rachel: “Does this look like something the girlfriend of a paleontologist would wear?” Phoebe: “I don’t know – you might be the first one.”
The One With the Jam (22:48): Monica (Courtney Cox) becomes obsessed with making jam as a means of getting over Richard (Tom Selleck). Still feeling unfulfilled, she decides she wants to have a baby and visits a sperm bank.
Mods beware: you’ll find no references to Paul Weller and company in “Jam”. Despite that, it offers a pretty solid show. Monica’s attempts to fulfill herself mildly veer into Very Special Episode territory, but the program keeps from turning sappy. So far this is Joey’s year, as he gets the best moments, especially when we learn about his sperm bank adventures and his jam obsession.
Demo line: Chandler (thinking to self in bed, trying to get Janice not to snuggle): “Look at all that room on her side! You could fit a giant penguin over there! That’d be weird, though.”
The One With the Metaphorical Tunnel (23:47): Ross and Rachel encourage Chandler to “go through the tunnel” and commit to Janice. Ross worries when his son plays with a girl’s doll and tries frantically to substitute masculine toys.
Despite the impression left by the description above, the bits with Ross and his kid are pretty minor. The Chandler plot occupies most of the show and works fairly well, though given the character’s a) historical ambivalence toward Janice and b) his general fear of commitment, Chandler’s over the top clinginess seems hard to accept. Still, it’s an amusing program, and the parts in which Phoebe pretends to be Joey’s agent help make it work.
Demo line: Rachel: “That’s funny – ugly naked guy’s still naked, but his dog’s wearing a sweater!”
The One With Frank Jr. (24:18): Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) invites her half-brother Frank Jr. (Giovanni Ribisi) to visit. Ross makes a list of famous women he’d like to date.
For every decent performance given somewhere by Ribisi, there are many more bad ones, and his Frank Jr. falls into the negative category. Whereas Kudrow makes Phoebe naturally and endearingly flaky, Ribisi’s Frank Jr. comes across as aggressively stupid and self-consciously odd. This makes their scenes together tough to take, but once again, some good Joey moments allow the show to remain reasonably solid.
Demo line: Monica (to Joey): “I’ll pay you double what he’s paying you.” Joey: “He’s not paying me anything.” Monica: “Triple!”
The One With the Flashback (23:35): After Janice asks whether they’ve ever dated each other, the friends reminisce about a time three years ago and some dark secrets are revealed.
Flashback shows always run the risk of becoming too cutesy, and this one occasionally crosses that line. It tosses in too many inside jokes that come with the hindsight of later programs. It offers some funny moments, and Aniston’s performance as the more materialistic and superficial side of Rachel is great, but overall “Flashbacks” falls a little flat.
Demo line: Monica: “Someone asks you in for lemonade, and to you, that means they want to have sex?” Joey: “Usually, yeah! Well, not just lemonade – iced tea, sometimes juice.”
The One With the Race Car Bed (23:28): When returning a misdelivered bed back to the store, Monica and Joey catch Janice passionately kissing her ex-husband in the back room.
Man, that’s a pitiful little synopsis, as it only tells us the end of the show! In the meantime, Ross has trouble interacting with Rachel’s dad (Ron Leibman), while Joey takes a gig teaching soap opera acting. Both elements offer a lot of good material. Joey’s tutorials are a gas, while Leibman makes Mr. Green amusingly obnoxious. “Bed” provides a pretty solid program.
Demo line: Joey: “One of the most important things in soap opera acting is reacting. This does not mean acting again.”
The One With the Giant Poking Device (23:07): When Phoebe believes she’s killed the ugly naked guy across the street from Rachel and Monica, Joey constructs a long poking device. Chandler confronts Janice.
Probably the least interesting episode of Season Three to date, “Poking” lacks much spark. The bits with Chandler still seem somewhat forced, and the other elements don’t provide as much humor as I expect from prior episodes this year. “Poking” offers a watchable show but not much more than that. Maybe this occurs due to the presence of Ross’s kid, the official comedy killer.
Demo line: Chandler: ”I woke up this morning, I was in love. I was happy! It serves me right for buying that 12-pack of condoms.”
*The One With the Football (24:44): It’s Thanksgiving and the friends start a game of football that reveals some major rivalries and prods a rematch that has serious implications for the roast turkey!
For this one, the title really sums up the show well, as it revolves almost totally around a game of touch football that largely pits brother vs. sister. Back in their childhood, Ross and Monica competed along with their family to win the “Geller Cup”, and their terrible competitiveness became overwhelming. Things haven’t changed over the years, and both dive into the contest. For the most part, the teams put Ross, Chandler and Rachel - easily the worst player of the bunch - against Monica, Joey - the best player - and Phoebe. When matters heat up, however, the groups split into boy against girl. All the while, Joey and Chandler compete to win the affection of a Dutch woman they encounter.
“Football” seemed like a very simple show, but it worked tremendously well, perhaps because it retained such a basic focus. The character interactions flourished, and the comedy was allowed to breathe in a natural and compelling manner. “Football” was a total winner.
Demo line: Chandler: “And the other Dutch people? They come from somewhere near the Netherlands, right?” Joey: “Nice try. See, the Netherlands is this make-believe place where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell come from.”
The One Where Rachel Quits (22:40): After quitting her Central Perk gig, Rachel worries she’ll be jobless long-term. Joey’s job selling Christmas trees upsets Phoebe, who becomes distressed over leftover trees.
While Rachel’s storyline works fine, it’s the two subplots that make “Quits” fairly entertaining. Ross’s attempts to sell Girl Scout-style cookies provides a lot of great moments, and Phoebe’s Charlie Brown related angst seems amusing. The Rachel elements avoid the expected melodrama, and “Quits” offers a solid program.
Demo line: Joey: “I’ll take a box of the crème-filled Jesuses.”
The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister (22:57): A handsome stranger offers Rachel a fashion-buying job. Chandler forgets which of Joey’s sisters he fooled around with after getting drunk on Joey’s birthday.
Generally a good program, “Sister” benefits from the glorious trashiness of Joey’s family. The show gives us just enough of them but doesn’t overdo it. This makes it fun, and the first glimpses of Ross’s jealous side add to the entertainment.
Demo line: Joey: “You gotta be cool, because my grandma doesn’t know about the two of you yet, and you do not wanna tick her off. She was like the sixth person to spit on Mussolini’s hanging body.”
The One With All the Jealousy (23:19): Ross becomes obsessively jealous of Rachel's sexy new co-worker Mark and is convinced he is flirting with Rachel. Monica is smitten with a sexy busboy.
The Ross and Rachel dynamic dominates this one, and it picks up nicely where “Sister” left off as Ross continues to freak out about Mark. Happily, the show avoids the soap opera tendencies, and a subplot in which Joey has to pretend he knows how to dance works well.
Demo line: Joey: “It’s a musical version of A Tale of Two Cities. So I think I’m gonna sing ‘New York New York’ and ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco.’”
The One Where Monica & Richard Are Friends (23:46): Monica and ex-boyfriend Richard meet by chance – and the lunch they go to leads to something more.
Despite my fears that soap opera sappiness between Richard and Monica would dominate the show, it kept those elements fairly well underplayed. Selleck’s breezy presence helps in that department. In addition, a subplot in which the gang freak because Phoebe’s new boyfriend’s unit keeps slipping out of his shorts adds a wacky element to a pretty good show.
Demo line: Rachel: “Do you have any ice?” Joey: “Check the freezer. If there’s none in there, we’re probably out.”
The One With Phoebe’s Ex-Partner (23:02): Phoebe’s ex-singing partner Leslie (E.G. Daily) wants to use “Smelly Cat” for a cat-litter ad. Chandler dates a beautiful woman with an artificial leg… and a tie to Joey.
”Ex-Partner” has a few decent moments, but it doesn’t explore the material as well as I’d like. In particular, the subplot with Chandler and Ginger (Sherilyn Fenn) doesn’t develop in a terribly funny way, and the bits with Phoebe and Leslie also seem fairly blah. “Ex-Partner” doesn’t come across as bad, but it’s a fairly mediocre program.
Demo line: Monica: “Can I borrow this? My milk’s gone bad.” Chandler: “Oh, I hate that. I once had a thing of half-and-half – stole my car.”
The One Where Ross & Rachel Take a Break (23:01): Ross and Rachel decide to go on a break. Phoebe becomes involved with a foreign diplomat.
One sign of the additional maturity shown by Friends since its first couple of seasons: it integrates the soap opera elements more cleanly. During years one and two, those elements interjected themselves fairly awkwardly and often made the show less enjoyable. Season Three presents them in a smoother manner, though I’m still not wild about episodes with a heavy soap opera emphasis.
For the most part, “Break” keeps things reasonably light and doesn’t telegraph its points. Granted, the negative trend seen in the Ross and Rachel relationship over the last few shows came across as a bit forced, but this program helps make it move acceptably naturally. Admittedly, I think the series put them “on a break” more for TV reasons than for reality-based causes, but “Break” offers a decent show, even though the “To Be Continued” bit at the end seems lame.
Big disappointment of the day: Chloe (Angela Featherstone) the hot copier place girl’s not nearly as sexy as I expected. The show built her up over multiple shows prior to this, and she’s average at best. All the regular Friends females look much hotter than her. But maybe that’s just me!
Demo line: Monica: “Kind of cute like really kind of cute? Or kind of cute like your friend Spackle-Back Larry?” Phoebe: “Hey, don’t call him that. His name is Spackle-Back Harry.”
The One With the Morning After (23:31): Unaware of Ross’s one-night stand with another woman, Rachel visits him to declare her undying love.
Once again, soap opera dominates a show, but it does so in a fairly innocuous manner for the most part. Ross’s attempts to cover his trail offer some funny material, and a controversy about the pain associated with leg waxing also creates some good moments. The finale gets pretty weepy, though, so be warned.
Demo line: Phoebe: “I knew something was going to happen – my fingernails didn’t grow at all yesterday!”
The One Without the Ski Trip (22:47): Rachel asks everyone to go on a ski trip… except Ross. Chandler is particularly traumatized by the Ross/Rachel breakup, which reminds him of his own parents’ divorce.
Despite all the potential for this show to pour on more emotional malarkey, “Trip” manages to stick almost entirely with the comedic potential. The gang all deal with the social implications of the rift, and this creates a number of amusing situations. In particular, Chandler’s excessive bitterness adds some fun moments. “Trip” provides a pretty solid episode.
Demo line: Chandler: “You know what this is like? It’s like when my parents got divorced. Man, I hope Ross doesn’t try to kidnap me after Cub Scouts.”
The One With the Hypnosis Tape (23:34): Chandler uses a hypnosis tape to quit smoking. Unbeknownst to him, it’s aimed only at women. Phoebe freaks when her brother wants to wed a woman twice his age.
Bad sign number one: “Hypnosis” repeats a gag from an earlier episode in which someone removes unwanted topping from a beverage. Bad sign number two: the presence of Frank Jr. again. Bad sign number three: many shots of Chandler acting really girlie. “Hypnosis” has some laughs, but it seems like one of the more feeble episodes from this season.
Demo line: Phoebe: “I don’t want to be all judgmental, but this is sick! Sick and wrong!”
The One With the Tiny T-Shirt (23:41): Ross is upset when Rachel returns his belongings. Monica dates a millionaire she considers funny, nice and yet not quite her dream man.
After a fairly weak episode, “T-Shirt” rebounds decently, though it falters at times. Ross’s continued jealousy seems entertaining, and it’s also fun to see Joey act angry at a hot women. Even Monica’s bits with her new semi-boyfriend help give the character something interesting to do for once. “T-Shirt” doesn’t offer a great program, but it’s a pretty good one.
Confusing bit: Mark asks out Rachel, but a few shows ago, we saw that he had a girlfriend of his own. What happened to her?
Demo line: Phoebe: “You know what? You should buy a state and name it after yourself!”
The One With the Dollhouse (23:17): Monica inherits an exquisite dollhouse from her aunt. Joey winds up in bed with his leading lady. Rachel’s boss dates Chandler.
An episode where the most serious plot line focuses on Joey? That’s an oddity, and “Dollhouse” handles it only moderately well. It’s nice to see the character gain some additional depth, but these attempts feel a little forced and unnatural. Still, the secondary story elements with Phoebe’s dollhouse and Chandler’s poor dating skills help compensate and make “Dollhouse” fairly entertaining.
Demo line: (Talking about their roles) Kate: “Adrianne’s looking for a reason to stay, right? Victor can’t just kiss her. He’s gotta really give her a reason.” Joey: “Maybe he could slip her the tongue.”
The One With a Chick and a Duck (23:07): Monica is ecstatic when her millionaire friend Pete (Jon Favreau) buys a restaurant and wants her as head chef. Joey buys Chandler a chick – a live baby chicken.
As someone who didn’t start to watch Friends until midway through its run, I never knew how Joey and Chandler ended up with their pets. I always thought that was a somewhat cheesy and cutesy element, and now that I know how this occurred... I’ve not changed my mind. Still, the episode offers some entertaining moments otherwise. Unusually, Monica gets some of the best bits, and the Ross/Rachel dynamic develops in an amusing way.
Demo line: Monica: “This has been my dream since I got my first E-Z Bake Oven and opened E-Z Monica’s Bakery.”
The One With the Screamer (23:15): Joey’s play gets terrible reviews. Ross tries to convince Rachel her date is psychotic.
“Screamer” includes a little more Joey-oriented soap opera material as his relationship with Kate reaches a certain point. However, it tosses in some other nice bits, most of which come from Ben Stiller as Rachel’s new man Tommy. I’ve never been terribly wild about Stiller, but he’s funny here and he gives the episode its strongest points. Add to that a good subplot in which Phoebe waits on hold interminably for a customer service rep and “Screamer” seems like a good program.
Demo line: Kate: “Last night was wonderful, but I can’t stay just for you.” Joey: “So stay for the museums!”
The One With Ross’s Thing (23:35): Ross discovers a strange growth on his buttocks. Phoebe dates a firefighter and a teacher.
“Thing” plays up some of the characters’ more stereotypical tendencies, and it does so in a fun way. We see Ross’s neuroses and Rachel’s materialism, though Phoebe acts unusually in the way she juggles two guys. Those elements work well, too, as we see her pathetic attempts to solve her problem. Overall, “Thing” provides a solid episode.
Demo line: Phoebe: “It’s the nicest kitchen! The refrigerator told me to have a great day!”
The One With the Ultimate Fighting Champion (22:49): Monica begs Pete to stop fighting after he is beaten up. Chandler is unnerved when his boss slaps his butt. Ross starts dating a new woman.
Gimmicky guest star alert: Billy Crystal and Robin Williams appear together in a feeble and pointless cameo at the show’s start. After that, though, it recovers fairly well with some good bits. The plot between Chandler and his boss seems silly but fun, and it’s also interesting to see Rachel start to get jealous of Ross. The Ultimate Fighting thing seems like a cheesy way to dispose of the Monica/Pete relationship, though – couldn’t they have found a more natural way to have the pair run their course?
Demo line: Rachel: “That was depressing – I think I just bought a soft pretzel from one of the kids from Fame.”
The One At the Beach (22:49): Phoebe invites the group to her client’s beach house. Rachel tricks Ross’s new girlfriend into shaving her head.
While last episode’s guest stars seemed awkward and pointless, for “Beach” we get a much more natural one, as Teri Garr plays a woman with a connection to Phoebe. Garr and Kudrow provide a great match physically and in regard to personality, so their scenes together work nicely. From a hindsight point of view, it’s also fun to see Monica repeatedly tell Chandler he’s not boyfriend material for her. The show ends on a sappy cliffhanger note, but it still completes Season Three pretty well.
Demo line: Joey: “Let me get this straight. If you go with Bonnie, you’re doing the smart, healthy thing and moving on. Right? And if you go with Rachel... Bonnie’s free tonight?”
Both Seasons One and Two of Friends had their moments, and the series became more consistent during its second year. However, it really started to come into its own during Season Three. Even the worst of the shows were still entertaining, and the year provided some of the series’ best ever programs. I can’t say how Season Three will compare to the following years and where I’ll place it in the overall scheme of things, but I thought it was a good year that easily seems like the best of the three currently available on DVD.