Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 24, 2003)
Warner Bros.’ relentless parade through every year of Friends continues apace with Season Five. Aired during 1998-99, this year developed characters in interesting ways and continued the show’s popular dominance.
From here, I’ll offer brief discussions of all the episodes, listed in their broadcast order. The synopses mostly 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.)
The One After Ross Says Rachel (22:18): Ross’s (David Schwimmer) nuptials continue after his slip-of-the-tongue but wedded bliss doesn’t follow. Monica (Courtney Cox-Arquette) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) try continuing their affair but can’t steal a moment alone.
Despite the possibilities for sappy soap opera elements, “Rachel” proves amusing. It fails to bog down in those components and favors comedy instead. It’s always funny to watch Schwimmer in meltdown mode, and the constant problems suffered by Monica and Chandler add to the hijinks. “Rachel” launches Season Five on a positive note.
The One With All the Kissing (25:05): Ross’s attempts at reconciling with Emily (Helen Baxendale) go unheeded. Chandler and Monica’s affair is challenged by their “Not-in-New York” rule.
Friends often worked at its best when there was some sort of tension in the Ross/Rachel dynamic, so this episode provided a good experience. It furthered the Chandler/Monica thing somewhat, but it dealt more with Rachel’s bag. One cool element came when Rachel “hired” Monica to make all her decisions for her. That makes it an entertaining exploration of its story.
*The One Hundredth (22:20): Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) is rushed to the hospital, where triplets are born. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) gets hospitalized next – when his sympathy labor pains turn out to be kidney stones. As unsuspecting Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) arranges a date for Monica with a male nurse.
“The One Hundredth” suffered a little from “event episode-itis”, but it still managed to be a good show. “The One Hundredth” handled some potentially sappy moments well; Kudrow seemed especially touching and endearing as she popped out the kids and dealt with some postpartum sadness. Some of the gags felt forced, such as the doctor who loved Fonzie, but these weren’t too painful. However, I still really couldn’t stand Ribisi; he’s one of the most affected performers around, and he seemed quite artificially and unconvincingly goofy as Frank. Kudrow’s oddball status appears pretty natural, but with Ribisi, it seems like you can always see the wheels turn, and his presence hurt the show more than anything else. Ultimately, “One Hundredth” had some good moments, but it wasn’t a great episode.
The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS (24:45): Phoebe resents Joey’s PBS telethon gig because of a long-running grudge she holds against the network. To cover up her affair with Chandler, Monica tells Rachel she’s dating someone from work.
Not mentioned above, we find lots more Ross/Rachel/Emily material here, which lends the episode some soap opera elements. Whereas in earlier years, the show would get bogged down in those, “PBS” manages to balance them well. It adds some very funny elements, particularly when Phoebe tries to find a selfless good deed to prove Joey wrong.
The One With the Kips (24:38): Monica and Chandler go to Atlantic City for a weekend by themselves. Ross tries to tell Rachel they can’t be friends once Emily arrives in New York.
Even more so than “PBS”, “Kips” could have suffered from too many soap opera bits. Between Ross’s failed attempts to tell Rachel the news and Monica and Chandler’s less than idyllic weekend, the program had high potential for sappiness. However, it nicely subverted the gooey sections and provided a surprisingly brisk and light piece.
The One With the Yeti (23:15): While rummaging in the storage room, Monica and Rachel meet a hairy neighbor they first mistake for a yeti. To smooth things over with Emily, Ross agrees to de-Rachelize his apartment.
Herein we watch Ross turn into the most whipped man on the planet. It’s not a pretty sight, but “Yeti” offers another funny program. At least someone finally tells Ross the score, as Joey busts Ross’s chops. The new neighbor subplot provides good humor as well in this very good episode.
The One Where Ross Moves In (23:16): With his marriage on the rocks, Ross moves in with Chandler and Joey. Rachel is convinced that neighbor Danny (George Newbern) is trying to seduce her with mind games.
Herein we watch Ross turn into the most annoying man in the world. It’s a more amusing sight than Whipped Ross, especially when we get the iconic image of Ross’s “quiet down” motion. It’s also hilarious to see Rachel attempt pathetically to maintain the upper hand with Danny in this solid program.
*The One With All the Thanksgivings (22:40): The gang reminisces about their worst Thanksgivings. Phoebe’s takes her back to 1862. Elaborate tales are spun to try and uncover Monica’s worst memory.
The majority of the episode revolves around Eighties-style escapades, as we watch flashbacks that add Chandler to the mix with Ross, Rachel, and Monica. As a whole, it’s a funny little piece, although the whole flashback motif started to wear a little thin.
The One With Ross’s Sandwich (23:07): Ross is enraged when someone at work steals his Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich. Joey threatens to crack under the strain of knowing about Monica and Chandler’s affair.
Herein we watch Ross’s continued disintegration. It’s an amusing sight to see the wussiest man on the planet get enraged, and Schwimmer plays it well. However, the show’s best moments come from Joey’s attempts to cover for Chandler and Monica; LeBlanc makes his anger and humiliation hilarious.
The One With the Inappropriate Sister (22:50): Monica maneuvers Rachel and Danny into dating but Rachel has second thoughts after observing Danny’s unusually close relationship with his sister (Julie Lauren).
The interaction of Ross, Chandler and Joey as roommates creates an entertaining dynamic, and “Sister” depicts it well. The best part comes early, when Joey makes hilarious prank phone calls to Chandler, but the rest of the show includes many funny moments as well. It’s another solid show, even though it gets a bit sappy toward the end.
*The One With All the Resolutions (24:08): As the new year approaches, everyone makes resolutions, some more realistic than others. Ross’s resolution causes him to wear hot leather pants on a date – perhaps too hot...
As with many of the show’s best programs, this one’s strongest elements related to those that were somewhat absurd and unrealistic but still close enough to reality to make us accept them. Here this came during Ross’ date with Elizabeth Hornswoggle (Sara Rose Peterson). Ross’ leather pants make him terribly sweaty, and when he drops them in the bathroom to cool down, he finds that he can’t get them up again. This results in a hilarious phone call to Joey, who tries in his lackadaisical and pathetic way to help.
The moments between Joey and Phoebe were less entertaining, and they felt a little phonier. Phoebe’s wackiness often walked a fine line. Kudrow usually kept the character within the bounds of reason, but sometimes she seemed too silly, and the whole guitar lesson aspect of the show came close to that realm. Still, I liked “Resolutions” a lot and thought it was a fine program.
The One With Chandler’s Work Laugh (22:36): Monica discovers the fake laugh that Chandler reserves for his boss’s bad jokes. Rachel is upset that Monica hasn’t ‘fessed up about her affair. Word comes of Emily’s remarriage plans.
Monica’s my least favorite character, but she becomes more interesting when her ultra-competitive side arrives. That happens in spades as they play tennis with Chandler’s boss and his wife, and those parts add the most zing to “Laugh”. The development in which Ross hooks up with someone also presents some fun bits, especially since it represents the absolute nadir of his descent.
The One With Joey’s Bag (23:18): When Rachel helps Joey change his image to help him land an acting gig, she includes a shoulder bag that’s rather purselike. Phoebe is shocked when her dad (Bob Balaban) attends her grandmother’s funeral.
“Bag” focuses too much on Phoebe and her wackiness for my liking, but some of the other elements help balance those ones. Joey’s bag offers a lot of good humor. Unfortunately, the Phoebe bits are kind of lame – meetings with her family invariably suck - so that makes “Bag” a less than stellar episode.
*The One Where Everybody Finds Out (24:38): When Phoebe finds out about the Monica/Chandler affair, she tests Chandler via flirtation. Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment goes up for rent and Ross wants it.
This episode moves because of its character revelations. The interaction between Chandler and Phoebe becomes amusing, though somewhat predictable. These scenes are modest fun, but it’s not one of the better episodes.
The One With the Girl Who Hits Joey (22:29): When Joey starts dating Katie (Soleil Moon Frye), he finds she packs a painful punch. Ross has trouble making friends with his new neighbors.
“Hits” seems slightly above average, but not any better than that. The best moments come from the titular assaults, as that thread provides some good laughs. Ross’s predicament also has its moments. Nonetheless, the show never really catches fire.
The One With the Cop (24:34): Phoebe finds a police badge inside the Central Perk sofa. Rather than return it, she decides to embark on a “good deeds” campaign. Joey is unnerved by his romantic dream about Monica.
This episode’s best story comes from its simplest: the effort by Ross and Rachel to get his new couch up the stairs. Those segments offer a lot of good sparring between the pair as they struggle with this seemingly simple task. The other two stories are also good, so this offers a pretty solid show.
The One With Rachel’s Inadvertent Kiss (22:55): After a job interview, Rachel impulsively kisses her potential boss on the cheek. Phoebe and Gary (Michael Rapaport) vie for “steamiest affair” status with Monica and Chandler.
Dorky Ross is funny Ross, so this episode’s best moments pop up at the beginning when he performs lame “bits” to try to amuse his friends. The other lines work pretty well too, especially when Joey fails to find the hot girl who lives in Ross’s building. Overall, the show works well.
The One Where Rachel Smokes (25:21): Rachel takes up smoking at her new job as a way of making inroads with the boss. Ross’s son Ben joins Joey on an audition for a soup commercial.
Although I don’t like the cutesy kid who plays Ben, the audition bits become funny due to Joey’s screw-ups. His inability to correctly read the line “mmm – soup!” becomes very amusing and offers the show’s highlights.
The One Where Ross Can’t Flirt (22:38): Joey’s Italian-speaking grandma joins the gang in watching his Law and Order debut. Ross decides to order lots and lots of pizza in order to flirt with the delivery girl.
It’s good to see the whole gang in the same room for most of an episode, and “Flirt” helps mine that situation for some nice material. I can’t call it one of the best programs of the sort, but it works well for the most part. The worst element? Seeing Ross make a fool over a woman with the least complimentary haircut ever – as described, she really does look like an eight-year-old boy!
The One With the Ride-Along (23:06): As Emily’s wedding nears, the group does its best to distract Ross. A gunshot and a meatball sandwich take center stage when the guys go out on the beat with Phoebe’s cop boyfriend.
Though the episode doesn’t play the ride-along for all its worth, it creates some good moments, especially when Joey apparently displays a heroic act. The aftermath provides fun elements, and those help make this a pretty good show.
The One With the Ball (22:34): Phoebe asks Chandler to talk Gary out of asking her to move in with him. To fulfill a childhood dream, Rachel buys a sphinx cat which doesn’t behave as planned.
While the Phoebe/Gary thread feels more like a move to get rid of Rapaport from the show – and we knew his stay was finite anyway – it works acceptably well. However, the other two themes seem more entertaining. The one with the ball is good since it feels real – especially when Monica gets involved - and it’s also fun to see Rachel and her bizarro cat.
The One With Joey’s Big Break (22:49): Joey is excited about landing a lead role in a movie shooting just outside Las Vegas – but furious with Chandler after he confesses his doubts that it will be his “big break”.
“Break” focuses on conflict. Monica forces Rachel to take eye drops, while Phoebe finds herself angry at Ross for mysterious reasons. All the tension creates a lot of room for humor. The show feels a little forced at times, but it mostly offers a lot of funny moments.
The One in Vegas (45:20): After his film gig falls through, Joey begs Chandler not to visit. But when Monica decides to celebrate her one-year anniversary with Chandler in Vegas, no one wants to be left behind. Joey tries to convince a blackjack dealer with identical hands to join him in a business venture. While playing craps with Monica, Chandler makes the bet of a lifetime.
A double-length season-ending show, “Vegas” works a lot of important storylines. The setting certainly offers a lot of good opportunities for material, and the show explores them well. Even the absurdity of Joey’s hand double becomes amusing, and the program pursues some nice character development. It caps the year well.
And what a year it was! As I watched the prior four seasons, I enjoyed them, but they didn’t make me laugh out loud on a consistent basis. Sure, they got more than a few chortles out of me, but not with anywhere near the frequency that occurred during Season Five.
Really, this was a nearly flawless year. Some of the episodes were weaker than others, but not one true dog emerges, and each presents some genuinely hilarious material. I can’t wait to get to Season Six to find out it they can continue this positive trend.