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May 7, 2004

Stay Tuned

I started watching Friends before I had my first kiss, my first drink, my first B+. I was watching Friends before I went west of Pennsylvania, earned my first paycheck, or appropriately used a semicolon. I have had one (ill-advised) Rachel haircut and two (perhaps more ill-advised) Monica haircuts. I have described friendships as "very Ross and Rachel." I have quoted Friends on embarassingly many occasions, namely when we moved a couch out of my apartment, and I kept saying "piv-ot!" like Ross did, even though my friends hadn't seen that episode. And last night, along with bajillions of other people (still waiting for the stats to come into the Stay Tuned numbers office), I was completely glued to the series finale, during which I laughed, cried, and swore I'd do it again.

I know that it's cheesy to love Friends. When I see people list it in their Friendster profiles as their favorite show, I mock them; that's like saying your favorite food is pizza. It's not that pizza isn't good—totally good, right?—it's that everyone likes it. It's a given. You have to be specific about not liking it, and you have to justify yourself. In general, I will assume you are being contrary just so you can be That Asshole Who Doesn't Like Friends or Pizza. It's not that Friends was the best show ever, or that I love it more than any of my other 150 must-watch shows, but Friends has been with me since the beginning, more or less since I was old enough to be discriminating, and beyond that, it was always good.

The show set a new standard for what "ensemble cast" means by not having a star, as Seinfeld did, or having major cast changes, as Cheers and M*A*S*H both did. Our six absurdly sexy pals stuck around, and the writing was consistently funny, the characters were always well defined, and everyone got equal screen time and story lines.

Last night's episode was everything a fan could have asked for from any episode, let alone the finale. The writers stuck to the formula that has served the cast so well: they kept Ross and Rachel dramatic but with a happy ending. Phoebe was predictably quirky and a little to that side of believable, and she managed to squeeze the word "phalange" in a few more times. (That's a bone in your fingers and toes, for the record.) Monica was baby-crazy and mysteriously strong, even though Courtney Cox is totally pregga-pregga. Joey was stupid and goofy but offered a grain of wisdom, and Chandler was panicky but ultimately loveable. The stories wrapped up as well as any show with a spin-off can wrap itself up, and the end was appropriately corny. I needed a better excuse to cry, and having everyone slap down his or her key to the now-empty apartment was sentimental without seeming out of place.

Friends did what it does best last night by being charming and fun, endearingly emotional, with lots of smooching and a little implied sex. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go edit my Friendster profile.