THE PARTING OF FRIENDS
I reasonate with Jan the Maven about the final episode of Friends this week.
Friends started the year I walked out of the convent, and I will probably always think of it as background music for things I did in my thirties: working in Cambridge, graduate school at Northwestern, moving to L.A., working at Paulist Productions, starting Act One.
One Friends related memory: At Northwestern, I was a grad student R.A. to an all female dorm of mostly freshmen. We were living in a renovated mansion that had recently been reclaimed from a defunct sorority, and so I actually had my own large suite of rooms with a good size living room. Every Thursday night at about 7:45pm, the girls would start to arrive in my living room, packing the sofas, window ledges, floors, until the room was filled to over-flowing. I took to providing snacks, so that it became even more of a community experience. It really was Must-See TV for us all to watch Friends together, and then most of them would drift back to the books.
It's true that the show has been one that I have at many times hated to love. Having just migrated from NYC when the show first started, I remember watching its first episodes with disdain for the absurd premise of an all white group of mostly under-employed twenty-somethings in Manhattan being able to afford apartments that would probably cost $1,000,0000 a year.
From a moral standpoint, it depicts a world without God and really without any moral framework outside of tenuous loyalty to one's friends. It's a show which glorified and normalized pornography, homosexuality and promiscuity.
But the core of the show which caught on with 18-35 year old viewers, was once again, the fantasy community it provided. Most of my generation, the Xers, have grown up in fractured families, with aborted siblings, watching every authority structure of church, state, ivory tower, fifth estate, everything, reveal nothing but clay feet. Because our parents were more mobile than past generations, we have had little if any relevant extended family.
Hence, Xers are always irresistably drawn to any entertainment that offers a vision of people belonging to each other, staying together no matter what and especially "when the rain starts to fall." The show never fell into the cynicism and shrill irony that critics tended to love in shows like Roseanne, anything by Norman Lear, a lot of David E Kelley, but which always sets me wondering if that kind of thing isn't an undermining of the nature/purpose of comedy. (Sorry about that sentence structure. It's worth it to work it though...wink wink)
As Jan notes, Friends has consistently been one of the funniest half-hours in prime-time, and offered the weekly delight of getting to watch Jennifer Aniston's fabulous comic timing. I really think she's one of the great commedienes of our time.
I'm ready for Friends to go. But it does feel strange to see it end.