Of all the cool-destroying admissions one could make as a pop culture critic, there is probably no quicker or more thorough way to destroy any illusion of "coolness" than by admitting a love for Friends. The wildly popular, long-running NBC sitcom is pretty much the nadir of hipness, the least edgy thing one could possibly embrace. So here goes: I love Friends.
Just so we're clear, I do not love it in any smarmy, ironic, hipstery way. I love it in the way your kid sister or high-school girlfriend probably did. I've seen every episode at least twice, I'll stop and watch it if I come across it flipping channels, I can identify most episodes within minutes, drop quotes -- the whole nine yards. Not crazy obsessive fandom (I don't go to conventions, cosplay as Chandler or have posters on my wall, for example), but a genuine, deep and sincere appreciation for it.
Now, I started off dismissing it the same way all you people giving me the head shake and frown this minute are doing. I called it tepid mainstream garbage -- crass, commercial, dumb and unfunny. When my ex-wife started working her way through the DVD set, I was exasperated. But then something funny happened -- literally. I ended up laughing, a lot. Then I engaged with the characters. Before I knew it, I was hooked and I made her start the series over at the beginning so I could catch up.
Sure, it was largely unoriginal. Yes, it's artless. It admittedly became a comedic soap opera. So what? We're talking about a sitcom here -- not exactly a form known as a bastion of high Art or boundless originality.
What it lacked in art, it made up for in craft. The cast had incredible chemistry, their comedic timing was usually impeccable and the writing, while not groundbreaking in any way, displayed a nuanced understanding of the sitcom form and an occasional flair for the absurd.
I enjoyed every one of its 236 episodes, even though some of them were pretty lackluster. At it's best, it was as entertaining as Seinfeld, with more likable characters. It was as funny as Cheers with a better looking cast (seriously, Jennifer Aniston vs George Wendt? No contest). And for a little while, it even had a monkey! What's not to love?
A long time ago I realized that liking something because it was popular was stupid. It took me a lot longer to realize that not liking something because it was popular was equally stupid, and it took falling in love with Friends to drive that home. Thanks, Friends.