Sunday, September 22, 2019

The One Where I Get Sentimental About a Sitcom That's Not 'The Brady Bunch.'

We were just a few months into our marriage when Friends premiered, and I distinctly remember sitting in our first apartment, watching our old TV, and coming across the second episode. Watching "The One With the Sonogram at the End," I could tell the characters were relatable and the writing was sharp, so I started recording the episodes each week.

One of our early-marriage cheap dates was to go to Kinko's and make covers for our homemade VHS tapes. (Doesn't that just scream "hip" and "cool"?) We would copy photos from magazine and newspaper clippings to create custom case liners, and we had fun giving our favorite shows and movies boxes that looked a little nicer than the striped Panasonic or Memorex cardboard covers. Long before the series was on DVD, I had my own set of analog-quality, commercial-filled recordings of most of the episodes.

Season 1 T-shirt from the group
Around the same time Friends premiered, we bought our first home computer—a Macintosh Performa purchased at the late, great Incredible Universe—and took advantage of the free download to join America Online, join the crowd, join the revolution. Now this early AOL was all about pages and keywords. There were no websites and dedicated fan sites. What we did have, though, were groups. Somehow I found my way to the group, and through that listserv, starting "conversing" with other Friends fans from all over the world.

And thus, my first case of obsessive internet fandom was born. It was fun to go on and on (and on and on) about each episode, repeating favorite lines, critiquing plot points that fell flat, and taking sides (but weren't we all Team Rachel?). Every day (until I finally broke down and switched to Digest mode), my inbox would fill with messages about my favorite show. I remember fans sharing when and where they first heard the extended Friends theme hit their local radio airwaves. I also remember going to our newsgroup to share shock and sadness the afternoon of the OKC bombing.

As the show took off, our numbers and discussion threads grew. Season 1 ended, but our speculation and anticipation did not. When "Phoebe" opened season 2 with a recap and a "So, how've you been?" it felt like she was winking at us, offering us a spot on the couch, giving a little acknowledgement that we were all part of this new community, this cultural phenomenon.

Now that we're marking the 25th anniversary of the premiere, plenty of folks have been revisiting the show, complaining that it's overrated, that it's far inferior to sitcoms that had better acting or were more groundbreaking. Others have pointed out punchlines and plots that would never fly today. I can see their point: some episodes can be cringe-y or downright offensive in 2019, and popularity does not equal quality. In spite of its faults, however, Friends will always be one of my favorites. Seeing one of those old episodes takes me back--not just to those early days of our marriage, but to the days of my young adulthood, when I was trying to find my own way in the world away from my family and wound up finding my way to a family of friends.

When the series ended in 2004, we had seen the Friends marry, divorce, have kids, change jobs, and move. In that 10-year span, Brett and I had bought a house, had two children, faced financial, marital, and health challenges, and discovered unimaginable joys. By the time the six left their keys on that counter, we, too, were far past that young adulthood the series celebrated. But for a quick hit of nostalgia, that show "will be there for me, too"!