My wife and I recently finished watching all ten seasons of Friends, both of us for the first time. Friends aired from 1994 to 2004, and we were struck by how it felt so ahead of its time. Given some of the hot topics that were frankly discussed, it's no wonder my parents disapproved. I'm glad we finally took the plunge, as it's now officially one of my favorite TV shows.
(Spoilers follow, but as I'm the last person on Earth to watch this show, it shouldn't matter much.)
The characters were great, though I sometimes got annoyed with Ross for being a big baby. A few episodes in, I remember saying to my wife, "Phoebe is so weird; why are they friends with her?" I take it all back now, though, having seen Phoebe grow into the most kind and understanding character.
The show was funny throughout all ten seasons. There were no "bad" seasons that I'd recommend skipping entirely—just an episode here and there that was perhaps less funny than the others. Compared to another of my favorites, Star Trek: Voyager, this is quite an accomplishment. Voyager may have had higher highs, but its lows were certainly lower (another vision quest, anyone?).
9/11 occurred only weeks before the airing of season eight. Throughout that season, there was a subtle, yet noticeable increase in the number of American flags in the background, and Joey often wore FDNY shirts, too. I wouldn't consider myself especially patriotic, but these small choices in art direction were meaningful.
I enjoyed the frequent cameos throughout the show, which were always heralded by several seconds of raucous cheering from the studio audience. This was especially amusing when I had no idea who the guest was, since—again—I didn't watch much TV in the 1990s. Perhaps my favorite cameo was when Brent Spiner (that's Data from Star Trek: Next Generation) appeared as a representative from Gucci.
I do have two quibbles with the show's narrative choices towards the end.
First, though I very much like Paul Rudd in general, I could never bring myself to care about his character Mike at all. I was always rooting for Phoebe and Joey to end up together, as she was the only character who really understood Joey. I would even have been okay with Phoebe and David, the scientist who spends most of the series stuck in Minsk. Mike felt like a last-minute addition, and his character was never developed well enough for me to be interested. I ran this opinion by my wife, who suggested that it would have been too cliché for the six friends to all end up paired off with each other. Fair enough; if Mike's role was to avoid this ending, then he fulfilled his role well.
Second, I was disappointed that Rachel had to give up her new job in Paris to stay with Ross. I was excited for her to continue advancing her career, especially since she admitted that she'd gotten all she could out of her previous job at Ralph Lauren (not to mention her history of awkward interactions with her boss there). I didn't think it was fair for her to have to give up her new job just because Ross asked, especially since Ross just got to enjoy a career-advancing move of his own by getting tenure. My wife suggested that Rachel did already have a baby to take care of in New York City, so leaving the country for a job should have already been out of the question by default. This is also a fair point, and I have to agree—in the end, I'm just happy that Ross and Rachel finally got their heads in the game and got together once and for all.
Yet these minor points are the only complaints I can surface. Series endings are often treacherous—the worst possible example being that of How I Met Your Mother, which carelessly squandered and reverted eight seasons of character development just to tick some items off of a stale, pre-planned story checklist. Friends, in stark contrast, pulled off a triumph of an ending.
Friends captured a certain magic that happens when you are lucky enough to have a group of close companions that truly experiences life together. I've only felt this a few times in life: in grade school, at Baylor, and most recently at my gym. In Friends, as in real life, these moments come and go. The ending of Friends was a perfect reminder that even after an ending, there is always time for reflection and another cup of coffee with the special people in your life.