The Big “F-R-I-E-N-D-S” Reunion Special began streaming on HBOMax a few weeks ago and Erin and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I said that night, “It was James Corden away from being near perfect.” (Corden is generally annoying as Hell and we hear not the nicest of people). Since that time, we’ve found ourselves recording dozens of TBS re-runs of the show, which we both enjoyed in its original run from 1994 – 2004 and in syndication in the years since.
Fans of FRIENDS will inevitably debate who the best characters were on the show among the six leads. You’ll consistently hear that people hate Ross and love Phoebe, for example. But there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and I’ve found my views evolving in the weeks we’ve begun rifling through the re-runs. So, without further delay, here are my definitive rankings of the FRIENDS characters… that may change a spot or two at any time, in any year, as more re-runs are viewed. I mean, can there really be a “definitive” ranking? For today – yes.
First, let me say that Jennifer Aniston just plain annoys me and so Rachel never really had a chance. But look deeper – Rachel sucks. She is not very funny. Watch the episodes with a comparative eye, and you’ll see the writers don’t set her up to be that loveable, as she is very impressionable by superficial things like smoking colleagues and good looking assistants, and is often the only one that can have you actively rooting for Ross. And yes, Rachel – you guys were on a break!! In her favor, I will say she showed real gumption taking that first job and working her way up to be a fashion executive.
… She’s disgusting. No, not really. That’s an inside joke from the show. But Monica Geller is the annoying neat-freak friend who has to have everything her way. She insists on being the hostess of every party and making everyone happy – but in a way that ensures her guests notice her effort. She’s that friend who truly thinks she’s helping you by telling you what in life you’re doing wrong, and then show’s you a 15-step way she found out how to do it better. She’ll even provide you self-help literature or admire an adoption binder. Monica is funnier than Rachel, but it’s usually at her expense and often reminds you of her most annoying character traits.
Monica DOES proves to be a terrific girlfriend (with most of her boyfriends, actually), and a terrific wife who can bring out the best in Chandler. Points to Monica there.
HEAR ME OUT ON THIS!! Sure, Ross is as annoying as hell during his emotionally damaged, sad-sack of a guy moments throughout his myriad personal dramas. Nobody is a better buzz-kill than the “very special episode of FRIENDS” version of Ross Geller. But when Ross hits, he’s incredibly funny and has some of the best laugh lines in the entire series. The number of ways he blows it with women is pretty consistently entertaining as well. And NOBODY beats David Schwimmer’s physical comedy. On that note alone he deserves a spot in the middle of the pack.
Could Chandler BE any more middle of the pack? Not really. But our sarcastic and insecure hero is a sure fire winner in the humor department, and some of his caustic zingers earned big applause from the live studio audience. Chandler is not the best friend in the world, having broken the “Bro Code” with both of his best friends (in one case, without seeking Ross’s blessing to date his sister). But few actors can beat the comic timing and delivery that Matthew Perry gives Chandler, and those of us that have had a harder time wooing the opposite sex want to root for the guy.
And in the same vein I spoke for Monica, on the boyfriend / husband scale, Chandler steps up and you know he’s in love with her and always will be. Points to him.
The top of the pack are the two characters with the most out-there personalities and quirkiest character traits. As heartthrob/cad, bad actor, loyal friend, and giant dimwit, Joey makes for easily the second most laughs throughout the series. He is reliably predictable in his reactions and rejoinders. If Joey doesn’t make certain wrong moves or say certain uninformed or senseless lines, then we as a fan base are sure to be disappointed. We love Joey and want a Joey in our own group. We NEED a friend like Joey to affirm our own struggle has been worth it and as our signpost of resiliency when the chips are down. Seriously, the first two people I would call if I was trapped out there on the road somewhere are Joey and ….
I’ve probably selected the consensus International choice here, but the reason is that it’s not even a close call. Phoebe is the best friend in just about every category. She’s very offbeat without really being self-aware of her zaniness. In other words, she’s truly authentic self and doesn’t care what others think. Here’s a woman who has suffered family tragedy and an unlikeable twin sister, and has lived a rough life on the street. And yet, she’s a mountain of joy despite her challenges. She is clearly big hearted and loves her friends dearly. She would do anything for them no questions asked, and often does. My God – she serves as a surrogate for her own brother’s triplets. She’s multi-talented as a masseuse and “interesting” musician, and I think creates the cleverest and most unusual laughs throughout the series. And just like Joey, you definitely want a Phoebe in your group of friends. In fact, you kind of want Phoebe to be your best friend, wife, and quirky life coach all at the same time.
So, there it is, friends (see what I did there). That’s where I’m at today. It’s been fun rediscovering the show, but I have to say, some jokes definitely fail to hold up as appropriate. In fact, they weren’t appropriate then, either. But in those years, the world seemed to accept jokes about men possibly being gay as equal to “weakness,” and stereotyping women as waitresses, chefs, and masseurs. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with those professions, but we couldn’t picture a female lead as a businessperson of any kind until the writers redeemed themselves with Rachel’s rise as a fashion executive. But there’s far more to love than to admonish about FRIENDS.
So, what are YOUR rankings among the six leads? Leave me your list in the comments.