Friday, August 12, 2011

Almost A Perfect Season? Friends The Complete Sixth Season Comes Close!

The Good: Funny, Good character development, Generally good plots, Generally good acting
The Bad: A few missteps, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: Arguably the best season of Friends, Friends The Complete Sixth Season might have minimal bonus features, but it is still worth picking up on DVD.

There is something appropriate to beginning my review of Friends The Complete Sixth Season with the acknowledgment that I purchased the complete series of Friends (reviewed here!) for my wife when we got married. The reason for this is obvious to those who are fans of the show Friends, which ended its fifth season with a surprise wedding (spoilers ahead!). As my wife succeeds in getting me more and more into Friends, I find myself enjoying it when the characters are at their most adult and the scenarios are not geared toward the ridiculous.

The best season so far for me as a Friends neophyte is the sixth season. The thing is, it is hard to recommend "The Complete Sixth Season" of Friends as a standalone experience. The four-disc set with all twenty-five episodes of the sixth season follows closely on the heels of the fifth season and the character arcs in this season find the characters growing and changing. While it is a wonderful season on its own, to appreciate it best, it helps to see the prior five seasons. This is largely because by this point in the series the writers and producers assume that people have been watching. As a result, they do not clarify such things as the exact magnitude of Richard in the two-part season finale. That said, most of the season is quite self-explanatory and it recaps just enough of the prior season's action to allow new viewers to step right in.

When Chandler and Monica rush to get married in Las Vegas, they discover that Ross and Rachel have gotten drunk and beaten them to the punch. Freaked out, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe retreat to see what will happen next. Having no memory of the prior night, Ross and Rachel are as surprised as anyone to learn they are now married. Returning to New York City, Rachel nudges Ross toward a divorce, which he does not want (it would be his third) and Chandler and Monica make plans to move in with one another. With Rachel getting evicted from Monica's, Ross sees this as a chance to keep his marriage to Rachel alive and real, so he lies to her about getting the marriage annulled.

Soon, though, Ross and Rachel are divorced and when Chandler moves out, Joey is left in a lurch for a roommate, taking in the super-hot Janine. When she leaves, he is compelled to take a job at Central Perk. Rachel moves in with Phoebe, who despises the way Rachel decorates (with manufactured products from Pottery Barn). Their divorce finalized, Ross goes to work as a professor and begins dating a former student which leads Rachel to date Ross's girlfriend's father. And as living together causes Chandler and Monica to grow closer, the pair makes plans to take the next step.

The sixth season of Friends is largely serialized, as opposed to episodic. That means most of the episodes continue the same arcs as the prior episode and the conflicts and characters grow upon one another. This is rare for a comedy and Friends makes it work by doing "mini arcs." The sixth season of Friends may be easily broken down into the Ross/Rachel divorce, the Joey/Janine, and Ross/Elizabeth arcs with Chandler and Monica pretty steadily navigating their relationship throughout. This is not to say that the sixth season is devoid of episodic episodes where everything is neatly encapsulated in a single half-hour.

No, Friends - The Complete Sixth Season has a few bottle episodes, like "The One With Unagi," where Ross's alleged martial arts skills are put to the test against Rachel and Phoebe. Similarly, "The One With The Joke," where Ross and Chandler both claim the joke printed in Playboy is theirs is pretty much a bottle episode (though it does have the serialized element of Joey ending up waiting at Central Perk). Most impressively is a two-part bottle episode, "The One That Could Have Been." That episode presents an alternate reality where each character has one change made to their initial characterization and the results explored. For example, Monica is still obese and Phoebe has a job as a stockbroker. The two part episode recreates Friends without any consequence to the overall series as the musing is ended by the end of the second part. Still, the divergence is fun and the creativity in it is not usually evident in mainstream shows like Friends. Instead of alienating the audience, though, they seemed to embrace the alternate universe Friends and the series continued after as if it never happened.

The sixth season of Friends does have some classic bits to it. For example, the annual Thanksgiving episode features Rachel cooking a dessert that is an unfortunate mix of a dessert and a shepherd's pie. Similarly, the dance routine in "The One With The Routine" is funny and disturbing. Anyone who likes physical comedy will appreciate the ridiculous dance moves Ross and Monica go through in that sequence.

For a better understanding of what the sixth season of Friends is all about, it helps to know who the primary characters are. Friends had a remarkably stable ensemble and in the sixth season, all of the principles returned. For this season, they were characterized as:

Joey - Having not worked in a while as an actor, he is destitute when Chandler moves out, despite Chandler's cunning attempt to slip him money without him figuring out he is Chandler's charity case. He takes in Janine, who is very much Joey's type, but when she leaves, he finds himself once again unable to make ends meet. When their apartment burns down, Joey takes in Phoebe and then Rachel. After a stint at Central Perk, Joey works on a pilot that gives him top billing,

Ross - Accidentally married to Rachel, he becomes despondent at the thought of being divorced for a third time. When that finally happens, he finds himself hanging around Rachel's younger sister and then dating a student, which nearly has disastrous results for him. He begins teaching at a university, which causes him to adopt a fake accent out of nervousness,

Chandler - Continually growing up, the businessman moves in with Monica and finds himself repulsed by her when she gets ill. He admits he hasn't been able to cry since he was a child, which sets Monica off and the longer they live together, the more convinced he becomes that he wants to spend the rest of his life with Monica,

Phoebe - The bearer of Ross's secret - that he was unable to get an annulment - she becomes stressed until the truth comes out. She takes Rachel in, but her anti-consumer tendencies lead to conflicts between them. When Rachel burns down their apartment, she moves in with Joey. She helps Chandler pick out the ring for Monica,

Monica - Adapting to living with Chandler, the professional chef once again exhibits her tendencies toward obsessive compulsive behavior. Still, she and Chandler get along quite well, especially when Chandler reconciles with Monica's parents over an old weed-smoking incident. When Chandler wigs out on her over commitment issues, she finds herself intrigued by Richard resurfacing,

and Rachel - Upset over marrying Ross while drunk - though she admits responsibility - she moves to have the marriage dissolved based on Ross's mental health. Still, she becomes jealous when her younger sister dates Ross. Things turn around for the fashion buyer when she begins dating Paul, Ross's girlfriend's father.

More than the prior seasons, the sixth season of Friends relies on famous guest stars being utilized for their talents as opposed to their names. This season has recurring roles for Elle Macpherson (Janine), Reese Witherspoon (Rachel's sister) and Bruce Willis (Paul, Elizabeth's father). Having Bruce Willis around for three episodes commits the series to using him well and his role as Paul is memorable for his initially angry character which quickly becomes a weird guy with low self-esteem. Willis blends with the cast well and makes good use of his three episodes. Conversely, Macpherson's character is often segregated from the full cast, giving Matt LeBlanc more to do with her outside the group dynamic.

As for the acting by the main characters, by this point they are solid in their paces. They know what they are doing and they do it well. Here they continue to use their well-honed comic timing to make jokes and keep the situations interesting. Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry continue to lead the cast with strong, often emotionally-charged performances and quick-witted deliveries of the best lines. This season even sees Courteney Cox-Arquette growing as an actress as she is finally able to keep a poker face raised when other characters make jokes. Pairing her with Perry works quite well for the series for the peripheral benefit of keeping her laughter under control.

On DVD, Friends The Complete Sixth Season has minimal DVD bonus features. Three episodes have commentary tracks - which are stiflingly similar to commentary tracks from earlier seasons (we get that the Thanksgiving episodes are special for Friends!) - and there is a blooper reel. As well, there is a trivia game and a season seven preview which is now pretty unremarkable. The best bonus feature is the guest star reel which has recurring guest stars interviewed about their experiences on Friends.

This is a DVD boxed set where the source material is good enough to warrant the buy and the show succeeds in the sixth season because it is consistently funny.

For other works featuring Bruce Willis, please be sure to check out:
The Story Of Us
The Verdict


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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