Sunday, August 14, 2011

Familiarity Breeds Appreciation, How Friends Season 7 Earned A Warm Place In My Heart.

The Good: Funny, Good character development, Good plots
The Bad: Clip show, Reliance on guest actors seems cheap.
The Basics: On DVD, Friends Season 7 is a decent collection of some very funny sitcom episodes and is worthwhile for anyone who likes good characters.

Many television shows have quite a bit of difficulty in keeping the feel of the show fresh after a certain point. In fact, the seventh season of a program has traditionally been the final season for many long-running shows because the producers simply feel that they have told all of the stories they want to tell and the actors are ready to move on to other projects. This is, surprisingly, not how it is with Friends. With the seventh season of Friends, the television series grew past the need for some very simple jokes and into a realm where the characters truly came alive and became vibrant in ways that they had not been before. As I go through Friends again and review the seasons, I have to admit that I have a special attachment to season seven of the series: this is where I came in. I tended to watch Friends in syndication and this was the season where I was walking past my mother's room while she was watching an episode and it actually caught my attention. I could finally see the appeal of the show and I began to grow attached to some of the characters.

On DVD, Friends The Complete Seventh Season the season is generally serialized building off the prior year's proposal between Chandler and Monica. As the season leads pretty directly to their wedding, the viewer has the sense the show and characters are going somewhere. And on that journey there are surprisingly few pitfalls, but when they come they are annoying. Chief among these would have to be the clip show near the end of the season. There is something inherently offensive about paying money for a DVD set where there is a flashback episode and it is even more problematic when one knows how ridiculously overpaid the actors were for the series. New WGA rule: If your stars are being paid more than $100,000 an episode, you need to produce! No clipshows!

That said, the seventh season of Friends is surprisingly solid, but most of it focuses on the build-up to the wedding. This is the season where Monica and Chandler prepare for their wedding and Joey discovers Rachel's erotic novel and mocks her mercilessly for it. Eager for the recipe, Monica tries to reverse engineer Phoebe's grandmother's chocolate chip cookies (with hilarious results) and Chandler proves to be entirely anti-photogenic when it comes time to have a wedding announcement picture taken. Phoebe and Rachel have to duke it out for position of Maid Of Honor for Monica and Janice resurfaces and learns of the engagement. Meanwhile, Rachel hires an assistant (Tag) based on his good looks and by Thanksgiving the two are dating. And when the apartment is ready, Phoebe moves back into her own place.

After a fairly episodic stretch - episodes where the friends simply stay up all night having various adventures, Joey's chair gets broken and Monica and Ross go to a family member's wedding where the groom is a man Monica once was with - the show returns to a more serialized arc when Joey gets his job on Days Of Our Lives back and Rachel feels the effects of being thirty and dumps Tag. Monica gets her ideal wedding dress, then freaks out because she realizes all the "firsts" she will no longer have and she bars her friends (and Ross) from hanging around with her younger cousin Cassie, who is pretty much a hottie (played by Denise Richards). From there, it's a sprint to the end of the season as Joey gets work on a movie after agreeing to officiate the wedding, Chandler and Monica write vows, find Chandler's father in a nightclub in Las Vegas and finally get married.

There are no real surprises this season of Friends and as I write about it, it seems much more like it was killing time between where the season began and the inevitable wedding that smart money said would be the season finale. The show, fortunately, does not belabor the question of "will they or won't they" marry, but rather moves the show in a new direction. Chandler and Monica share most of their scenes and more than in any other season, the other four congregate without them. As a result, the character dynamics shift over the course of the season and it becomes enjoyable to watch just how that happens.

The show does take a few amusing risks that pay off for it. For example, "The One Where They All Turn Thirty" is structured like a clip show in that the character set up flashbacks and the show regresses to prior times, but the episode is not filled with clips from earlier episodes. Instead, the flashbacks have all-new material and the episode works as a tongue-in-cheek poke at both the right of passage (turning thirty) and clipshows. Of course, the irony of it would be better realized if "The One With The Vows" did not present a very literal clipshow with all of the cliche setups and flashbacks.

As well, bottle episodes like "The One Where They're Up All Night" fit less well within this season. In that episode, the characters pair off (Rachel goes with Tag and Phoebe is left alone) and have little adventures that are ultimately pointless and have no bearing on the rest of the season. I suppose the writers just wanted an episode where wedding planning was not on the forefront of the show. On the plus side, when viewed as an entire season the seventh season of Friends shows a startling amount of realism for how a traditional wedding is built up. Because most of the a-plots tend to revolve around which aspect of the wedding is currently being dealt with, most of the other characters in season seven are relegated to b-stories, especially Phoebe.

Even so, the characters on Friends are pretty vibrant and they are generally dynamic. Here is how the seventh season finds the principles:

Monica Gellar - After feeling like her thunder was stolen by Rachel kissing Ross, she settles into a pretty strict routine of work and wedding planning (she is only shown at her restaurant twice this season). Planning goes well from the start because Monica has a book of ideas she has been developing since elementary school and she is only thrown off-course by having her bridesmaids determine who is Maid Of Honor, encounters Chandler's ex-girlfriend Janice, and has to deal with her fiance not being photogenic. After a single freak-out, she finds her ideal dress (and gives it up to book the band Chandler wants) and becomes Mrs. Bing,

Ross Gellar - Now working as a college professor, he spends the season single, after being teased by Rachel. He tries to learn to play the bagpipes to play at the wedding and is almost conned by a student who claims he is in love with him in order to get a passing grade. He has more time with his son, Ben, whom he is distressed to learn has learned practical jokes from Rachel and he competes with Joey for the affections of a woman who moves in across the street from Central Perk,

Joey Tribiani - An actor, his show "Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E." is abruptly canceled, forcing him to beg for his job at Days Of Our Lives back. His character comes out of a coma, but is a woman trapped in his body! When Chandler and Monica cannot find an acceptable minister, he gets ordained on the internet in order to be able to officiate the wedding,

Rachel Green - Still living with Joey, she becomes distanced from Monica and Monica and Chandler move toward their wedding day. She learns to play the drums (compliments of a gift from Phoebe) and becomes enamored with Tag. Her job goes well, but after realizing she truly wants children, she breaks it off with Tag and begins looking for a serious lifepartner. Of course, she is distracted when a sorority sister she once kissed comes back into her life, but she gets over that,

Phoebe - Eagerly moving out when the apartment is ready once again, she discovers she lost an entire year of her life when her twin sister shows her her birth certificate. She dates a nice guy (who is man enough to wear women's underwear) and seems content living on her own again, save for a fire alarm that will not shut off,

and Chandler Bing - Happy with Monica, he begins to eagerly look forward to the wedding, despite the resurfacing of Janice and having to go get his dragqueen father from Las Vegas. He grudgingly admits not liking dogs and is dismayed when there are so few people coming to the wedding as his guests.

The seventh season of Friends is remarkably accessible to those who have not been fans of the series before now largely because the characters are in transition. Because they are moving into different stages of life, whenever essential information on their past is brought up, the writers discretely remind (or tell new) viewers of the relevant facts. The humor in this season is largely verbal, though Monica gets in on a bit more physical comedy when she is drunk at a party and has to tackle a competitor for her ideal wedding dress. More common is humor like Rachel telling a woman at a wedding shop about a great sale where she can get dresses cheaper only to have the woman reveal that she owns the shop they are in.

This is the season where Courteney Cox-Arquette comes into her own as an actress. No longer is she seen at the side of frames breaking out laughing at the show's jokes, so that is a plus. By this point, though, she was the only one with real room to grow as an actress. The rest of the cast - Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry - has already hit their stride and the seventh season finds the writers playing to each performers strengths. So, for example, Kudrow is given the chance to score big laughs by witlessly asking "Does this also mean that putting out doesn't get you love?" in "The One With Joey's Award." Similarly, David Schwimmer does a lot of deadpan, which makes his impersonation of a velociraptor even more funny.

All in all, this boxed set is twenty-four episodes (one is double length!) that are consistently funny, even when the show diverges from the main storyline. On DVD there are three episodes with commentary tracks, a featurette on the recurring guest stars and a gag reel. There is also a trivia game and fans of Friends are bound to enjoy the details found in these. The less wonderful bonus feature is a preview of Season Eight, which seems somewhat pointless now.

But for anyone who likes situational comedy or is looking for humor pertaining to weddings, the seventh season of Friends consistently delivers!

For other funny shows that made it to a seventh season, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Frasier - Season 7
The West Wing - Season 7
Gilmore Girls - Season 7


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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