Friday, August 5, 2011

Friends Heats Up As Friends Come Together And Fall Apart In "The Complete Third Season!"

The Good: Good character moments, Moments of performance, Serialized plots
The Bad: Light on DVD bonus features, Some acting
The Basics: Fun and memorable, the third season of Friends is the crucial turning point in the Ross and Rachel storyline.

As the television series Friends progressed, there were a few truly solid fallbacks for the show. During sweeps, there were recurring guest stars - like Tom Selleck returning as Richard - or utterly pointless guest appearances - like the appearance of Billy Crystal and Robin Williams for the teaser of "The One With The Ultimate Fighting Champion" - but there were few solid ways for the show to open or close the season like messing with the Ross and Rachel relationship. So when my wife and I were sitting down to watch her DVD set of Friends - The Complete Third Season, I was thrilled when she told me that for the third season, Phoebe pulled the season finale. I wish, very much, she had been right.

Unfortunately, though, by the time the third season finale comes around, there is tension between Ross and Rachel again and the series uses Ross to close it to get viewers to tune in next year, or buy the next DVD set. That said, the third season of Friends solidly builds upon the second season (reviewed here!) and those who have not seen at least the second season are likely to feel left behind on several crucial details because Friends is a rare serialized sitcom. It is important as well to note that it is impossible to discuss the characters of the third season of Friends without revealing some of the events of the later part of the second season, so for those who are only beginning the series and want to be surprised, this is a good point to stop reading.

The third season of Friends begins with Chandler dating Janice, who is in the process of divorcing her matress-selling husband. Monica is still dealing - poorly - with her breakup with Richard, who pops back up briefly. Ross and Rachel are happily dating, Phoebe is happily singing and Joey is struggling as an actor to find work. Soon, though, the lives of the six friends are spiraling out of control; Phoebe's half-brother resurfaces engaged to a woman twice his age, Monica hooks up with Richard, finds herself back in the same place they were before, and begins dating a poet who works at the '50's diner with her. When that does not work out, she is hit on relentlessly by a millionaire named Pete, who slowly wears down her resolve to not date him. Joey begins teaching acting classes and becomes involved in a terrible play where he falls for his female costar.

But much of the third season is a dramedy about Ross and Rachel. Opening the season together and very much in love, Rachel soon realizes that she is a terrible waitress and does not want to be doing that any longer. She quits working at Central Perk and is given a job in fashion by Mark, whom Ross is instantly and deeply jealous of. As Rachel's job begins to consume more of her time, Ross is frustrated over the lack of time they have together (and the amount of time Rachel is spending with Mark). After a heated conversation where Rachel tells Ross she wants them to take a break, Ross goes out, gets drunk and has sex with a woman from the copy center. This leads to the breakup of Ross and Rachel and a great deal of tension with the other four. As the season progresses, the two spar and when Ross is set up by Phoebe, Rachel becomes confused about what she truly wants.

Friends in the third season is delightful for those who love serialized television shows and DVD makes for an ideal viewing experience as it is easy to burn through the six episodes per disc with the way they flow from one episode to another. Chandler's relationship with Janice offers consequences that cannot be resolved within a single episode and the dislike Joey has for Janice complicates things for the actor when he witnesses Janice cheating on his best friend. Similarly, for all of the melodrama surrounding Ross and Rachel, the relationship, breakup and aftermath of their romance reasonably is drawn out over several episodes. Those episodes explore well the complexity of people who have strong feelings for one another, a strong love and then deep hurt. Indeed, despite the fact that it is not funny at all, the episode "The One The Morning After" is a great example of the quality of acting and writing that the show is able to pull off. Part of this is because of the credibility of David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston in character as Ross and Rachel as they struggle with the consequences of their actions.

The best serialized works explore consequences to actions and Friends does that remarkably well in this season, with most of the major characters forced to wrestle with the effects their actions and words have on others. The show maintains a high amount of dialogue-based humor ("The One With The Jam," for example, has a great exchange between Joey and Rachel that my partner was quoting long before I saw the episode, but it was still hilarious), but the show is still in many ways a "chick flick" television show which is preoccupied with relationships of late twenty-somethings.

In the third season, the principle characters are the same as the prior seasons (Friends has the most stable ensemble of any modern show, as near as I can find - there are no additions to or subtractions from the cast over the entire run of the series) and they do have decent arcs in this season. Here is how the third season finds the Friends:

Monica - Exhausted and unfulfilled following her breakup with Richard, she is inconsolable. She starts jarring jam, becomes obsessed with a Thanksgiving football game, and considers going to a sperm bank to get the child she wants. After having a fling with a poet, she becomes involved with the millionaire, Pete, whose ambitions make her wonder about her compatibility with him. She inherits a doll house she long coveted from her aunt, as well as getting her own restaurant, compliments of Pete,

Chandler - After overcoming his fear of commitment, he has his heart broken once again by Janice and he sleeps with one of Joey's sisters. To quit smoking, again, he begins using a hypnosis tape designed for women and he dates Rachel's boss, whom he loathes. He stands up to his boss, who has been slapping his butt,

Phoebe - After dating a guy who is obsessed with her twin sister, she dates a guy who wears shorts that reveal his manhood whenever he sits down and dates two men at once. She tries to get to know her half-brother better, despite the fact that he is a creepy loser and she becomes Joey's agent for a brief stint. She also encounters her former singing partner, who is now a jingle singer and loses "Smelly Cat" to her,

Joey - He tries very hard to like Janice - for Chandler's sake - but fails horribly, which makes it difficult when he has to break the news to Chandler that Janice is cheating on him. After getting more work via Phoebe and teaching a class on acting for soap operas, he buys a chick and a duck so he and Chandler have a pet. He begins acting opposite Kate, a classy actress who despises him, whom he falls for,

Rachel - Dominating most of the season, she begins by trying the Princess Leia fantasy with Ross and begins to feel like she is in a personal and professional rut. She quits working as a waitress, begins working as a fashion buyer and becomes frustrated with Ross's jealousy. When they break up, she tries to move on, but finds that is harder than she thought it would be,

Ross - Happily in love, he begins to feel threatened by every other man who he thinks might want Rachel. He becomes frustrated when his friends and partner are not ready for a symposium he is delivering the keynote speech at and is glad when Rachel takes a more active role in the life of his son. He gets jealous, sleeps with another woman and loses Rachel. When he moves on, he finds her ambiguity problematic for his new relationships. He also has a strange growth that most doctors cannot identify.

On DVD, viewers are able to enjoy the quality of the acting of Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston, who all have great parts this season. Matthew Perry, unfortunately, has a great part for the first half of the season before largely being neglected in the latter half. Courteney Cox is just terrible this season, a fact that is amplified as she acts opposite Jon Favreau's Pete.

Schwimmer and Aniston, though, dominate this season and their acting is rightly well-praised. Schwimmer evolves from boyishly in love to heartbroken and seriously penitent. He has a good sense of physical comedy when he arrives at Rachel's office to attempt a romantic dinner and a truly heartwrenching physical sense when he is in character trying to explain and repent to Rachel. Aniston has a wonderful arc as a woman standing up for herself and her own wants and needs this season and she does it well. She plays Rachel as brilliantly flustered, empowered, ambitious and emotionally confused. She does more with her eyes in a single scene in "The One Without The Ski Trip" than Courteney Cox does the entire season with all of the plot activities Monica is granted.

On DVD, there is a commentary track on "The One The Morning After" which basically has the writers/producers explaining that the episode is dark. It is an uninsightful commentary track. There is a tour of Joey and Chandler's apartment and James Michael Tyler as Gunther "dishing" about the main characters. This is a bit light on bonus features and fans are likely to want more for their money, even though this set has come down in price.

But for those looking for the best episodes of Friends, this season has some of the better ones chock full of funny moments (Joey putting on all of Chandler's clothes, for example). Anyone who likes good comedy will find something - except extensive bonus features on DVD - to enjoy on this set.

For other works with Jon Favreau, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Cowboys And Aliens (director)
Iron Man 2
The Clone Wars - Season 2
Couples Retreat
Iron Man
Batman Forever


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

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

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