Do you have that one TV show in your life that you keep coming back to? The one that plays in the background as you cook dinner, or the one you consistently quote when you can't help yourself? Well, I do. And it is of course the nineties hit that is Friends. So naturally, when the High Low podcast recommended an entire book dedicated to the sitcom, I just had to buy it and devour every word.
I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller is a full deep-dive into the sitcom, from the moment it began production to the legacy it has left behind. It still continues to be a popular show today, as Netflix demonstrated in November 2018 when they renewed it for another year for around a whopping $100 million. We just can’t get enough of that infamous sextet, living their lives in the Big Apple.
But why is that exactly? Well, this book has all the answers. With extracts and interviews from cast, crew, fans, journalists and more, it goes beyond just examining the TV show itself. It analyses the culture that Friends was born into, and looks at how that contributed to its popularity and fanbase at the time. Gen X was blooming, and with it came new aspirations for life, aspirations that Friends portrayed perfectly. Putting your dreams before your riches? Check. City slickers as opposed to the quiet suburb dwellers? Check. Living with roomies who you can drop spaghetti on the floor with as opposed to marrying young and having a nuclear family? Checkcheckcheckitycheck.
Can we all just appreciate my new Pixel 3 camera please?
The book goes through the show's journey chronologically, uncovering hidden details that even us fans will have never heard of before. For example; did you know that when the show was first scripted, Joey and Monica were going to end up together? (I know!) Or that the show was often on tenterhooks as to whether it would make it past one season, let alone ten? There are hundreds of alternative pathways that could have been taken, and it’s so intriguing to ponder what might have been.
Kelsey herself manages to capture exactly what the show is to many of us fans. In the introduction, she details how she turned to Friends in her own life when she needed it; “...sick days, sleepless nights in unfamiliar hotel rooms, the day I got rejected by [insert job and/or romantic prospect]. It was a soothing balm on a lousy day”.
She continues with this theory throughout the book, stating that the TV show was a way to escape for many viewers, especially in the dark times of post-9/11. Humour seemed almost impossible then, but Friends offered a lighthearted form of distraction from the horrors of the real world. Kelsey does not gloss over this point lightly; she discusses how the cast and show-runners of Friends accepted their role as the 'comfort food' show, and what adaptations they made to cater to their audiences.
This really resonates with me personally, as Friends is my go-to source of entertainment when I'm in need of it. If I’m alone one evening and feel like some virtual company, I’ll tune into Netflix and jump into the world of NYC and the familiar antics of my favourite comedic super team. Even when I’m going about my day-to-day life, I’ll spurt out random quotes when the time arises (such as when someone asks for a bite of my meal, I’ll yell “JOEY DOESN’T SHARE FOOD!”).
Imagine my delight when I came round to my sisters and saw she had these mugs! Grab your own right here.
Equally, I’ve often found myself spiraling into many rants about how Friends does not represent real life. Because seriously, who the hell can afford apartments in downtown Manhattan with an unsteady income? Or who just randomly gets offered a promotion by Ralph Lauren himself? And let's not get started on how they spend literally all day sipping on coffee when they should be working. Well, Kelsey argues that these fantasies are actually what keeps us coming back to the sitcom.
“They watch it because they can’t relate. It’s ridiculous! Six adults with perfect hair who hang around in a coffeehouse in the middle of the day? Who’s paying for those giant lattes? Friends, for them, is pure escapism.”
And that’s it exactly. She explains why Friends offers a dream that is actually slightly obtainable. Move to the big city, get a job you love and live with roommates who you can have a corker of a time with. I myself have even had my current life compared to Friends, which is extremely flattering. Although I am definitely NOT at a Central Perk drinking coffee all day (as much as I wish).
However, even though the premise is still relevant, Kelsey covers some of the things that don’t hold up in today’s society. Things like “Ross’s icky, throwback misogyny”, or the complete lack of racial and cultural diversity in the cast, or the frequent ‘gay’ jokes that were a part of the nineties and noughties. As the author explains though; Friends was a product of its time, hence why the humour can now feel a little dated. But there's no doubt that it's a good thing that we can recognise the flaws, as we can take it on board for future television programmes.
One of my favourite fun facts from the book is that during the opening fountain sequence, many of the shots of the cast laughing were hysterical from being in the cold and wet for far too long. Get your copy here
All in all, this book is an incredible window into the impact that Friends had, both on it’s viewers and in society. If you’re a binger of the sitcom (like myself), then I cannot recommend this book enough. As we speak, my copy is currently on loan, with another person in the queue to receive it! Kelsey is an eloquent - and thorough - storyteller. You’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.
But a word of warning; the next time you watch Friends, you won’t be able to stop telling your mates all of the fun facts you've learnt about the show. Having trivia knowledge is super dangerous readers, seriously. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-watch “The One With The Sandwich”. Because you know, angry Ross is my favourite thing in the entire world.
Are you a fan of Friends? Click on the link below to get your copy, and let me know if this book is of interest in the comments!