|Friends: The Complete Series (2006)
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Courtney-Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
When “Friends” debuted back in 1994, the television sitcom was in a state of major flux. “Cheers” had just said farewell after eleven years on the air, “Seinfeld” was finally earning acceptance as the groundbreaking comedy series that it was, and NBC’s flagship Must See TV block was fast becoming the highest rated night on television; and all before the network’s promising new series even premiered. Of course, we all know what happened next. “Friends” went on to become one of the most popular (and successful) sitcoms in television history, spawning a pop culture phenomenon filled with “Friends”-branded merchandise, Rachel hair-dos, and perhaps most importantly, welcoming six complete strangers into our homes every Thursday night. It’s probably a good thing, then, that the creators went with “Friends” over one of the many other working titles, including duds like “Six of One,” “Across the Hall,” and the absolute worst, “Insomnia Café.”
Even if you’ve never seen a single episode of “Friends,” you probably know the story like the back of your hand. When bride-to-be Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) leaves her fiancé at the altar and moves in with former high school gal pal, Monica (Courtney-Cox Arquette), the renewed relationship sparks a circle of six friends to begin hanging out a coffee shop where they rely on one another to navigate their way through a confusing new chapter of their life. Clean freak Monica has an older, more neurotic brother, Ross (David Schwimmer), who also happens to have a major crush on spoiled brat Rachel. Living in the apartment across from Monica is Ross’ old college bud, Chandler (Matthew Perry), and his wannabe actor roommate, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) – both of whom get along incredibly well despite the fact that they didn’t know each other before moving in. And finally, there’s the flaky Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), another one of Monica’s friends, who spends most of her time writing bad folk songs that she performs at the café.
There you have it: a 150-word summary of a show that lasted ten years and produced nearly 250 episodes. It might not be the greatest rundown you’ve ever read, but it certainly does the job for anyone oblivious enough to have missed out on an entire decade of pop culture. Throughout the series, fans of the show witnessed their fair share of great supporting performances, memorable moments and incredible guest stars, but without its original cast, the show never would have prospered quite like it did. Despite well-crafted love angles (Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler, Rachel and Joey, and then Ross and Rachel again) and great comedic writing, “Friends” never would have lasted more than a season had it not been for their incredible onscreen chemistry. It’s also worth noting that none of these actors will ever come close to duplicating their small screen success ever again. Jennifer Aniston has failed at transforming herself into a movie star (many times), and while Matthew Perry’s latest series (“Studio 60”) offers the best hope for any of the six actors, he’ll forever be Chandler Bing.
The question these days doesn’t seem to be whether you’re a fan of the show or not, but rather which one of many DVD collection delivers the ultimate “Friends” experience. Unfortunately, most fans have probably already picked up the individual box sets that were gradually released during the end of the show’s run – or the limited edition “The One With All Ten Seasons," which now runs for around $300 on Amazon – but if you’ve somehow managed to remain patient, then the recently-released “Friends: The Complete Series” collection is most certainly the way to go. At nearly half the price of the aforementioned sets, the 40-disc release is presented in a durable, red leather-bound collector’s box and includes a 60-page commemorative booklet featuring episode summaries (for all 236 episodes) and the original pitch by David Crane and Marta Kauffman. It also features 19 hours of bonus material (from trivia quizzes to gag reels, not to mention 27 audio commentary tracks), as well as the new featurette, “Friends Around the World,” which looks at the many international translations of the show.You’ll also find all of the bonus material from previous releases, including the Discovery Channel documentary, “The Once That Goes Behind the Scenes,” the “Friends on Location in London” featurettte, interviews with the cast/crew, interactive tours of the set, and clips of memorable guest stars (“Friends of Friends”). Simply put, this is something that just shouldn’t be missed. Heck, I’m not even a big fan of the series, and I still couldn’t wait to pop in that first disc and be reunited with all my favorite “Friends.”