Sunday, October 21, 2018

TV on DVD Review: Friends - Season 8


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Still plenty of laughs
Cons: More cringe worthy stories; Joey's crush on Rachel starts here
The Bottom Line:
Pregnancy, new crush
Series begins its decline
But still mostly fun




The One Where Rachel's Pregnant

My memory of Friends is that it slipped in the last few years it was on the air.  I've actually been surprised as I've been rewatching it to discover that seasons 6 and 7 were better than I remembered them being.  Then I hit season 8.  As much fun as some of the episodes are, there is no way to get over some of the problems with this season.

Things start off moments after the season 7 cliffhanger, which means that we are still at Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler's (Matthew Perry) wedding.  And it means that everyone still thinks that Monica is pregnant.  However, it isn't Monica, it's really Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) who is pregnant.  And the father?  No surprise there, it's Ross (David Schwimmer).  Rachel is going to keep the baby, and Ross is going to be involved, but the two of them are not going to get married.  In fact, Rachel continues to live with Joey (Matt LeBlanc) until late in her pregnancy.  And Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow)?  With everyone else going on this season, she doesn't get any juicy storylines.  She does have a couple of boyfriends who last a couple of episodes.  One who was engaged to her twin sister Ursula when they met, and the other who gets really enthusiastic about everything.

So where does this season go wrong?  The first way is the characters doing embarrassing things for laughs.  The writers just seem to be determined to make the characters do the worst possible thing.  From Chandler and Ross trying to recreate wedding pictures when the table cameras were lost to Monica trying to get people to cry during a toast at her parent's anniversary, we see more of this than normal this season.  Unfortunately, I find this embarrassment humor more cringe worthy than I do funny.  Of course, sometimes they manage to pull it off beautifully like when Ross gets trapped between Rachel's father and his new girlfriend about his relationship with Rachel.  That scene is a classic.

The other place they went off the rails is much more serious.  This is the season where Joey first develops a crush on Rachel.  As if the Ross/Rachel story wasn't soap opera enough (she's pregnant with their baby this season, remember), Joey suddenly finds himself in love with her.  Really?  If it had lasted a few episodes, I would have been okay with it, but they played it out over the rest of the series.  From listening to the audio commentaries, I gather the writers thought it was a brilliant idea, but at this point, the fans were beyond ready for Ross and Rachel to get together to stay, and this felt forced.

Now, this isn't to say that there aren't some wonderful episodes in this season.  In fact, it holds one of my favorites as everyone is trying to figure out who the father of Rachel's baby is and Joey comes up with a clue - a sweater.  The way the episode plays out is hilarious, and the final moments are classic Friends.  Unfortunately, it has the missing wedding camera sub-plot I mentioned earlier that does take away from my overall enjoyment.  Likewise, the way the episode comes together where we find out just what happened that night between Ross and Rachel is wonderful.  Another highlight is the Thanksgiving episode, which features Jennifer Aniston's then husband Brad Pitt as former high school friend (or enemy, depending on who we are talking about) Will.

My problems with this season are definitely with the writing.  The actors still are doing wonderful work with their characters.  It's some of the little moments they do that are the funniest.  And, as much as I hate Joey having a crush on Rachel, the actors all play those moments perfectly; I can't help but admire their work with the stupid storyline.

Season 8 consisted of 24 episodes in full frame and stereo sound, which is appropriate for a sitcom filmed in front of a live audience at the turn of the century.  (These episodes originally aired in 2001 and 2002.)  As is always the case, we get three audio commentaries from the creators and executive producers, although they don't seem to have the enthusiasm they used to have.  In fact, it sounds like they aren't even in the studio together, but they are still fun to listen to.  We also get a featurette on the famous faces who have guest starred on the show over the years, a gag reel, and Gunther's preview of next season.

Even though the show has definitely past its peak, fans will still enjoy hanging out with their Friends.  I know I still find plenty to enjoy in season 8.

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