Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Interesting look at the run of Friends
Cons: Little new, pushing modern political and social agenda
The Bottom Line:
A classic sitcom
Gets a behind the scenes book
That has some issues
The One Where We Look at the Friends Phenomenon
I’m a fan of Friends, and I enjoy getting a behind the scenes look at things in Hollywood. Between the two, I was immediately interested in reading I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends when I heard about it last year. It took me until now to actually find the time to pick it up. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be.
The book is written by Kelsey Miller, who starts out telling us what a fan of the show she is. She used to plan her trips to the gym around the show, in fact. And she knows lots of other big fans of the show, so researching the show was a natural fit.
Over the course of the book, we get a well-researched look at the show and the impact it has had on the US and the world in the 25 years since it premiered. We learn about how the creators met and came up with the show, the path the actors took before they landed on the show, and some of the bumps and growing pains that everyone experienced during the 10 years the show was on the air. There is also talk about the impact the show has had on fashion, trends, and overall pop culture the world over.
As the end notes make very clear, this is a well-researched book. There are pages of notes at the end (although it is hard to follow for sure which facts from the book the notes are referring to). However, that is one of the issues with the book. Most of these are stories we’ve already heard. Granted, it’s been long enough that the details are hazy in my mind, but it would have been nice to see some new insights from the cast and crew about the show and its legacy at this point in time. There is none of that here.
We also get Kelsey’s thoughts on the seasons and a few key episodes. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about the trajectory and arc of the show in the way she laid out, but I will now. I found myself agreeing with her thoughts most of the time. And remembering how and when the show was picked up for more episodes also helps explain some of the issues with the later seasons of the show.
The bigger issue comes when she tries to look at the show via a 2018 lens. She brings up the standard issues that are leveled against the show – the lack of a diverse cast or guest star list, the homophobic jokes (at least when viewed through certain lenses today), the sexist way the women are treated at times. Now, I’m not going to deny any of these things. However, I wonder why this show is singled out for them. These were quite common on TV back then and even now, depending on the show. And yet, people keep coming back to this show over and over again as a bad example and treating it worse than they do other shows.
I think this was my biggest sticking point with the book. This is the part where Ms. Miller conducted original interviews, contacting various figures in the areas she maintains should be offended by these elements in the show. Heck, there’s almost an entire chapter of the book focused on the wedding of Susan and Carol in season two and why it isn’t the milestone in TV history that it could have been (despite it being a pretty major TV milestone). And yet, these experts all pretty much said the same thing I did. “Yes, the show should have paid more attention to (insert issue here), but this was TV and the culture at the time, and the show was just trying to be a comedy and not trying to push an agenda.” However, Ms. Miller clearly isn’t happy with that answer, as she includes some pretty snide comments , especially in the footnotes.
This attitude also comes through in the final chapter. Instead of devoting much of this chapter to trying to show Friend’s lasting impact and popularity or discuss what the cast has done since (both of which are in there), the majority of the chapter is devoted to the lawsuit brought by one of the writer’s assistants who sued due to a hostile work environment after being fired. Now, I’m not going to argue that this shouldn’t have been included in the book. However, she goes out of her way to wish the outcome of the suit had been different and tying it into the #MeToo movement in Hollywood of the last couple of years. A valid comparison? Maybe, but there are also very noticeable differences. Worthy of so much time, especially as the last thing the book talks about? Probably not. And, for the record, I wouldn’t have lasted one day in the writer’s room as described in the lawsuit, so I don’t think that is a good work environment, even for a show like Friends, which spends plenty of time talking about sex.
So far, this sounds fairly negative, right? This is a case where it is easy to see and point out the flaws. While I was reading the book, I was hooked. I’d pick it up, and I’d be lost in the stories about a show I love. The pages flew by, and I’d have a hard time setting it down again. And, as the book was discussing filming the final couple of episodes, I was finding myself as chocked up as I am every time I watch them.
If you are a die-hard fan of Friends, you’ll be tempted like I was to read I’ll Be There for You. And you’ll probably wind up enjoying it even though it adds little new to the discussion of the show.