‘The One with the Evil Orthodontist’ (originally aired 4/6/95)
Friends‘s first season can be contradictory at times: for every step forward a character takes personally, they take about four or five steps back mentally. It’s particularly noticeable with the female characters: every episode with them making a personal discovery, or advancing in their professional lives, there are another two or three episodes where Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe (or some other minor female character) puts the female race back a few years.
‘The One with the Evil Orthodontist’ is one of these episodes… and at times, it can really be painful to watch. Rachel’s backslide with Barry is really an off-putting arc: part of what made Rachel such an interesting character in the pilot was her willingness to move away from her old life and mentality (“maybe I don’t want to be a shoe!”) , rejecting the vision of her life she’d been spoon fed since she was a child. But ‘Evil Orthodontist’ undoes all of this in a single stroke, reuniting Barry and Rachel for a short-lived fling in his dentist’s chair.
Part of this is Barry’s thinly-written character; he’s such a reprehensible human being, it doesn’t make any sense why Rachel would find herself so attached to him. He cheats on his fiancee with Rachel, and she starts considering reconciling with him the minute she leaves his office. What the fuck, right? She left him at the aisle – but she’s willing to sleep with him again, with absolutely no concern over what her old best friend Mindy (a great guest spot, played by none other than Jennifer Grey) might think. The fact that Rachel would entertain the idea of reuniting with the man she walked away from is an odd idea – and on a plot level, is nothing but a poorly-designed distraction to keep Rachel and Ross material on the sidelines until the end of the finale.
Now, this is a problem Friends would have often in the future: jokes or entire pointless arcs thrown in for laughs, no matter how much is messed with the fabric of its characters or back story. It happens A LOT with Rachel: be it with Ross, dating Ross’s college girlfriend’s father, or the Tag arc (*shakes fists angrily at sky*). When it happens in ‘Evil Orthodontist’, it’s such a dissonant story to Rachel’s character, and painfully concludes with Rachel realizing that she didn’t want to be with Barry anymore.
… which puts her right back at square one, when she walked into Central Perk wearing a wet wedding dress.
At least it’s off set by a great Chandler B story, where he goes full neurotic while waiting for his date to call him back. Friends could do really fun things when playing around with gender stereotypes, and having Chandler freak out while Monica calmed him down shows the great chemistry between the characters that would inspire their pairing later on. If the show understood one character in the first season, it was Chandler, whose occasional regressions throughout the season are treated with some levity: when Chandler returns to Janice earlier in the season, it’s because of his conflicted nature, not just a contrived act for some cheap jokes (this time, at least… that will change fairly quickly).
Rachel’s story pulls down an otherwise light and enjoyable episode of Friends - as a stand alone piece of character story, it’s one of the most frustrating to watch in the entire first season, right up there with awkward Ross and ‘The One With Mrs. Bing’. It exists for a perfectly logical reason – getting Rachel clear of any lingering emotional strands before diving into the Rachel/Ross material to come – but it fails for so many reasons.
- Joey is pretty useless in the episode, but Matt LeBlanc’s facial expressions throughout are classic.
- Mr. Peanut and Mr. Salty…. what 90′s references.
- “I’m 12, I’m not stupid.”
- I didn’t talk about it, but the resolution of Barry/Mindy/Rachel is also terrible: now that’s she played both the cheater and cheatee (having an affair with Barry while engaged to Rachel), Mindy decides she wants to be Mrs. Barry Farber anyway. Fuck is wrong with you, girl?
- Joey cooks toast and oatmeal naked… basically, anything that doesn’t splatter.
- 5 letter word for heater: rdatr.
‘The One with the Fake Monica’ (originally aired 4/27/95)
Maturity is a big part of the early seasons of Friends, so it’s no surprise what themes are at the heart of ‘The One with Fake Monica’, which puts the Gellar siblings under the microscope into very different stories. Most people remember ‘Fake Monica’ for Marcel’s humpy departure – and its a key component of the episode, but certainly not the most rewarding.
From beginning to end, Monica’s material is a lot more interesting than Ross’s; his scenes painting a simple picture of a guy whose animal is going off to the pet equivalent of college. Monica chasing down the person who stole her identity – and befriending her – is a little bat shit crazy, but it gives us two fantastic scenes in the tap dancing studio, one of my favorite sequences in the first season.
The first scene in the dance studio displays the mentalities of the three main females on the show. When everyone begins doing the routine, Rachel picks it up easily: most of Rachel’s life previous to leaving Barry was her conforming to the world around her, be it her father’s demands or money, or having a nose job so she didn’t garner so much attention in public. Phoebe’s off in her own world (because let’s be honest, the writers of Friends never had an idea who Phoebe was for consecutive episodes) and of course, she’s happy as can be.
But Monica’s struggling to fit in: she can’t quite get the moves (as always, coming in second place to Rachel), and she’s not confident enough to go out on a limb and do what she feels. She wants to fit into a neat little box with everyone else who “lives life”; but as Not Monica points out later, Manana isn’t that person. She’s not a free spirit – but there’s nothing wrong with that (who would clean the damn apartment if she was?). A lot of Monica’s character early on (in her pre-Richard phase at least) is coming to terms with herself about who she is, and embracing that personality.
It makes her return to the dance studio that much more rewarding: when she does her goofy steps, the teacher calls her out for not doing it wrong, to which Monica responds “But at least I’m doing it!” Part of Monica’s neurotic nature comes from her mother – a fact that’s well known, but only mentioned once through the episode. She’s always been a disappointment to her mother: Monica could never dance to the cadence that her mother often demanded. ‘Fake Monica’ is less about living vicariously through someone else, and more about Monica coming to terms that it’s ok to be the person she is.
It’s a rare moment of subtle character work for Monica – so it’s not really surprising that the rest of the episode can’t match the effort put into Monica’s arc. There’s a big reach with Marcel’s departure, a non-character who Ross is attached to on way too many pathetic levels – although the addition of John Sebastian was a great touch to close the episode. I’ve complained about that monkey a lot, but I think it’s more out of disappointment – what is a gimmick thinly disguised as serious character development. There are moments where the show takes it seriously, but there are also episodes where the monkey’s not a metaphor for fatherly responsibility, it’s a fake girlfriend or kid going off to college for Ross.
But no matter how detracting Ross’s material can be, Monica’s moments are some of the most quietly rewarding arcs Friends has in the show’s run, a complete 180 from Rachel’s plot in the previous episode…. plus we finally got rid of that fucking monkey!!!!
- Phoebe just acts like a ten year old through the episode… I always knew her character was underdeveloped, but rewatching the series has revealed that she was really only written one or two episodes a season (minus her pregnancy arc), and simply floated around the rest of the time.
- Manana… it’s Pennsylvania Dutch.
- Joseph Stalin is a badass stage name, I don’t care what the reputation is behind it. Much better than Old McGroin.
- Not Monica’s performance is very amateurish: her comedic pauses are way too obvious, particularly when delivering her schtick about Dead Poet’s Society turning her into a felon.
- Why is Phoebe playing a Game Boy?