‘The One with Phoebe’s Dad’ (aired 12/14/95)
For a Christmas episode, ‘The One with Phoebe’s Dad’ thankfully goes light on the sentimentality, using the holiday and weather as more of a backdrop than anything else. And for a Phoebe episode, there’s a surprising amount of restrain from the writers at embracing her weirdness, giving her a very enjoyable, somber story that begins an important character arc for her over the next two seasons.
This is not to say its a perfect episode: the Ross/Rachel squabbling in the background reaches an ugly point, as Rachel’s hurt feelings turn him into a nag, and her into an absolute bitch towards Ross (and Mr. Treeger, their super), insulting them at every turn and just being downright cruel to Mr. Treeger when he asks for a kiss under the mistletoe. Not only is she not funny, but she becomes reprehensible, presenting us with a number of examples why Ross and Rachel would never, ever work as a couple in real life. They’re petty, they hold grudges against each other, and they can’t have a mature conversation about anything, thanks to the need to insert jokes in every argument. There is a brief moment when their interactions ring true – Rachel calls out Ross for not seizing the moment, mentioning that it took him a year to express his feelings to her – but it’s a small bright spot on an otherwise hideously-written moment for an impending relationship we’re supposed to be investing in.
Phoebe’s material was much stronger, one of the only times I can honestly say I wish there were more scenes with her. Her search for her father is one of the best arcs the show ever does (though it won’t completely resolve itself until season 5’s ‘The One with Joey’s Bag’), and her struggles to actually get out of her grandmother’s taxi and meet him add a very somber tone to the episode. Sure, she’d like to meet her father – but what if he’s still a scumbag? She’s already learned he’s not a tree surgeon in Burma, and realizes that maybe an imaginary father whose face is in a lot of photo frames is better than the potentially terrible person waiting for her behind the door (“I already lost an imaginary father” she tells Joey and Ross, “I don’t want to lose another one”). It displays Phoebe’s internal strength in a way the show’s only shown twice – her magnificent arc in season one’s ‘The One with the Monkey’, and terribly in this season’s ‘The One with Phoebe’s Husband’.
Unfortunately, Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler are separated for a large chunk of the episode, and can’t give any life to the ‘hot’ party in Monica’s apartment. I wish there was more done with the ungratefulness of people during the holidays – everybody throwing their cookies back in their face is a funny way to show how broke Rachel and Monica are (despite affording their massive apartment with a balcony), but it doesn’t extend past that, except to remind us how nice and goofy Mr. Treeger is (he loved them). Without the Phoebe story, this would be one of the worst episodes of the season – Ross and Rachel are annoying as hell, and Monica’s basically a non-entity, more of a reactionary character than someone who has anything interesting to say. But in the spirit of Christmas, I’m thankful for what we get with Phoebe – a strong, defining moment for a character normally left floating in the wind.
– Joey and Chandler bought Monica condoms for Christmas: “they’re ribbed for your pleasure!”
– Phoebe drops some personally relevant NY town references in her search for her father: I went to Ithaca College (in Ithaca, obviously), and grew up in a town 15 minutes from Oneonta. 607 stand up!
– Joey mentions trying to sleep with his boss’s ex-wife. When the fuck did he get a job?
– Phoebe’s mother drops one of the most terribly-written lines in Friends history: she hands Phoebe a picture of her father, and says “This is the real him.”
– Monica’s ‘big’ joke is a stereotype: she tells Ross that Mr. Treeger “looks like he’s playing baseball,” because her vagina prevents her from knowing what “playing hardball” means.
– Gunther is definitely not wearing pants at the Christmas party (odd, considering how little the characters like him as the show continues).
– It’s ok Ross – everyone wore too much hair gel in the 90’s, including me.
– Look at Fat Naked Ugly Guy’s Christmas balls!
‘The One with Russ’ (aired 1/4/96)
Let’s remove all the jokes and look at the main story of the episode (not the titular one… we’ll get to that), exploring the relationship between Fun Bobby and Monica. We’ve heard Fun Bobby’s name before (I don’t think we met him in season one – or if so, briefly), and when we meet him, he’s all buddy-buddy with everybody in the Central Perk crew. He understands these people, they love him – and most importantly, he makes Monica happy with his vivacious ways.
So what’s the problem? Well, Fun Bobby is a drunk, and when Monica tries to deal with the situation, Bobby’s surprisingly open to the idea, making light of his situation (“I’d make it Belgian but those damn waffles won’t fit in the flask”, he tells Monica) but ultimately realizing it’s what he needs to do to make Monica happy. So he stops drinking – and in the process, goes from being Fun Bobby to the most dull person on earth.
This story really, really unsettles me to this day. Originally, I thought it was because the episode equated drinking with being fun – but that’s not really true (these people just have sex with someone whenever they drink), and is a very broad approach to the topic. Upon rewatching it, I think I’ve nailed what bothers me so damn much in the episode: Monica.
Why Monica? Her big arc this season doesn’t come until the second half, spending most of her time this season losing her job and apparently having no struggles whatsoever with being unemployed (save for the Mockolate incident back in ‘The One with the List’). I completely understand the point of the Fun Bobby episode: to establish that Monica’s still dating people, coming so close to finding the right guy every time until that one trope-ridden quirk comes flying out in the final few minutes (like in ‘The Pilot’). For Bobby, it’s that he becomes dull when he doesn’t drink – which Monica promptly dumps him for, after realizing she can’t just get drunk all the time around him.
Making Bobby boring after he stops drinking? That’s ok, I suppose – but Monica’s initial interference into his drinking habits, then dumping him mere weeks after he stops drinking is just not a healthy thing to do. Yes, if something’s not going to work, why force it – but does Monica give it much of a chance? Does she realize – or even consider – that maybe Bobby’s going through serious withdrawals or a bout of depression (two VERY common things for people who just quit drinking to deal with)? Recovering from alcoholism is not something that can be done easily alone – and when the girl you quit drinking for dumps you a week later, in real life, Fun Bobby’s ‘boring’ demeanor would very likely lead him back to drinking, and probably worse than before.
What I’m saying is that the writers make Monica very selfish and insensitive, sending someone she was trying to ‘fix’ back into the world broken, simply because she wasn’t as entertained by him when he was sober. Well, no shit: the guy was probably dealing with severe withdrawals which would make any capital-F Fun person mellow out quite a bit. To me, Sober Bobby is not a funny character at all (nor is Monica’s response to him) – he’s a disturbingly unstable one, caused by Monica and then tossed to the wind when she wasn’t entertained anymore.
It’s very off-putting – and it doesn’t help that nothing funny happens around them for the whole episode (the only amusing moments are when we meet Estelle and her no-bullshit ways, sitting in her office with her cigarette Rolodex-like contraption and spewing hammy dialogue for two minutes). The whole Ross/Russ thing is vapid in every sense of the word: first, Rachel’s too dumb to realize who she is dating; and second, there’s never anything established between them (or Russ and Ross) except LOOK HOW SIMILAR THEY ARE – ISN’T THAT FUNNY! The best joke is probably Russ’s speaking rhythms, which is essentially the same joke the show’s done before (with both Ross and Chandler) shown through the surrogate of Russ. It all feels like an excuse to use the technology they utilized when Ursula appears in the first season – and more disturbingly, once she finds out he’s like Ross, she says “Ew!” and runs away. Hardly a sign that she’s still interested in Ross in anyway, right? Oh, right, I forgot: she’s “not anything at him anymore”, because her feelings are gone for some inexplicable reason we never really get to find out.
It’s frustrating – for the second episode in a row, there is a ton of potential in the stories of the episode, even Joey trying to deal with sleeping with someone to get an acting gig on Days of our Lives (a subplot that takes up all of three scenes, and shows us that Joey makes spaghetti sauce when stressed – something he’d never, ever do again). But the humor of the episode is so utterly superficial and undermines the plots in such a disturbing way, ‘The One with Russ’ is easily one of my least favorite episodes in the entire series, right up there with some of the more painful, regressive entries of later seasons.
– no theater critic would ever write the phrase “brilliant new levels of sucking.” I’m just sayin’.
– Joey’s inability to say ‘have sex’ can be amusing sometimes: “I had to send the little general in.” See, Joey’s dick was once was a major, but earned a promotion after recent conquests. Misogyny at its finest, ladies and gentlemen!
– I don’t care what you say; there’s nothing better than an Irish coffee on Flag Day.
– six people drank two bottles of wine between them, but Bobby drank three to himself – and not only did nobody notice until he left, but he managed to leave the apartment looking and acting completely sober!
– quick side note: I’ll be covering three episodes next week, thanks to the two-part ‘The One After the Superbowl’ (the most-watched episode in series history by the way, with 52.9 million to the series finale’s 52.5 million).
– another side note: starting next week, I’ll be reviewing the extended versions of episodes found on the DVD release, instead of the standard broadcast offerings. Wish I could’ve done it from the start, but only now got my hands on the DVD’s I’d never pay $190 for.