‘The One with the Lesbian Wedding’ (aired 1/18/96)
It’s funny to think about how some considered ‘The One with the Lesbian Wedding’ a ‘controversial’ episode back in 1996: two stations even refused to air it because of its content. ‘Lesbian Wedding’ in no way tries to be A Very Special Episode, or even make a big point about gay marriage at all. Even in 2013, it’s kind of a refreshing portrayal of the whole situation, with every character openly accepting the wedding without a second thought or hesitation about what it meant. Yes, Monica does voice that it’s “ok” for them to get married because they love each other, but it’s the only moment like that in the whole episode. It’s nice to see love just be allowed to be love on a television show, without having to pander or trying to make some overt message about gay rights that already speaks for itself.
The lesbian wedding isn’t without its flaws, though: when Susan’s parents back out of attending, Susan for unknown reasons suggests they should just cancel the wedding, which sends Carol in a frenzy, yada yada yada. Ross pointing out that the marriage is for them not her parents is a blatantly obvious one, and the melodramatics only serve a repetitive purpose: Ross coming terms with their relationship, something he’s already done multiple times in the season. It’s not something the show lingers on for too long, but it feels like Ross is slipping back into the season one version of himself when he’s boycotting the wedding, or clinging onto Susan as he walks her up the aisle.
‘Lesbian Wedding’ (and the two episodes following it) thankfully give us a break on the Ross/Rachel nonsense littered about the first half of the season – but doesn’t do the greatest job finding interesting material to bide it’s time with. The worst of these (as usual) is Phoebe, who walks around with the spirit of an old woman inside her for the whole episode, all because poor Mrs. Adeleman needed to see a lesbian wedding before she’d “seen it all” and could move on to the other side. It’s nothing more than a series of old person cliches fed through Phoebe’s mouth in an old woman’s voice, like a body-switching comedy at its worst.
Rachel and her mother’s material is better – although it’s fairly simplistic stuff, save for the brief deleted scene where her mother talks about how she’s been in a daze for most of her marriage, only now realizing how unhappy she’s always been. Why they kept all the Phoebe junk in and cut this scene out amazes me; it’s the only time there’s a connection made between Sandra and Rachel beyond “Sandra wants her youth back”, and it really feels like there’s an understanding relationship between the two of them. I like the subtleties of that scene more than the surface-level emotional moment we got in the broadcast version, where Sandra tells Rachel “You didn’t marry your Barry… I married mine.” The deleted scene gives us meaningful insight into Sandra’s emotions, and puts into context the dichotomy between what Sandra sees in Rachel’s life, and what it’s like to actually live it (this might be the only time Rachel is worried to pay rent, by the way).
For an episode steeped in such touchy material for its time (I suppose it’s still a touchy subject now for religious types with their Bibles in a bunch), ‘The One with the Lesbian Wedding’ is a quieter episode than one might expect – and compared to the quality of most episodes in this first half of the season, is one of the better, more emotionally honest entries. Plus there’s no Ross/Rachel bickering, which is always a major plus in my book.
– the person who marries Susan and Carol is Newt Gingrich’s sister and gay-rights advocate Candace Gingrich. The more you know!
– speaking of the lesbian wedding: what was with the hats Susan and Carol were wearing? It’s sad NBC felt they had to minimize physical contact between them, the wedding is just kind of blase without the two of them being able to be expressive.
– Sandra: “I want a Chandler.”
– Rachel voices something we all assume as adults who grew up with married parents: who thinks their parents will get divorced once you’re an adult?
– does anybody really think Joey knows what ‘futile’ means?
‘The One After the Superbowl (Parts I & II) (aired 1/28/96)
Fact: this was the most-watched episode of Friends in its run. Yes, even more people watched this episode live than watched the series finale eight years later. And it’s a hard episode to watch, because it seems to serve one singular purpose: show how crazy women are!!!
It begins with guest star Brooke Shields, a ‘hot stalker’ who is obsessed with Joey’s Dr. Drake Ramoray character on Days of our Lives. So what does Joey do? Has sex with her, even though he knows she’s mentally unstable – and while he’s doing it, continues to lie to her about who he is! Not only is none of it amusing, but it shows how ignorant American culture was to mental instability in the mid-1990’s when this aired. It’s an insensitive portrayal of a disturbed woman, with every character on the show feeding her into it more (they send her off to Salem, Massachusetts to go find the real Drake, for fuck’s sake!).
In another corner of the Friends world, Monica and Rachel are fighting over who gets to date Jean-Claude Van Damme. That’s right – their entire arc in the episode is to show Monica’s jealousy at the guys who want to date Rachel over her, with multiple cat fights between them as they undermine each other at every turn. After Monica BEGS Rachel to set her up on a date, she does, telling JCVD that she wanted to have a threesome with her and Drew Barrymore (JCVD warns Monica: “Drew has very strict ground rules”). Hey, look at how crazy we get over a hot man!
It’s actually offensive to both sexes: the women are shown to be psychotic over the mere whiff of an attractive, wealthy man – and the man in between them is presented as insensitive, misogynistic, and not much more than a talking, walking dick with a face. Part of this is because JCVD can emote about as well as a dead fish can (his small handful of line readings are so awful, it’s almost breath-taking), but it’s also because there are so many gender stereotypes (on both sides of the aisle) being gleefully inserted by the writers of the episode.
Rounding out the Trident of Psychotic Menstruation is Julia Roberts, who I’d argue is one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood. This role certainly doesn’t do anything to change my mind, a paper-thin sociopath who seduces Chandler just to get back at him for something he did in the fourth grade. By gods, is this sub-plot stupid: it’s really just a lot of Julia Roberts making “hot” faces (moments she plays so hard, it comes across as unintentional parody) and Chandler being awkward, which is funny, but mostly ineffective when it’s all in service of a childhood moment nobody would ever, ever still be holding a grudge on two decades later. Kids get over that shit – and it makes Robert’s character even more crazy than Monica and Rachel in the episode – leaving Phoebe as the sanest female in the room, showing just how ridiculous this episode is.
If all these ludicrous female portrayals weren’t enough, ‘The One After the Superbowl’ is topped off with the return of Marcel, Ross’s monkey. It takes the entire first part to get to the fact that Marcel is now a movie star, in NY to film Outbreak 2. Did we need this whole “Ross and Marcel moving on” plot? I don’t really see what purpose it serves, except to make more unnecessary, laughless jokes personifying Marcel. Why they felt the need to bring Marcel back, I’ll never understand – and I understand less the way they decide to it, trying to rejuvenate an emotional bond between Ross and a character nobody gave a shit about. As the emotional crux of this two-parter, it renders the whole 45 minutes pointless, except for the fact it’s the last time we’ll ever have to see (and hear, I believe) about that damn monkey ever again. If anything, ‘The One After the Superbowl’ gave us that.
– the one bright spot of the two episodes: Phoebe trying to bring her honest music to children, and failing miserably. I love that Phoebe is trying to bring some reality to these kids, who embrace
– at one point during their first fight, Monica pulls off Rachel’s sock and starts beating her with it. Pretty badass.
– Chandler’s response to Susie at dinner: “Because I went to an all-boys high school, and this is God’s way of making up for it?”
– Ross when he sees Joey looking down into a bathroom stall: “Joey, some people don’t like that.”
– Susie’s a make-up artist who says to herself at one point: “I hate actors.” That’s the extent of Friends and meta-humor (also appeared in the previous episode, when Rachel mentioned her sister should copy her hairdo).
– the writers make JVCD SUCH A SCUMBAG – he obviously didn’t give a shit about that, though.
– Phoebe: “What do they want me to be, some big… purple dinosaur or something? …… Who’s Barney?”