There was a brief news story on the radio last week about the sitcom “Friends”. It reported that the show has now become very popular with teenagers, many of whom weren’t even born when the final episode was originally broadcast in May 2004. That was nearly 15 years ago, but “Friends” has never really gone away. The various channels related to Channel 4 here in the UK, E4 in particular, used to show repeats most days. Some weekends they seemed to be broadcasting nothing else. Then, for a few years, the show moved to some channel that was not free-to-air. Now it’s back, every day except Saturday, on Channel 5. Its return to free-to-air TV might partly explain why a younger generation has started watching it but that brief news report attributed the show’s new-found popularity to Netflix. It also claimed that many of these new viewers prefer to watch on tablets and phones, alone, rather than with the rest of the family on regular, old-fashioned TV.
Over the last few months we too, as a family, have started to watch old re-runs of Monica (my favourite friend), Chandler, Rachel, Joey, Ross and Phoebe. It began with a few episodes one Sunday in the autumn, on Channels 5 and 5+1. Now we have it on “series record” on our multi-channel box. We have learnt that the ten episodes shown on a Sunday are the same as the double-bills shown Monday to Friday, between 4pm and 5pm, the previous week. We are up to Series 9. In recent weeks we have seen Chandler and Monica get married, Rachel have her baby and Phoebe start her relationship with Mike. Assuming that Channel 5 continues to broadcast 10 different episodes per week in their original order, we will have reached the end of Series 10, and the show’s conclusion, before the end of February. And then, I guess, we’ll go round again and note how much younger all the characters looked in Series 1.
Before Christmas I wondered whether to buy the box-set of DVDs. It’s a sign of the show’s continued success that this still retails at £50. You might get the complete set of other comedies for a tenner but “Friends” has retained its value. I decided not to buy it. Watching up to 10 episodes per week, either live on TV or shortly afterwards from the recordings, is enough. Unlike around 150 million families around the world, we do not subscribe to Netflix but maybe we will at some point in 2019, and if so we will have access to all 236 editions without having to get them on DVD.
Our daughter, aged 12, has spent some time on her tablet looking at “Friends” clips on YouTube but generally she has watched whole episodes with my wife or me, or both of us, on regular TV. Our son (aged 14) has caught the odd half-hour but has not been so into it. Our daughter often watches the first of the day’s recordings soon after she gets back from school. By the time she goes to bed she will be up-to-date with that day’s events. It all feels more manageable, and sensible, than bingeing on multiple hours’ worth of shows. When “Friends” originally aired we only had 30 minutes’ worth of it every week, at 9pm on a Friday.
Back then we didn’t notice quite how many references there were, in just about every episode, to sex and porn. There was, famously “The One with the Free Porn” but the subject is referenced repeatedly in other episodes. A major storyline in Series 9 is Chandler and Monica’s desire to start a family, so they’re at it all the time, but even so (we learnt on Friday) Chandler is still ordering pay-per-view porn on cable. Joey’s persona is built around the number of women he sleeps with (“How you doing?”) but on the night of Chandler and Monica’s wedding he still ordered porn in everyone’s else’s hotel rooms (including the bridal suite). This stuff is more noticeable when you’re watching with your 12-year-old daughter but fortunately it hasn’t led to too many awkward questions. We’re still at the stage where many of the references come and go without having to be explained. Instead we are building up a whole new set of catchphrases. We are particularly fond of Ross’s sandwich-related rage back in Series 5, which you can see for yourself here. Who would have thought that the phrase “You ate my sandwich?” would bring so much entertainment all these years later?