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Saturday 20 September 2014

Why we'll miss our absent Friends

Published 06/05/2004 | 00:11

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There have probably been events in human history as significant as the demise of Friends, which airs for the last time in the US tonight. Right now, it's hard to think of one. I'll Be There For You chirped the frankly evil theme song, but to a generation, Friends' real message was far more subversive.

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There have probably been events in human history as significant as the demise of Friends, which airs for the last time in the US tonight. Right now, it's hard to think of one. I'll Be There For You chirped the frankly evil theme song, but to a generation, Friends' real message was far more subversive.

Forget the big picture, it urged us. There is no big picture. Get yourself a finely tuned sense of irony and some wisecracking mates - let tomorrow worry about itself.

For those who came of age in 1990s Ireland, Friends' unstated mantra - a mishmash of slackerdom and Mammon worship - felt like a revelation. We were confident, educated and had the luxury of being able to goof through our 20s, unsure of where we were headed. Career, money, sex - we were free to conspicuously indulge ourselves to a degree previously unthinkable. We were also the first to discover it wasn't enough.

Friends chimed with our pampered confusion. Rachel, Chandler et al were bumbling through life too, less mature and at the same time strangely wiser than their parents had been at their age. Yeah, they lived in cathedral-sized apartments and were uniformly gorgeous - or seemed that way until we started to think of them less as TV characters than as surrogate soul mates. Yet they lived in the same key as us, fumbling their responsibilities, screwing up their love lives, wondering what it was all supposed to add up to anyway.

The show reflected 20-something anxieties but also refined our attitudes and outlook. Would Irish coffee culture have emerged quite so emphatically had Central Perk not inspired us? Pass an hour in a 'hip' Dublin pub today and you will see groups of young women clustered by the bar, neck deep in cocktails and tittle tattle, convinced that by looking as though they had recently fetched up from an episode of Sex and The City they will somehow inch closer to its $400 heels and loft-apartment lifestyle. Ten years ago, Friends' impact was equally dramatic; en masse we began to mooch around in coffee houses, where suddenly tattered sofas and weird brews - this is called a Mocha you say? - were ubiquitous.

Like all addictions, Friends had a murky side. Occasionally it made us feel safe, if not downright smug, in our under achievement. We were losers - but look, so was Chandler! Some of us clasped it like a safety blanket, overlooking the fact that Chandler could laugh at his nothing desk job only because he was a figment of a screen writer's imagination. And friends weren't always there for you. In Friends, six people chicks could hang out without any petty sexual jealousy, primary-school chauvinism and unrequited crushes. Our own lives almost never played out that way - how often does a Rachel fall for a Ross this side of the TV screen?

We forgave Friends its superficialities in part because it was always funny. Even at its corniest and most po-faced you knew a killer one-liner was only a cut-scene away. True, the gags were mostly riffs on a theme: Chandler was bone-dry ironic, Ross perennially dorky, Monica the neatness fascist. But they remained hilarious to the end.

Remember the 'which character are you' game? Your choice of friend was like an X-ray of your ego; the Chandler-wannabe believed himself a chain-gun wit. Ross-alike secretly fancied and wanted to marry you. Joey well, nobody thought they were a Joey. Which was rich, as sex-obsessed meat heads were not in short supply in the mid-1990s.

What makes the passing of Friends so poignant is that it has forced the series to acknowledge the real world. Unthinkably its characters have started to drift apart; linger on our screens any longer and Friends could plausibly have been rechristened Acquaintances. This seems like a minor bereavement. As we gaze back at our own 20s, at the possibilities that never came to fruition, those with whom we have lost touch, its demise has the feel of a last-boarding call. Life is moving on. Miss the ride and we could be floundering on the starting grid for ever.

Ed Power

...and did you know?

* The first line of dialogue in the very first pilot episode of Friends was: "There's nothing to tell."

* A 30-second commercial during the break in the show in America costs advertisers an estimated $1 million.

* Other titles considered for the series included Once Upon a Time in the West Village, Insomnia Café and Across the Hall. The original title, Friends Like Us, was shortened to Friends at the 11th hour.

* According to Jennifer Aniston, her famous hairdo was created by accident when a friend cut her hair with a razor.

* Matt LeBlanc (Joey) was down to his last $11 when he got the part in Friends.

* Central Perk is based on the Manhattan Café in New York's West Village.

* Famous guest stars on Friends have included George Clooney, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Winona Ryder.

* Matthew Perry (Chandler) is the son of an actor who starred in the Old Spice aftershave ads; his mother was press secretary to Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

* The whole cast huddled together before each episode to wish each other luck. This reportedly left frequent guest star Tom Selleck feeling left out.

* Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe) is the daughter of one of the world's leading experts on headaches.

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