Friday, June 28, 2013

Friends Friday: Episodes 1.8 and 1.9

Episode 1.8: "The One Where Nana Dies Twice"

Ima go ahead and say that this is officially the first episode that truly feels like a Friends episode to me. All the character dynamics are in place, people are talking and acting the way that they will for seasons to come, and the situation has the right balance of pathos and comedy that the show's better episodes have.

The premise is a simple one: Ross and Monica's grandmother has died... or not? ("She may have died. We're looking into it.") Not only does this mean that we get more screen time from the world's best sitcom parents, but we also get to see Ross and Monica's sibling dynamic explored more deeply. This will be mined for its emotional, hilarious depths in subsequent seasons, but we're just getting a peek of the madness to come.


We see that Nana/Judy's relationship parallels Judy/Monica's relationship in a way that can be acknowledged but, ultimately, not overcome. Ross connects to his dead grandmother through her sugar packet collection and then, after falling into an open grave (natch), gets high on pain pills. He becomes very... open. With everyone around him.


The B-plot on this episode is as strong as the A-story: Chandler's co-worker (sporting the world's most gigantic, awesome polka dot shirt dress) mistakenly thinks he is gay, leading to him discovering that he has a 'quality.' What's funny about this is not that he's possibly gay, at least to me. It's that universal feeling that you have been misunderstood and then getting really defensive about it. What takes it to the next level is that by the end of the episode, he's able to own that misperception, and results in him declaring: "I could get a Brian!"

Things are holding steady in the hook-up round-up, with Monica retaining her lead over Phoebe.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: IIII
Phoebe: III
Rachel: II
Joey: II
Chandler: II
Ross: I

Best line:

"When my time comes, I want to be buried at sea - it look like fun... Everyone thinks I'm so predictable. After I'm gone, they'll say, 'Buried at sea - huh.'" - Jack Geller on his death

"Well, don't we look nice all dressed up?... It's stuff like that, isn't it?" - Chandler on his 'quality'

"Not the first two, but the second two - Whoa!" - Ross on his happy pills

"That is a wonder." - Monica on her mother's alleged positivity

Episode 1.9: "The One Where Underdog Gets Away"

This is fundamental, transitional moment for the friends. While they have been acting as a stand-in family for each other throughout the year, this is the first moment when they realize that they are more than a substitute family unit. They really have formed loyal, family dynamics that are as constant and complex as any blood relationship can be. 

Everyone wants to get home to their families for Thanksgiving. No one gets home to their families for Thanksgiving. And by the end of the episode, no one will care about getting home to their families for Thanksgiving again in any season, because when they gather round Monica's overladen table, they are truly home. *awww*

This episode is a highlight of the first season, setting up gags that will pay off for years to come (including the first iteration of Chandler's ever evolving Thanksgiving-from-hell yarn). It's also the first of many fantastic Thanksgiving episodes to come. AND it's the first episode with the new, much improved Carol, on the scene to remind us that Ross is going to have a baby. Thank heavens for that plot, because otherwise, we wouldn't have gotten to seen Susan's fantabulously epic mom jeans and heard her refer to Ross as "Bobo the Sperm Guy."

Again, no hook-ups. All's quiet on the sexy front for now...

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: IIII
Phoebe: III
Rachel: II
Joey: II
Chandler: II
Ross: I

Best line:

"You have to take a class. Otherwise, they don't let you do it." - Susan on being a lesbian

"Hey, hey, I'm your daddy/ I'm the one without any breasts." - Ross' take on the Monkees' theme

"Ugly Naked Guy has an Ugly Naked Gal!" - Phoebe

"I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm thankful that all your thanksgivings sucked." - Chandler

The AV Club seems to have quite a different take on Friends than I do at this point... we'll see if that continues the longer the rewatch rolls on.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friends Friday: Episodes 1.6 and 1.7

Episode 1.6: "The One with the Butt"

To be honest, I don't have much to say about this one. It's fine - there are definitely some laughs. But it's exactly what I don't love about the first season. Just flat and sitcomy.

There are some great points. The opening glimpse of Joey's musical, Freud!, is my favorite of his bad acting jobs. We also see Estelle for the first time, who is a wonderful recurring character, and we also see Chandler do his first "bllaahh, blaahh, blllllaaaaahh" of the show. Love that. Monica's OCD comes into play, but not in any way that's very interesting.



The rest is basically a snooze. It's nice to see them being so supportive of Joey, but... meh. Not the best.

One hook-up from this episode... when polyamory goes bad: Chandler & Aurora

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: III
Rachel: II
Phoebe: II
Chandler: II
Ross: I
Joey: I

Best line:
"A thing through which you can tinkle, or play with, or simply let hang." - Joey

"Thank God you din't try to fan out the magazines. I mean, she'll scratch your eyes right out." - Chandler

Episode 1.7: "The One with the Blackout"

This is more like it! The blackout provides fun fodder for the friends to play with - starting with Phoebe's aborted attempt at coffee house music.



We also have her singing a great song about souring milk and "Top of the World"... am I alone in being doubtful about Phoebe's skills to do that?

The stuff that's going on in the apartment is pretty good - Joey's prognostication of "Never gonna happen" pretty much sums up where we are in the Ross/Rachel arc. Their chemistry is building at a nice pace throughout the season and this is perhaps the first episode where I feel thoroughly invested in that relationship. Ross' later confrontation of Paolo "Crap Weasel" Italian Guy is lovely, and I enjoy Joey being a good friend to Ross in trying to get Rachel. It shows his softer side. (We also see Mr. Heckles for the first time... Love. Him.)

But the highlight of this episode is Chandler trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre... or as he tells Joey- "Emm apped en anaytemwestable wit ill GOOachre." Perry's comedic skills are given free rein as he reacts to his voiced-over internal monologue, leading to him accidentally spitting his gum out and then choking on the stranger's gum he picks up. And we get one of the best lines in Friends history: "Gum would be perfection."

Hook ups for 1.7 are more numerous, as we find out about some of the Friends' randier moments (especially Wisconsin sex...): Monica & the Pool Table Guy, Joey & the Library Girl, and Phoebe & the Milwaukee Guy.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: IIII
Phoebe: III
Rachel: II
Joey: II
Chandler: II
Ross: I

Best line:
"And the milk is getting sour/But for me it isn't scary/Cuz I stay away from dairy." - Phoebe

"Technically the sex is not being had." - Ross

"Bob Buttons. You owe me a cat." - Mr. Heckles

As always, see AV Club's recaps for 1.6 and 1.7

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friends Friday: Episodes 1.4 and 1.5

Episode 1.4 - "The One with George Stephanopolis"

This is the first episode that sees the friends split into two plot lines along gender lines - the boys go to a hockey game and watch Ross freak out about losing Carol and the girls have a slumber party and watch Rachel freak out about her lack of direction.

The hockey plot line doesn't really work for me on any level - the hospital high-jinks feel too contrived and Ross's fixation on the day he lost his virginity to Carol seems rather odd. I think they were trying to convey the existential despair that you can get on big "anniversary" days, but it would have worked better if it was their actual wedding anniversary. That seems more believable as something that would drive Ross into contemplative gloom. Maybe it was just an excuse to reveal that Ross has only had sex with one person?

The slumber party plot works much better. It gets cued up by Rachel's old friends (and I do mean old - they look 10 years older than Rachel and dress like biddies in a retirement home) visiting her at work and sending her into what feels like a much more legitimate moment of existential despair. Everyone in her old life is having these big life moments... and she's working as a waitress with no career path, no man, and no purpose. She perfectly taps into the insecurity of your 20s when she asks Monica and Phoebe: "But what if it doesn't come together?" Oi. No wonder they all start moping around after that, only to be buoyed by a naked George Stephanopolis (was he a sexy guy at this time? maybe?). 

Their speculations about what each of the guys would be like in bed with intercutting shots of the guys goofing off at the hospital is comedic gold and makes that whole other plot line worthwhile, I'll concede that. 

We also get the first appearance of what I'll call "aggressive Phoebe" in this episode, which is frankly one of the best things about an other wise middling 22 minutes. Her anger spills over when she sees the lady across the street eating their pizza - and reveals that her ditzy positivity is masking something a lot darker. Here's a confession, which I know many people will disagree with me on - Phoebe is far and away my least favorite of the friends. I don't really love that flighty facade she's playing up most of the time in the early seasons. But what I do love is when that facade drops and we see the true toll that having a truly shitty childhood took on her. Aggressive Phoebe is not only much funnier than ditzy Phoebe - she's also much more real. 

This week also sees the first of many memorable games that the friends play together. Hooray for Twister...


And it's cute to end the episode with Rachel realizing that if nothing else, she has supportive relationships to carry her through and that means she's going to be okay. *Awwww...*

This week, we learn that both Phoebe and Monica hooked up with Jason Hurley at separate times. Monica pulls ahead in the round-up. 

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: III
Rachel: II
Ross: I
Phoebe: I
Chandler: 0
Joey: 0

Best line:

Of course, "THAT'S NOT FOR YOU, BITCH!" - Phoebe

"Hey, that woman has an ass like Carol's... What? I thought we were finding stuff." - Joey

Episode 1.5 - "The One With the German Laundry Detergent"

Sigh. You know what I'm going to say. We ONCE AGAIN start with a sex discussion. At least this one is mildly funny, getting Joey's take on boobs and ending with that great one liner of "multiple orgasms!" 



And at least this episode is one of the first ones that feels almost wholly diverting. We see the gang paired off into 3 guy-girl relationship building plots: Ross and Rachel doing laundry, Joey and Monica trying to break a couple up, and Chandler and Phoebe breaking up with their significant others. For the first time, all the story lines have something in them that is both funny and substantial.

For Joey and Monica, we see Friends Behaving Badly. A recurring theme throughout the rest of the series emerges - the friends are emboldened to be transgressive by another friend joining in and egging them on. Monica knows that they shouldn't be purposefully trying to destroy this couple, but Joey makes it sound so appealing. We get an early glimpse of these two's chemistry- Monica as Joey's slightly exasperated but doting best gal pal. 

Ross and Rachel are clearly the dramatic core of the episode. For the first time, we see Ross' feelings established in a more substantial way. He really does like Rachel and has all the butterflies that go along with that. It's great to see them bond over Rachel's burgeoning adulthood with Ross acting as her supportive cheerleader. He shows her the ropes and by the end of the episode, we not only see their first kiss (complete with yet another demonstration of Schwimmer's gifts in physical comedy) but also Rachel coming into her own as a competent adult. Not to mention her taking out a kente-cloth wearing bee-yotch (who is just unrealistically mean).


We also see a rare Chandler and Phoebe plotline which shows off why it was a shame that they never found more for those two to do together - Phoebe's flighty, glass-half-full demeanor plays wonderfully against Chandler's insecure, glass-half-empty snark. They establish one of the series very best recurring characters: Janice. In this incarnation, she's an actual human being. She cares about Chandler and reacts very naturally to someone who does the world's worse job of breaking up with her. It gives her a chance to say one of my most quoted line from the show ("Stop it, stop it, stop it!") and Phoebe a chance to shine as the break-up whisperer. 

A couple of continuity points annoyed me in this episode - in the previous episode, we established that Rachel does her own laundry and that Ross has (very weirdly) told Monica about when he lost his virginity. Yet in this episode, these established points are clearly contradicted by the girls - there are some other continuity errors coming up, making me wonder if these earlier episodes were written to be shown in a different order. 

We add three paramours to the round-up this week: Chandler & Janice, Phoebe & Tony, and Joey & Angela. Monica holds her lead into the next turn...

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Monica: III
Rachel: II
Phoebe: II
Ross: I
Chandler: I
Joey: I

Best line: 

"All right, show's over." - Ross

Ross- "Your bras and your under panty things."
Rachel - "Well, what about these, these are white cotton panties?"
Ross- "That... that would be a judgment call."

Last but not least, see the AV Club's assessment 

See you next Friday!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Books Like Whoa: Summer Reads (2013 Edition)

Hola, people! Hey, did you know that it's summer (ish)? Which, for some reason, means that people get reinvigorated about reading. I think the idea is that people have more time to read, but I always find that idea never really plays out for me. There's too much socializing to do for me to get much reading done -  when things cool down and everyone goes into hibernation, that's when my prime reading happens. How can I focus on a book with all the fun-ness happening?



I do concede, however, that long flights and pool lounging on vacay are prime reading slots. With that in mind, I thought I would round up some lists that are floating around with suggestions for what you can read throughout the sunny season:

New York Times Beach Reads

The Guardian's Compilation of Author and Critics' Summer Reading

Entertainment Weekly's 10 Beach Reads

Salon's Summer Reading List

Summer Reads From Mashable

TED Talk's Epic Beach Reading List

LA Times' Summer Reads

WaPo's 10 Coming of Age Novels for the Summer

Mashable's 23 YA Summer Reads

Paste's 20 New Books for Summer

Book Riot's Compilation of YA Summer Reads

The Guardian's List for Holiday Reading This Summer

The New York Times' Hosts an Author Debate Over The Best Summer Reads

If none of these lists has something that revs your engine, I have three other suggestions of what you can read to distract yourself from the sweltering sun that is giving you melanomas.

For sassy women and the men who love them...

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran



Okay, these personal essays are rather crass. I concede that. BUT... they are also really funny and really insightful. And Moran says somethings that need to be said more often in the Western world, while making a pretty compelling case for why feminism needs to keep being a thing. She made me laugh out loud multiple times, besides moving me with her depiction of her impoverished childhood.


For hipsters who want some brain food with their fun short stories...

Tenth of December by George Saunders



The New York Times called this the best book of the year - in January. So yeah, definitely highly praised and a "prestige" book (in the vein of Jonathan Frazen's perpetually over-hyped books), but this one delivers. The first story hooked me in, and though (as with every short story collection) some stories connected with me more than others, it was a fun ride all the way through. It is exciting to see an author who is concerned both with pushing their art forward AND entertaining their readers. Who'da thunk it?


For book nerds or techies who want a mystery that speaks their language...

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane


This is a slow burning mystery whose plot can be a little meander-y, but the writing has such a light touch and the characters are so endearing that it will keep you turning the pages.

What are you reading this summer?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friends Friday: Episode 1.2 and 1.3

Back with another Friends Friday! We got two early episodes... Not my favorites, but an interesting indicator of where the series ultimately goes.

Episode 1.2 - "The One with the Sonogram at the End"

So continues the established formula of entering the show mid sex conversation - this week's "taboo topic" was foreplay, with a somewhat tortured concert metaphor. And a masturbation allusion. Scandal! Seriously, I'm not old enough to know - was this groundbreaking stuff back in 1994? In a pre-Sex and the City world, maybe it was.



This episode also establishes some of the show's trademark elements, like Ross's job at the museum, the first Ugly Naked Guy appearance (with his thigh master!), Rachel's trademark hairstyle, the Mad About You tie-in of Ursula (Phoebe's ditzy, waitressing twin), Fat Monica, the Gellers, and the Barry/Mindy hookup.

Things turn around 3 main plots (as most Friends episodes do)- Monica freaking out about her parents coming, Rachel returning her engagement ring to Barry, and Ross finding out that his lesbian ex-wife is having his baby. Which leads to another instance of his perfectly delivered greeting...


I can't help feeling bad for Ross here - I'm sorry, but Susan is such a pushy jerk here. She's the other woman and she's acting like he's completely out of line in wanting his biological child to carry his name. Seriously - she can't understand why this is hard for him? And I don't like this original Carol. The one who ends up being in the series long term is a much better actress.

The real highlight of the episode is the introduction of the Gellers. We see less and less of them as the Friends establish themselves more, which is a shame, because Eliot Gould and Christina Pickles are GENIUS. Especially Gould as Jack - he makes any scene he's in about a thousand times funnier. The producers do an amazing job throughout the series of casting parents for each of the friends that make sense for the characters - you can see how each of them got to be the way they are from their families. This is so true for the Gellers - Jack's good-natured dopeyness combined with Judy's smothering criticism very clearly translate to Ross and Monica's intelligence and neurosis.

And stray observation - based on Rachel's comments, Barry must have been an ogre before he cleaned himself up for Mindy.

No additional sexual partners mentioned in this episode, so the stands remain the same as last week.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Rachel: II
Monica: I
Ross: I
Chandler: 0
Joey: 0
Phoebe: 0

Best line: 
"Other people are fine staying where they are - I'm telling you, these are the people who never get cancer... And I read about these women trying to have it all and I think, thank God our little Harmonica doesn't seem to have this problem." - Jack Geller

Episode 1.3 - "The One with the Thumb"

The sex/dating intros are getting old fast... this week, it's diplomatic lies we tell in dating. We also get a penis size debate. I'm looking forward to getting out of this tone in future episodes - it just comes off as them working too hard to be edgy or progressive or something. I don't know. It's not my favorite.

Translation of: "I think we should see other people."
All around, this isn't a favorite episode for me. The overarching joke of the episode (that the rest of the Friends are more attached to Alan the Perfect Guy than Monica is) doesn't really work for me - it feels too ham fisted and just too sitcom-y. 

To me, Chandler's smoking plot is much more successful. We get a sense of history (he's quit before, causing him and everyone around him a lot of pain), we see the friends acting as a moral guide a la a family unit, and we see grumpy, nicotine withdrawal Chandler (who is just the best). 


It provides the only highpoint of the whole thumb plot - Phoebe pays Chandler $7,000 to never smoke again. Which, technically, he ought to give back to her, because *spoilers* he definitely smokes again throughout the series. He also successfully turns the gang's nit-picking around on them, pointing out that accepting people's foibles is a core part of friendship. Of the flaws that he points out, only Ross' over pronunciation and Rachel's terrible waitressing stick. Monica's snort, Phoebe's hair chewing, and Joey's knuckle cracking don't really come back up throughout the series. 

There is some epic fashion happening in this episode. Chandler's crazy folk art tie and patchwork knit vest, Rachel's jean vest jacket, Monica's gigantic drawstring pinstripe pants, Phoebe's floral, cap-sleeved pant suit -- it is all amazing. And we get to see an ancient computer, which took me back to my Oregon Trail days. Awesome. 

And I had my first Gunther sighting!

So sexual partner tallying this week proves problematic - it isn't explicitly stated that Monica and Alan get down to business. However, I'm going to go ahead and say that if a break-up talk is required for one the friends' relationships, there was probably some sex involved. Dispute if you wish, but that's just how I'll go here. That said, let's add one to the list: Monica & Alan the Perfect Guy.

The Great Hook-Up Round-Up:
Rachel: II
Monica: II
Ross: I
Chandler: 0
Joey: 0
Phoebe: 0

Best line:
"Yeah, he could row like a viking..." - Ross

And finally, see this week's AV Club round-up for episodes 1.2 and 1.3.

Yay! This is fun guys :)