The SmarK DVD Rant For Friends – Season Four

The SmarK DVD Rant for Friends Season Four

– And now, as we save the best for last (well, until a few weeks from now, when we get to the 7th season and onwards), as Friends absolutely hit its zenith in season 4 and produced the greatest year of comedy fans of the show had ever seen. In short, this year was the SHIT, and coming off the awesome third season, that’s saying something.

The Film

When we last left off, season 3 saw Phoebe meeting her birth mom in Montauk, while Ross was dating the formerly-bald Bonnie in order to get over Rachel, but Rachel, like the tides coming in and the moon changing phases, once again realizes that she loves Ross. And speaking of rapidly-changing phases, Matthew Perry managed to get off drugs in the off-season and maintain a semblance of a healthy weight for most of this season as a result.

And away we go

Disc One

– The One With The Jellyfish. The oh-so-obvious cliffhanger from season 3 saw Ross having to choose between hot ex-lover Rachel or bald weirdo Bonnie. Uh, gee, what a choice. But before there’s any make-up sex to be had, Rachel has one TINY request that he read and acknowledge a letter written by her about the whole situation, 18 pages, single-spaced, both sides. And it SO “does not”, even though he says it “does” because he fell asleep reading it and doesn’t know any better. Phoebe finds out the details of her birth mom’s weird relationship with Frank Sr. in high school, but ends up with a kindred spirit (and is there any more perfect casting than Teri Garr as a flakey blonde?). Monica and the guys head down to the beach, but Monica is stung by a jellyfish, leading to a resolution that leaves them unable to EVER talk about it. Except when they do, of course, because that’s what they do. Back in New York, Ross & Rachel have the sex, and then go into my all-time favorite and most quotable argument (“You fell AS-LEEP?”) and Ross dumps Rachel this time (“We are SO over!” “Uh, uh, uh FINE BY ME!” trust me, the delivery make this one of the legendary Ross-Rachel moments). The recanting of the jellyfish epic is awesomely funny, as is the big blowout and Rachel’s parting shot. Monica seemingly ends Chandler’s little quest for sex in a tactful way, but that topic would come up again in a big way in the season finale. Great opener.

– The One With the Cat. Chandler is sick of the home entertainment center and wants it gone, so Joey places an ad in the paper, and since it’s Joey, this is a more difficult proposition than you might imagine. Phoebe sees her mother’s spirit in a stray cat, which proved to be a huge real-life fight among the writers, and we’ll get to that in a minute. Monica dates the famous Chip Matthews from high school, but he’s still Chip Matthews from high school, if you know what I mean. First joke about no one having any idea what Chandler does for a living. Monica is very cute in this ep and for most of the season, as I’d call this season her cuteness peak. Later, after the marriage and her hair growth, she got more classically beautiful. Joey & Chandler barter for a canoe in a bizarre gag, but Joey gets locked in the cabinet and all their stuff is stolen. This is a callback to Joey getting locked in by Chandler in season 3, and it produces one of the funniest lines of the season (“If I ever run into that guy again, you know what I’m gonna do?” “BEND OVER?!?”) The only things NOT stolen are the Laurel & Hardy poster, and of course the Big White Dog, because even thieves have taste. The ending with Ross trying to do the right thing with regards to returning the cat to her owner, and the resulting guilt trip by Phoebe that leads to him being forced to apologize despite Phoebe’s stupidly irrational behavior is one of the low points of the show, only written because Marta Kauffman had recently lost her mother. She actually forced it through the screening process, because otherwise the entire storyline would have been shot down at the table read, according to an interview with one of the writers at the time. As a result, this is one of the most hated episodes among online fans, although it’s not BAD as much as morally offensive, I think. In fact, the mixup with the phone message from Chip is one of the funniest bits of the season. (“Oh yes, that’s right he called to ask out MONICA! That’s gotta be embarrassing.”)

– The One With The Cuffs. Joanna returns and Chandler hooks up with her again, but this time she’s not so much of a dull and boring dud. In fact, they’re having sex in her office and she handcuffs him to the chair and then leaves. This leaves Rachel with a dilemma when she finds out about his predicament. Meanwhile, Penn Gillette has a funny guest spot as an encyclopedia salesman trying to get Joey to buy the gift of knowledge. There’s not enough encyclopedias in the WORLD. He does, however, manage to scrape together enough for “V”, which allows him to converse for about 2 minutes before getting left behind again. Joey’s little moments of feeling dumb during normal conversations are actually pretty sweet. Monica, meanwhile, caters for her mom, but loses a nail in the quiche, thus “pulling a Monica”. Funny physical comedy from Matthew Perry here, leading to a funny payoff joke in the coffee shop at the end. And it’s nice to see Monica finally dealing with her mom in a mature fashion instead of like a teenager. Good, solid stuff.

– The One With The Ballroom Dancing. Joey confronts Treeger after he makes Rachel cry, but gets talked into helping the shy super learn to dance instead. Chandler & Ross try to quit the gym, but their power is TOO STRONG, and they get talked into an increasingly expensive series of stuff. Yes, it’s a WACKY STACK. Phoebe massages a hunky guy and fools around with him, so she gets fired for being a whore. Very charming Joey episode.

– The One With Joey’s New Girlfriend. Big huge Joey-Chandler story arc begins here, probably the most dramatic and well-written one ever, in fact. Yes, it’s time to meet Kathy, played by the breathtakingly funny and beautiful Paget Brewster (who later lit up the screen in the woefully underrated Andy Richter Controls the Universe), as Chandler hits on her in the coffee shop, only to discover she’s dating Joey. He immediately falls in love with her, but of course can’t tell Joey. Meanwhile, Ross & Rachel compete by having loser dates, which gets really pathetic. And Phoebe gets sick, but sounds all sexy with her phlegmy throat. Another big debut here, as Ross shows Rachel the DOUBLE-FIST~! That little attempt at a physical catchphrase DID catch into pop culture. Joey’s fascination with Die Hard is introduced here as well. Sick Monica is adorable, although when she was sick again in season six it was just disgusting. Not as disgusting as Phoebe’s attempts to catch Monica’s cold, however. This also has one of the show-stealing lines from Kathy, as she tries to set up an unreceptive Chandler (“Okay, well I also have some ugly friends and they’re all available too.”)

– The One With the Dirty Girl. Ross dates Rebecca Romjin, who is brilliant but lives in filth. And since this is a sitcom, she’s not just a LITTLE disorganized. Chandler buys Kathy a copy of the Velveteen Rabbit, but can’t give it to her because of the hiding of the love and all. Monica and Phoebe get into the catering business, but run into a woman who won’t pay. And Rachel does a crossword, all by herself. Sort of. Totally grown on me over the years because of all the Joey-Chandler moments (“She never had a birthday when I was going out with her!” “For three years?”), but nothing earth-shattering.

Disc Two

– The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line. Another great one, as the tension between Kathy and Chandler gets to be too much, and they kiss while Joey is on a date with another woman. We get more of Ross’s “music”, as he brings the keyboard back and plays some truly weird songs, oblivious to how much he sucks. Sounds like Radiohead’s last album to me, but what do I know? Rachel eats alone in restaurants, which was a subplot from the second season that was bumped up to here. Kind of a big continuity problem, as Ross talks about never playing for people before, but we later learn that he and Chandler were in a band together. Chandler feels guilty about the kiss, so he buys all new furniture, but Joey is PISSED (great acting from both there, by the way), leading to

– The One With Chandler In A Box. One of the all-time greats! Joey won’t speak to Chandler, so a desperate Chandler offers to lock himself in a giant wooden crate during Thanksgiving to show how sorry he is (although the reasons are threefold). The gang does Secret Santa and everyone switches names, which leads to several subplots. Rachel exchanges everything she gets, leading to a showdown with Ross. Monica gets ice in her eye and meets Richard’s son Tim, and then brings him to dinner, which proves to be just a LITTLE icky. Chandler totally steals the show, acting from inside the box and firing off some of his funniest one-liners ever. The rule, as ever, is that six in a room = GOLD, although in this case it’s five in a room and one in a box, but whatever. Chandler’s sad little wave as Kathy leaves is great. And in the end, he gets the girl and everything with Joey is fine again. I voted for this one pretty high in the NBC poll, but it didn’t make the top six vote-getters, which is a shame, because it’s a better Thanksgiving episode than the Brad Pitt one.

– The One Where They’re Going to Party! Monica gets a gig as a food critic, but gives a bad review and ends up as the head chef of a restaurant. That almost never happens to me. Meanwhile, Ross & Chandler’s friend Gandalf is coming to town, and they’re gonna party! Sadly, he cancels, so Joey steps up, and they realize that maybe they’re getting older than they realized. That Gandalf joke is WAY less obscure these days, but it was pretty funny back then. Rachel tries for a new position in Bloomingdales, but Joanna undermines her. And just as Joanna finally becomes an interesting character, they kill her off, leaving Rachel in limbo.

– The One With The Girl From Poughkeepsie. Ross meets a girl who lives 2 hours away, leaving him on a train all the time. Chandler offers to set Rachel up with a friend from work, but screws it up by telling them all the wrong things about her. Everyone at the restaurant hates Monica, so she hires Joey as a fall guy to fire and make them respect her. However, he defies the odds and actually makes lots of money as a waiter, and decides not to play along. More gay Chandler jokes here. Lisa Kudrow is preggers at this point, so she starts wearing bigger clothes to conceal it before they wrote it in. Chandler discovers that there’s no good time to ask Rachel if she’s been with a woman. Ah, the great mystery of life.

– The One With Phoebe’s Uterus. Frank & Alice ask Phoebe to be a surrogate mother for them, due to her real-life pregnancy. Chandler has nerves about doing it with Kathy for the first time, so he asks Monica & Rachel for help. Joey gets a job as a tour guide at the museum, and fights against segregation. Well, except for the gift shop people. Rachel comments about having a baby with someone she loves, when it happens, which is kind of foreshadowing, I guess. The centerpiece of this one is Monica explaining the female erogenous zones to Chandler, however (“SEVEN! SEVEN! SEVEN!”). Monica & Rachel running off to their rooms to masturbate is a joke repeated later in the season with Joey & Chandler, and it’s equally funny both times.

– The One With All the Embryos. Generally considered the greatest episode ever, and for good reason. Rachel & Monica are being driven insane by a grown-up chick, so they wager the apartment against the guys getting rid of the fowls (including the duck, because “it gets the other one all riled up!”), leading to Ross drawing up an elaborate game show testing their knowledge of the intimate details of each others’ lives. This leads to a veritable smorgasbord of one-off jokes and backstory moments, and it’s just a non-stop barrage of awesome from the coin toss (“Now this time, someone CALL IT”) to the Lightning Round (“Big Fat Goalie!”) , and it leads to perhaps one of the funniest jokes in the history of the series, as the whole thing comes down to Rachel and Monica needing to know what Chandler’s job is, and of course no one ever does (“He’s a TRANSPONDSTER!” “THAT’S NOT EVEN A WORD!”), thus tying together one of the running gags of the series with the made-up backstory of the game show, and the impossible happens, as the guys win the apartment fair and square, blindsiding the audience (according to the commentary, everyone expected a swerve where they don’t really change apartments). If you held a gun to my head, I could probably recite this entire episode from start-to-finish. Oh, there’s also another plot with Phoebe becoming pregnant, but Rachel’s “steady hand” and desperate pleading to not lose the apartment (“It’s so pretty! And it’s PURPLE! You are mean boys who are just being mean!”) eclipse it. This is the ultimate example of putting them all in a room and letting them play off each other, with a minimum of interference from the writers needed. This may have finished at #1 in the NBC poll by the time you read this.

Disc Three

– The One With Rachel’s New Crush. Onto the new era of living in new apartments, as the girls move across the hall and Rachel gets moved to Personal Shopping at Bloomindales. Kathy does a sexy play, making Chandler paranoid, and Joey tries to help him with his theory on on-stage chemistry equaling no sex off-stage, but then a lot of theories (like geometry) turned out not to be true. In this case, Joey was actually right about something. Monica gets jealous over not being the host anymore, and reacts in typical Monica fashion. (“Cookies and porn? You’re the best mom ever!”) Rachel meets Joshua (her then real-life squeeze Tate Donovan) and falls in love with him. Chandler plays drunk again. And then, the BIGGEST MOMENT EVER! Joey introduces a character-defining moment and creates the catchphrase of the 90s for single guys everywhere, as he explains to Rachel that when he wants to pick up a girl, he looks her up and down and says “How YOU doin’?”. That was the moment when Matt LeBlanc truly got into the head of the character and it took off into the stratosphere. We also meet Rachel’s boss, Mr. Waltham, who would play a bigger role in changing the series forever a bit later.

– The One With Joey’s Dirty Day. Joey goes fishing, before making a movie with Charlton Heston, and she smells. Chandler, on the rebound from Kathy, is stuck in “phase one”, so the girls take him to a strip club. Ross meets Emily Waltham, who is ditched by Rachel in favor of Joshua, and they end up in Vermont, where deer eat fruit from the orchard. This begins the big story arc of the season, and it’s also the catalyst that would alter the series for good, changing Ross’s character into something totally different and setting up the other major relationship down the road. Heston has a funny cameo in the days before he lost his mind, playing himself and giving Joey advice on acting. And in another neat moment, Joey is upset that he didn’t get to take Chandler to the strip club, but Chandler assures him that there’s thousands of women out there ready to screw him over. In fact, the next relationship he would get into would be his final one.

– The One With All The Rugby. Speaking of Chandler getting screwed over, Janice returns, making her yearly visit. Monica becomes obsessed with a light switch that doesn’t seem to connect to anything, and Monica + Unsolvable Problem = PSYCHO. Chandler finally sees the truth about Janice and decides to do a pre-emptive breakup, but has to tell a white lie to get out of dating her, and it turns into a Wacky Stack that leads to him getting on a plane for Yemen. Ross plays rugby with Emily’s crazed British hooligan friends, and gets murdered. First sweater vest of the season for Chandler, it should be noted. Continuity note: The home theater equipment in the guys’ apartment changes from the last episode to this one, because I pay attention to that stuff. And the guys would also have one of the first DVD players, which would have been REALLY pricey at the time of this show. Fun episode.

– The One With the Fake Party. Rachel wants to seduce Joshua, so she suggests a going-away party for Emily, much to the consternation of Ross, who just wants a quiet evening with her. Phoebe is craving meat, so she makes a deal with Joey, where he can’t eat it until she gives birth. Grey sweater vest for Chandler. Rachel gets increasingly desperate and pathetic in her attempts to get Joshua, leading up to the appearance of her cheerleader outfit from high school, because it NEVER failed back then. And it still doesn’t fail, as Joshua reveals he has feelings for her too, and they’re off and running.

– The One With the Free Porn. Joey accidentally descrambles the porn channel, but a warning from Treeger (in his last appearance before disappearing from the show) not to turn it off leaves them watching it 24 hours a day. Ross is bummed about Emily leaving, so Monica suggests that he pull out the L word for the first time. She says “Thank you” in response. OUCH! Phoebe discovers that she’s having triplets. Funny bit with the guys clarifying Joshua’s secret love of porn. Phoebe tries raising cash to help Frank & Alice, but a Saturn dealership is a bit out of her reach. Emily reveals that there’s another guy in England, Colin, but Ross goes to London while she comes to New York, and she chooses Ross. Colin would return, off-screen, in season 5, as Emily’s finance.

– The One With Rachel’s New Dress. Rachel goes on her first official date with Joshua and ends up meetings her parents while in her underwear. And who hasn’t been there? Joey & Chandler compete to be the name of Phoebe’s third baby, and Chandler decides to change his name after Joey makes fun of him (“It’s like chandelier, but NOT”), but it’s a actually a brilliant and hilarious psyche-job on his part. Emily bonds with Susan, freaking Ross out, because they seem to be getting a bit TOO friendly (“Didn’t you see Personal Best?” “No, but I’m GONNA!”) Some funny stuff with Chandler (“What’s with Clint?”) but syndication has driven this one into the ground. Still, I really like this one despite the overplay, because it’s just got so many funny lines.

Disc Four

– The One With All the Haste. Rachel & Monica can’t stand to live in the dirty boys apartment one day longer, so they decide it’s time to switch back, whether the guys like it or not. Ross gets an earring and is so inspired that he asks Emily to marry him and live in New York. Boy, did THAT rash decision ever come back and bite him in the ass. The girls try to bribe the guys with Knicks tickets, but they try another game instead, leading to the eternal dispute over the value of an ace. The guys win regardless. The girls get REALLY crafty and just switch the furniture around while they’re at the game, and then use the ultimate bribe to get them to accept the old arrangements again, for good. I won’t spoil it for you if you’ve never seen it before, but it’s a REALLY effective offer. And hey, Chandler may have been pissed at losing the big apartment, but he only had to wait another year before he was back there again for good anyway.

– The One With All the Wedding Dresses. Joey has a snoring problem, so Chandler takes him to a sleep clinic, where he gets a COOL mouthpiece. Another big moment, as Chandler tries to make the “whipped” sound in the coffee shop, with no luck. Monica picks up Emily’s dress and Rachel freaks out at the whole wedding idea and asks Joshua to marry her, out of spite towards Ross. Amazingly, that scares him off, and out of her life. More of the running gag about Rachel’s lack of cleaning acumen. Ross & Emily pick the season finale to get married, which seems to happen a lot with this show. Rachel once again realizes she loves Ross, although she doesn’t KNOW she knows yet.

– The One With The Wedding Invitations. Yes, it’s the first-ever Friends clip show. Sorry, no review here.

– The One With the Worst Best Man Ever. Phoebe goes through dramatic, and hilarious, mood swings, leaving Rachel & Monica fearing for their lives. The guys fight over who gets to be the best man, but Joey puts forth the most compelling argument and wins. The gag is that it doesn’t matter who gets to be Chandler’s best man, because he’ll never get married anyway, har har. He sure got the last laugh there. Joey sleeps with the stripper, and she apparently steals the ring, but the truth is more mundane.

– The One In London. London, baby! This is the first one-hour finale. Part one sees Joey annoying Chandler with his enthusiasm for all things British, but Chandler banishes him and sulks back to the hotel. The church where Ross & Emily are supposed to be married turns out to be demolished, so she wants to postpone, triggering a fight with Ross via Monica. Back in the US, a pregnant Phoebe finally reveals to Rachel that she’s obviously still in love with Ross, but her aversion therapy methods are unsuccessful and Rachel decides to come to England. First mention of the Joey Special (two pizzas) here. Ross arranges for the wedding to be in the demolished church, and everyone is happy again. In part two, Phoebe annoys the Walthams over the phone while trying to warn them about Rachel. Monica gets depressed about her love life, and Joey gets homesick. The Walthams steal the show here, especially Jennifer Saunders. And then everything changes forever, as Monica & Chandler wake up together after the dinner, and Rachel shows up in London just in time for Ross to say her name on the altar. To say that this was a HUGE cliffhanger is the supreme understatement, as fans were going nuts during the summer waiting for the payoff for both shock moments.

Overall, season 4 had basically zero bad episodes and a whole shitload of great ones, and is totally untouched in quality and quotable moments from then on. If you want the season that truly encapsulates everything the show was about and highlights the best moments for the cast and writing staff, this is it.

The Video

Definitely a TV show transferred from videotape, and it shows. Colors and contrast are about the same level as, say, a really good digital cable channel, although I noticed a lot of compression problems in darker scenes and some noise on the transfer. It’s as good or better than broadcast, so that’s the important thing.

The Audio

Redone in Dolby 5.0 surround, it’s never really used. Pretty much all from the center with the audience occasionally mixed into the rears, it’s generally a waste of disc space and would have been just as well served in 2.0 stereo. I should note that the episodes from this season which were featured in the Best of Friends volumes 3 & 4 DVDs, which were released what seems like ages ago, had major problems with the sound mix, but they were corrected for this release, the first set where that happened. A good mix, but not a necessary one.

The Extras

Of course, the major extra is that every episode has additional footage, usually jokes that didn’t make the original broadcast, plus commentary from the Bright/Kauffman/Crane trio on three episodes, and there’s more on the fourth disc, with the usual quiz, “Friends of Friends” guest-star listing, trailer for the next season, yada yada. In addition, there’s a very short (but interesting) look at filming in London for the season finale.

The Ratings

The Film: *****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: ***
The Extras: **1/2

The 411: The peak of the series and the best season overall, the fourth contains the best episodes, the funniest gags, and the biggest moments, as all the characters are fully fleshed out by the end of it and the Monica & Chandler relationship is introduced in what was supposed to be a one-shot gag. And c’mon, it’s got PAGET BREWSTER! Growwwwwl. Highest recommendation.

Final Score: 10.0