The SmarK DVD Rant For Friends: Season Seven

The SmarK DVD Rant for Friends: Season Seven

– From the dredges of mediocrity to the bottom of the barrel, this was the year where Friends hit the wall, creatively and financially, and many people feared the sitcom was on its last legs. Without a doubt generally considered the worst of the 10 seasons (although 9 was pretty bad in a lot of ways, too), Friends was getting hammered by Survivor from start to finish, and the result was desperation in the form of gimmicky “super-sized” episodes and over-the-top stunt-casting again, ala the second season. They started well enough as the season began, but once the Nielsens started dropping, so did the quality, and by the middle of the year it wasn’t pretty. That’s what made it all the more shocking when the show actually rebounded to beat Survivor again in season 8.

The Film

Picking up immediately after Chandle’s proposal to Monica at the end of the sixth season, the living arrangements have been changing all year, with Phoebe staying in Monica & Chandle’s apartment while Rachel lives with Joey. And with that fairly stable for once, we begin again”¦

Disc One

– The One With Monica’s Thunder. A severely underrated episode, and one of the few from this season with tons of quotable lines, this one picks up immediately following the proposal that ended season 6″¦although Chandler appears to have dropped 20 pounds and changed hairstyles in the 5 minutes that would have passed. The gang decides to celebrate the engagement with champagne in the park, and since it’s Monica, everything has to be about her. Joey wants to play a 19-year old for an audition, so he makes some radical wardrobe alterations, to the annoyance of Chandler (“Playstation? That’s whack. ‘Sup with the whack Playstation ‘sup?”). Chandler meanwhile has other problems, in the form of the one problem no guy wants to have, so he in turn asks Joey for advice (“I did it anyway”). Phoebe wants to sing at the wedding, but her choice of songs doesn’t win her any friends (“It goes on to say that he’s probably NOT gay”¦”), and finally Rachel & Ross are caught engaging in “bonus night” in the hall, thus stealing Monica’s thunder. Ross is apparently quite good at the “stuff”, you see. The ensuing argument accidentally leads to Joey bringing up Chandle’s problem for everyone to laugh at. This, by the way, is the point where they all magically shift from 27-29 to over 30. Kind of like the kid on Growing Pains aging 5 years in the off-season. No, not Leo, the girl. Monica & Rachel fight, leading to Rachel threatening to sleep with Ross out of spite. His pathetic pandering to Rachel in response is hilarious. As the relationships break down and everyone gets meaner, the show gets funnier. Continuity point: Monica accuses Rachel of being jealous because Monica was getting married before her, but of course that’s completely silly, since Rachel was married to Ross for three months. Tons of great lines here, hilarious sniping, and abuse of Ross especially. (“From now on, the only person who’s gonna enjoy these bad boys is me!”) Awesome opener.

– The One With Rachel’s Book. Monica starts getting anal and weird about wedding plans. I know, that’s so not like her. Joey naps on Rachel’s bed, and discovers her secret porn stash, in the form of a trashy novel. Phoebe moves in with Ross and massages clients in his living room, and he gets roped into massaging an old man himself by the powers of sitcom logic. Meanwhile, Jack and Judy can’t afford to pay for the wedding because they spent the money on the beach house 7 years previous, so Chandler makes the mistake of offering to pay. Joey torments Rachel until she calls his bluff and offers to sleep with him, which finally scares him off. For a little while”¦say, one season.

– The One With Phoebe’s Cookies. Chandler gets glasses for all of one season, with no real explanation given. This leads to the big gag of Chandler playing racquetball with Jack but getting his glasses steamed up in the sauna and sitting on his lap. Monica bugs Phoebe for her special cookie recipe in lieu of an engagement present, but it turns out that it was burned up in the fire and wouldn’t you know that Phoebe DOESN’T have a redundant backup recipe at least 100 yards away in a fireproof box. Rachel tries to teach Joey to sail his boat (the one and only appearance of said boat in the entire series) but finds herself turning into her father. Phoebe & Monica go insane trying to reverse engineer her grandmothe’s cookie recipe, until they realize just WHY her grandmother is probably burning in hell. The shine on this season tarnished pretty damn quick.

– The One With Rachel’s Assistant. The demon spawn arrives on Earth in the form of Tag Jones, as Rachel hires her first underling and makes the worst possible choice. Eddie Cahill does his best with the dim-witted pretty boy role, but next to Paolo he’s my least favorite character on the show. Joey gets re-hired on “DOOL” but has to audition (“You? An ACTOR? Audition? THAT’S MADNESS!” — I love Phoebe’s over-dramatic moments, that’s when the character works best) and he of course gets arrogant and blows it, leaving himself out in the cold when Mac & Cheese is cancelled later that day. Chandler & Monica make the mistake of sharing secrets, leading to Ross getting involved and dredging up memories that NO ONE needed to hear. Monica laughs at Ross’ Disneyland experience, so Ross one-ups Chandler by telling her about Atlantic City (“Whatever dude, you kissed a guy.”) Joey crawls back to the soap opera circuit and gets put in a coma, but at least he’s on TV again. As usual, once the venom starts flowing, so do the laughs, although the Tag storyline is a complete loser and Phoebe doesn’t really have much to do here except hitting on Tag (“Nice name, want my phone number to go with it?”). Good enough for government work, however.

– The One With the Engagement Picture. Chandler can’t smile properly for pictures. Yeah, that’s the big joke here. Ross & Phoebe date both halves of a divorced couple, and that one proves to be funnier because the surrogate romance angle always works well on this show. Rachel bribes Joey into showing Tag around town, leading to the first appearance of the most pathetic attempt at a catchphrase for Rachel, in the form of “chicas”. They would actually try to get that one over before giving up. Anyway, her attempt to make friends for Tag backfires, as it turns out that Tag is great at picking up women and Joey finally has a decent wingman to replace Chandler. Joey slagging Chandler while he’s standing RIGHT THERE is great stuff. The Chandler storyline is a dog, but the rest is great stuff, especially Ross & Phoebe fighting in the coffeehouse (“WE WANT THE LAST SIX YEARS BACK!” “So do we!”)

– The One With Nap Partners. Another unappreciated classic. Monica decides to let the other two girls decide amongst themselves who gets to be maid of honor. Ross & Joey fall asleep together after a manly night of watching Die Hard, but wake up in a very non-manly cuddle with each other. Joey spends the episode trying to seduce Ross back into napping again in an increasingly weird series of gags, giving David Schwimmer some prime material to react off of (“We can’t do it again.” “Why not?” “BECAUSE IT’S WEIRD!”)”¦until he finally caves in again. Monica bumps into a former girlfriend of Chandle’s, who he dumped because she was fat. Ross & Joey, in between seduction attempts, judge a contest between Rachel & Phoebe, where Phoebe gets another home-run quote (“I remember talking about this day with Rachel, while we were showering together. Naked.”) Chandler tries apologizing, but just makes it worse with everyone. Phoebe wins the contest, but wisely gives it back to Rachel once she realizes what’s involved in being Monica’s maid of honor. Again, the Mondler stuff drags it down, the rest is GOLD.

Disc Two

– The One With Ross’ Library Book. Rachel bonds with one of Joey’s one-night stands (Kristen Davis from Sex & The City), but pushes them towards a relationship too hard. Ross gets published, but discovers that people are having sex in the paleontology section of the library. Janice makes her yearly visit, suddenly offended at not being told about the wedding, which leads to a web of irritation and lies from Mondler as they futilely strive to get rid of her. Rachel & Phoebe go out of their way to make sure Joey falls for his fling, but then it turns out that she doesn’t feel the same way, giving us another nice Joey ep. First sweater vest for Chandler this season! It’s a black one. And finally, there’s an awesome one-off moment as Janice comes to stay with the Bings, and you see a horrified Joey doing a double-take behind her. Few good moments, but outside of Joey there’s nothing here.

– The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs. Thanksgiving time! Although sadly this is probably the worst one produced. Ross goes insane trying to name all 50 states before dinner. Phoebe’s been keeping a dog in the apartment, which has Mondler freaked out (specifically Chandler, who hates dogs). Wackiness results. Joey introduces us to a “moo point” in the one redeeming joke in this one. And Rachel finally gets together with Tag. Weak weak weak.

– The One With All the Candy. Ross buys Phoebe a bike to make up for her lost childhood, but teaching her to ride proves to be a tougher matter altogether. Meanwhile, Monica makes candy for the neighbors, but they get greedy and she gets stressed. Rachel fools around with Tag at work, but accidentally hands in an evaluation of his tushy, which leads to my usual putdown of him, Tag “Sweet Cheeks” Jones. There’s a continuing running gag in this season about how Chandler never shows up for work, which is paid off in the finale. Also, two eps in a row where Chandler is seen with bedhead. Grey sweater vest, while we’re on the subject. More Ross-Phoebe conflict over “having” to learn to ride a bike, but Ross uses his noodle and invokes Phoebe logic to convince her. A loser overall.

– The One With the Holiday Armadillo. First ep with a commentary on this set. Ross gets Ben for the holiday season, but wants to teach him about Hanukkah. However, the media love affair with Christmas is more powerful than the menorah, so Ross gives up and seeks out a Santa suit to make his son happy. Phoebe moves back into her apartment, but Rachel likes living with Joey, so Phoebe tries to drive them apart, which of course backfires. Chandler finds it hard to tip a maitre d’, but he actually learned how to do it from Richard. The costume designer is also on the commentary track, by the way, and it’s an interesting little segment about the evolution of fashion on the show. And speaking of fashion, there’s no Santa suits left in stock a week before Christmas, so Ross instead introduces Ben to the Holiday Armadillo, as he’s the representation of the spirit of the season for the southern states”¦AND MEXICO! Chandler finds a Santa costume, however, and his reaction to the armadillo is classic. Phoebe decides to live alone after all. Best of the season, no question.

– The One With All the Cheesecakes. Chandler & Rachel eat a cheesecake that was accidentally delivered, and keep eating the replacements, too. Grey sweater vest for Chandler. Joey stands up Phoebe on a dinner date, but then David the Scientist Guy returns from Minsk for one night and the tables are turned. Monica invites herself to a cousin’s wedding in order to avenge her lack of invitation, thus robbing Ross of a date with a cunning linguist. Hank Azaria is great as always, the rest not so much.

– The One Where They’re Up All Night. No, it’s not the tribute to Slaughter. Everyone heads up to the roof to watch a comet, but everyone bails, leaving Ross & Joey alone and the door closed. They spend the episode trying to get back to the street via the fire escape. A cell phone would have solved THAT problem in 5 seconds. Mondler can’t sleep. Phoebe has trouble with a beeping smoke alarm. Tag & Rachel break into the office and look for contracts. Thrilling stuff all around, to be sure.

Disc Three

– The One Where Rosita Dies. First of the lame “super-sized” episodes, although the later commentaries reveal that in fact this one was only intended as a regular episode, and they didn’t learn until two weeks after it was finished that NBC wanted a “40 minute” episode. That move was done to counter Survivor, and it worked pretty much not at all. This is also the debut of season 7 clips in the credits. Anyway, Rachel tries to move Joey’s beloved barca lounger, and accidentally breaks it. She also says “chicas” for the third time this season. The Gellers sell the family house, but when Ross & Monica go to check out their old boxes of stuff, they find that Jack “accidentally” used all of Monica’s stuff to divert water away from the Porsche during flood season. So she gets the Porsche. Joey gets grief-stricken over the death of “Rosita”, while Phoebe gets a job as a telemarketer and gets stuck with a suicidal office manager on the other end of the line. This is stunt-casting with Jason Alexander and it’s LAME LAME LAME. Meanwhile, Chandler thinks HE’S the culprit in the Rosita murder, so he replaces the chair with his own lounger, while Rachel goes out and buys the E-Cliner 2000, the chair that Sit Magazine named Chair of the Year. Dead chairs, ruined memories and suicidal bald guys don’t exactly make for inspired comedy, although the chair stuff is awesomely funny at times, especially because you can picture Chandler subscribing to Sit Magazine. Total running time without commercials: 27:12. Super-sized, my ass.

– The One Where They All Turn 30. Rachel turns 30, triggering a mid-life crisis, and a series of flashbacks to the various 30th birthday parties. Joey & Chandler are only featured in one-off gags about Joey arguing with God (which is pretty much the only funny thing in this one). Ross gets a muscle car but can’t un-park it. Monica gets drunk at her party and embarrasses herself. Phoebe discovers that Ursula lied about their age and they’re really 31. Rachel dumps Tag. Aside from the Joey jokes (“WOULD YOU QUIT HOGGING THAT THING!”) and Drunk Monica returning (with adorable results)
there’s zilch here. However, this one does seemingly establish the ages once and for all, with the order appearing to be Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, Ross, Monica and Rachel. But then that changes with the writers’ whims anyway.

– The One With Joey’s New Brain. More stunt-casting with a capital STUNT, as Susan Sarandon plays a soap opera diva who’s getting fired to make way for the returning Drake Ramoray. Rachel & Phoebe find a cell phone belonging to a hot guy, but the true owner is slightly older than they thought. Ross decides he wants to play bagpipes at the Mondler wedding. Black sweater vest for Chandler. There’s actually commentary on this one, although it boggles my mind that anyone considered this dog one of the best of the season. And it shows, as the commentary is very sparse and not particularly interesting.

– The One With The Truth About London. Rachel babysits Ben and teaches him about pranks, which also gives us our first “we were on a break” joke of the season. Joey ordains himself over the internet and asks to perform the wedding. Monica gives Phoebe headache pills, which leads to some really funny bits about potential side-effects (“Headache?”) and western medicine in general. The pranks backfire on Rachel, as she creates a monster in Ben, leading to a huge laugh in the form of Ross’ revenge prank on her. Joey has trouble writing vows for Mondler, which leads to a discussion of London in flashback form, and we get the whole story behind the first sex. Turns out Monica was there to see JOEY. Well, that goes over like a fart in church with Chandler, but Joey saves the day, because he’s pretty awesome by this point. This one is all about the hving and the giving and the sharing and the receiving. Continuity note: Rachel tells Ben that she and Ross WEREN’T on a break, although that was never her original contention (her story has always been “We may have been on a break, but he didn’t have to sleep with another woman”) so either she’s lying to the poor kid or her story has changed in the years following. This one should have had the commentary track.

– The One With the Cheap Wedding Dress. Joey & Ross compete over (STUNT-CAST ALERT) Gabrielle Union, playing the first black person in Friends history. Yeah, yeah, I know, but that’s the way the media played it up. Monica also competes, in this case with another white woman over a white dress and a swing band. Did you know Monica is REALLY competitive? It’s great they finally established that. Gabrielle Union might as well be a mannequin, but Ross v. Joey is great throughout. Rather shocking DVD extra scene, too, as Ross asks Joey if he’s hungry and Joey replies “Does a bear shit in the woods?”. That’s the first actual unbleeped swear word in the show’s run.

– The One With Joey’s Award. There’s an added moment in the pre-credit sequence, as the girls discuss a penis cake, which would return in season 10. Joey is nominated for a Soapie Award (the third biggest soap opera awards show!), but despite Rachel’s coaching on how to be a good loser, he redefines the word “behalf” by stealing the winne’s trophy. Monica freaks out over never getting into a new relationship again, and Phoebe making doe eyes at a new beau doesn’t help any. Speaking of love, Ross gets conned into changing a student’s grade because of false claims of being in love. An added payoff joke on that track is REALLY funny (“You already had 80%! Have some self-respect!”) and the rest is dull and lifeless.

Disc Four

– The One With Rachel & Monica’s Cousin. More stunt-casting, with Denise Richards as sexy cousin Cassie, who gets ogled by Chandler, Ross and Phoebe in a Wacky Stack. Ross develops a crush on her, which actually isn’t as icky in Canada, where cousins marrying is legal, thus explaining most of the government. Joey gets a job in a movie where he has to show his wang, but since he’s playing a Catholic soldier, he’s missing one vital piece of foreskin, so Monica tries to fashion something for him. Silly Putty isn’t so silly anymore. Mondler make a no-sex pact leading up to the wedding, while Phoebe & Rachel organize a shower for Monica, which isn’t funny. Much like this episode, which feels like a big mish-mash of leftover ideas.

– The One With Rachel’s Big Kiss. The boring stunt-casting gets more boring, as klepto Winona Ryder guests as Rachel’s old sorority sister, who once shared a lesbian moment with her while drunk, but can’t remember. Joey of course has a field day with the whole thing, but Phoebe doesn’t believe any of it. Monica organizes seating for the wedding, but Joey is offended because his parents aren’t invited. Ross & Chandler argue about celebrity tuxes, which produces a funny exchange about who’s more 007. And Rachel & Phoebe kiss, so that’s pretty hot. The rest, not, as this season drags to a finish.

– The One With the Vows. Even the clip shows are lazy this season, as this is 90% clips from “TOW Everyone Finds Out” from the fifth season. NEXT.

– The One With Chandle’s Dad. The ultimate stunt-cast sees Kathleen Turner as the never-before-seen Charles “Helena” Bing. The happy couple journeys to Vegas to invite him/her to the wedding, thus reuniting the Bing family. In the loser storyline, Rachel whines until Monica lets her drive the Porsche, and she takes Ross on a harrowing death race into the city. Phoebe actually has a recurring boyfriend for once, as the dude from TOW Joey’s Award returns”¦wearing Phoebe’s underwear. Joey has masculinity issues with that (“You’ve seen my giant stack of porn, right?”) and takes it as a personal challenge.

– The One With Monica & Chandle’s Wedding. So it’s the big day, but Joey has a major role in a movie about WW1 with Gary Oldman, who spits to emote. Chandler finally freaks out and disappears, and the first 40 minutes are basically a stall-job by the writers to find a way to stretch the episode into an hour while saving the wedding until the end. They even ADMIT that on the commentary! The first and only on-screen meetings of Chandle’s parents are INCREDIBLY funny, however, with both playing it so understated that you have to marvel at their self-control. Phoebe & Rachel find a pregnancy test in the garbage and we assume it’s Monica (which is originally was supposed to be), and more stalling results while Joey tries to get out of the movie. Ross finds Chandler at the most unlikely of places — the OFFICE. Chandler disappears a SECOND time (and even the producers now admit this was really stretching it) but this time it’s because he thinks Monica is pregnant and he wants to get okay with that. It’s pretty sad to see him on-board for pregnancy, considering how it turned out this season. Anyway, they get married, and we learn that Rachel is the pregnant one, and thank god this season is over. Very weak finale, although the best of the cliffhangers.

Overall, Survivor absolutely decimated Friends in more ways than one — it left the creative staff with no real direction, and the show was crippled by bad writing and uninspired comedy for most of the year. Stunt-casting and gimmicks dominated, and although there’s funny eps, they’re few and far between. While not TERRIBLE, it’s the weakest of the series by far. Ironically, they would make a HUGE comeback in the eighth season as a result of the pregnancy storyline, which reinvigorated the show and led to the Rachel-Joey storyline, which would further carry things all the way to the 10th season. So better times are ahead. Just not this one.

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. TOW Monica’s Thunder suffers from SERIOUS grain and contrast problems, however. The rest are fine.

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. There’s some cool 5.0 action in TOW Ross & Monica’s Cousin as Ross does his internal monologue. A good mix, but not a necessary one.

The Extras

As usual, there’s commentaries on the three “best” episodes of the season (TOW The Holiday Armadillo, TOW Joey’s New Brain and TOW Monica & Chandle’s Wedding) featuring Bright/Crane/Kauffman, and there’s tons of good stuff in them. There’s another excellent and hilarious gag reel here, too, with about 8 minutes of bloopers and stuff from this season. Plus, in a VERY welcome addition, there’s a “Friends of Friends” featurette, which is now 20 minutes of interviews with recurring character actors (Ben, Kathy, Tag, Nora Bing and Elizabeth), instead of the usual video clips. You also get a trivia game, as usual, and that’s always fun despite a lack of payoff this time around, and the usual cast & crew junk, plus Gunther previewing season 8. In other words, mostly the same as the other seasons.

The Ratings:

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