The SmarK DVD Rant for Friends – Season Nine

The SmarK DVD Rant for Friends Season Nine

And so we are nearly at the end of one of the longest running primetime sitcoms, and certainly one of the pioneers of releasing the entire run on DVD. Kind of weird to think that back when these first started coming out, Warner was concerned that people might not want entire seasons on DVD, and thus floated “best of” DVDs first, just to cover their bets.

So anyway, the ninth season was originally supposed to be the final one, and the producers didn’t find out that it wasn’t until halfway through, so the result is a very schizophrenic year, with what seems like two different seasons, as they set stuff up in the beginning, then change their minds and go into a totally new direction to stretch things out for another year. It’s kind of jarring because it’s the kind of season where even the producers admit on the commentaries that they didn’t really know where anything was going. And it shows. I think the other main problem was that the show had changed from a smart, funny comedy that viewers could relate to into a kind of self-parody soap opera, with everything revolving around contrived love triangles and big spoonfuls of angst. Basically, it had gone from being subversive commentary on urban life into being exactly the kind of overwrought schmaltz that the six of them would mock in a heartbeat were it real life. In fact, this was pretty much the season where the show officially jumped the shark, as much as I hate using that phrase. But when there’s weddings, babies and trips to foreign countries, it’s time to hang it up.

The Film

Picking up from the end of season 8 with everyone hanging out in the hospital after Rachel had her baby, the cliffhanger saw Joey accidentally proposing to her to pay off a season of his unrequited love for her.

Disc One

– The One Where No One Proposes. The season premiere sees Joey of course accidentally proposing to Rachel, who is too drugged up and tired to know better and says yes. The gang interrupts before Joey can clarify, which sadly prevents the 10-second conversation that would have cleared up the whole situation and thus prevented the episode. On the contrary, Phoebe talks with Rachel and further muddies the waters. Which is pretty tough considering the convoluted plot as it is. Meanwhile, Jack Gellar catches Mondler having sex in the janitor’s closet, which is awkward, and then starts giving them conception tips, which is a whole new planet of awkward. Rachel trying to nurse Emma gives us some primo uncomfortable Joey material. How he never won the Emmy is beyond me. Things escalate up the silly sitcom ladder when Ross sees the ring on a sleeping Rachel and thus becomes even more confused than the viewers by this point. Rachel decides that she doesn’t love Joey, and when we finally get the three of them in the room, they finally clarify the situation after 20 minutes of stalling and plot twists. Ross, however, is pissed off in his own passive-aggressive manner because Rachel said “yes” to Joey.

– The One Where Emma Cries. Ross clarifies the relationship with the guys here — Joey is his best friend, Chandler is his oldest friend. An exhausted Chandler has a very important meeting and falls asleep, inadvertently taking a promotion in Tulsa, OK. I’m still wondering if this is the original company he was with or if he got that job in season 8, because it was never stated one way or the other. Ross, still hating Joey, runs into him in the coffee shop, and they proceed to have one of the best Friends Moments ever, as Joey is unable to grasp making quote marks properly (“I”m sorry”) and then wants Ross to hit him in order to relieve his own guilt. Sadly, Joey’s reflexes are better than Ross’s, and the result is a broken hand and a broken nose. Digital sound reveals that the pole in the coffee shop was clearly foam, however. Damn you, Mr. Dolby! Ross & Joey in the hospital is more awesomeness, as Joey fills out an insurance form for Ross and wonders what his name is short for (“Rosstopher?”). Main storyline sees the girls trying to stop Emma from crying. Oh, the hilarity. Screw them, Joey rules it here and it should have been 25 minutes of Ross and Joey awkwardly trying to reconcile, because all that stuff was a million times funnier than the baby crap.

– The One With the Pediatrician. Chandler announces his impending move to the group, but it becomes apparent that Monica isn’t going. A new major character is introduced, as Joey & Phoebe set each other up for a double date, and Joey is unable to find someone. So he yells out “Mike?” in the coffee shop, and we meet Mike Hannigan. Meanwhile, Rachel annoys her doctor and needs a new one, so Monica recommends her former pediatrician, but Ross is still seeing him. That’s a little creepy, actually. Monica takes a new job in New York, so they work out a deal where Chandler works 4 days a week in Tulsa. Mike apologizes to Phoebe for Joey’s stupid plan, and thus begins their story arc.

– The One With the Sharks. Speaking of jumping the you-know-what, this one takes that more literally than you’d like. Monica visits her hubbie in Tulsa, but catches him whipping it out to porn and then hurriedly changing the channel to a nature documentary, and thus concludes that he gets off on it. How dumb do you have to be to make that connection? Phoebe freaks out about never having a serious relationship, which is totally wrong — she lived with a cop and married a gay ice dancer. But it would have hurt the thin story to remember that stuff, I guess, so they don’t. To solve this dilemna, Ross invents a former lover named “Vicram” for Phoebe, and hilarity results. Joey has deja vu in a girl’s apartment and suspects he’s slept with her before, but neither one can seem to remember it. Joey’s far more offended at being forgotten, of course. One of the worst of the season, hands down.

– The One With Phoebe’s Birthday Dinner. This is more like it, as the cast is always at their best when they engage in petty bickering. Chandler starts smoking again, and it’s fight night with Monica. However, pregnancy is more important to her, so she tricks him into sex by pretending to forgive him. That’s just evil. Rachel freaks out about having to leave Emma with Judy Gellar while they go out to Phoebe’s birthday dinner, and it leads to an awesome rant from Ross about babies, eagles and whirlpools. Everyone shows up to Phoebe’s dinner late, so she and Joey get bumped to a smaller table by a snooty waiter, at which point everyone arrives of course. And close quarters make for more fighting (“Chandler, control your woman!”) and in the end it’s up to Joey to have dinner for six, for one. First home run of the season.

– The One With the Male Nanny. First “super sized” episode of the season sees Rachel & Ross hiring the guy from Scooby Doo as their new nanny, and he’s REALLY sensitive. Monica meets someone at work who’s apparently the funniest person she’s ever met, and Chandler isn’t gonna let THAT one go without a fight. He spends the episode going on a rampage of bad jokes to work out his jealousy. Mike & Phoebe exchange keys, and then David the Scientist Guy returns from Russia. I would have gone with David over Mike, and apparently the writers were also torn over that very decision, too. Anyway, Ross is of course threatened by the nanny’s extremely sincere and caring personality, and really who wouldn’t be? Well, except Joey, who bonds with the nanny over puppets and steals the show with a hilarious improv during a scene transition, as he reads a dirty magazine and makes it funny. This one got a commentary track, but I think the previous one should have had it instead.

Disc Two

– The One With Ross’ Inappropriate Song. First “we were on a break” of the season, as poor Emma gets to listen to Ross whining. He then learns the power of Sir Mix A Lot, as Emma laughs to “Baby Got Back”, a joke that’s pretty dated for this show. Phoebe has to meet Mike’s high society parents, and that one pretty much writes itself. Joey shops for real estate, thus giving us more Richard-related angst from Chandler, especially when he finds what is apparently a sex tape of Monica in Richard’s collection. Great Joey & Chandler moment as Joey struggles to clue in and Chandler snaps “Get there faster!”. Phoebe keeps ramping up the inappropriate conversation with Mike’s parents (“You have met humans before, though, right?”). Monica catches Chandler watching the sex tape, and gets offended because Richard taped over her. THAT particular gag was handled about a million times better in Coupling, in the first season’s “The Cupboard of Patrick’s Love”. Mike and Phoebe reveal their love to each other as the big payoff for the episode, despite the pimp that spit in her mouth. Good, but not great, although Rachel’s “That girl is all about the ass” comes close to making it a home run.

– The One With Rachel’s Other Sister. It’s Thanksgiving time again, so they’re swinging for the comedy fences. Joey forgets that he’s supposed to be in a parade, despite his seemingly foolproof note-taking skills (“Damn long sleeves!”) so Phoebe has to teach him how to lie. Most importantly, we finally meet Rachel’s other sister, Amy, played with zeal by Christina Applegate. In particular, the string of insensitive remarks about Ross and Monica are howlingly funny, especially because they’re not played as mean, but played like she just doesn’t think before she talks. Monica’s obsession of the week is the good china, and you can see the payoff for that coming a mile away. The big storyline sees Amy getting offended when Ross & Rachel decide not to give her Emma if they die, and that leads to Chandler getting even more offended when he’s not in line by himself (Joey: “Uh, who has to die for me to get Emma?”) and the sisters’ squabble leads to the inevitable blowup and GIRL FIGHT. Joey rules it again: “Are you kidding? We should pour gravy on them!”. But when (gasp!) a plate gets broken, Chandler has to step up and be the father figure for once in his life. But it’s Chandler, so disaster happens anyway. Best episode of the season, nuff said.

– The One With Rachel’s Phone Number. The season starts sucking here. Phoebe and Rachel have a girl’s night out, leaving Ross and Mike to bond, and the result is a painfully uncomfortable and unfunny slow death. But we’ve all been there. Chandler lies to Joey about staying in Tulsa, leading him to think that Monica is cheating, and it’s of course the one time that Joey is actually ahead of anyone’s thoughts. So they devise a sitcom plan to fool Joey (which isn’t hard). Rachel & Phoebe meet guys in a bar and Rachel gives out her number and decides to move on past Ross, although she’s decided that a million times and yet never does. So she of course changes her mind and poor Mike has to stay in hell and intercept calls. This one drags badly.

– The One With Christmas in Tulsa. Clip show alert! Notable for Selma Blair playing the only woman in Friends history to mack on Chandler, and for Chandler quitting the job he’s had since the start of the series.

– The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work. Jobs are the theme here, as Chandler looks for work in advertising, and Rachel returns from maternity leave to find hunk-of-the-week Gavin in her place at work. Joey, meanwhile, brings Phoebe to Days of Our Lives as an extra, and she gets a little too into her “acting” career. Gavin is a big meanie with absolutely no chemistry with Rachel, so of course we have to buy him as a new love interest. Just another story to keep jerking the fans around and stretch out the season past where it was intended to go. Definitely not a favorite of mine.

– The One With Phoebe’s Rats. So Phoebe has a rat living in her apartment and Rachel & Gavin have some cliched sitcom arguments. They hate each other! They love each other! Ross & Rachel also get a REALLY hot nanny and the guys go nuts for her, which makes the eventual payoff pretty funny. Ross asks Joey to back off, so of course she’s now forbidden fruit and he wants it more. This leads to Rachel’s birthday party, where the stories intersect. Phoebe brings her rat babies, Gavin shows up and kisses Rachel, and Joey goes for the nanny. Ross of course sees the Rachel-Gavin kiss, setting off another round of soap opera angst that we’ve seen a million times on this show.

Disc Three

– The One Where Monica Sings. Ross is freaking out as usual and vowing to move on. Season 9 credits start here, by the way. Joey gets his eyebrows waxed, and that of course is hilarious by itself, which is why he got a sitcom when this one ended. Rachel is also freaking out, although less so. She fakes being sick, so Gavin brings her chicken soup and then clues into what the deal is and steps off. So with that loser subplot brought to a merciful death, we move to the karaoke bar, where Monica sings and everyone can see through her blouse. She misinterprets the applause, but in the grand scheme of things they were applauding, so she doesn’t care. Joey, meanwhile, could only endure one eyebrow, so he engages in some weird male bonding with Chandler, who has to do the other one. Ross picks up a crazy woman in the coffee shop, and it’s Ross v. Rachel round two million. The end result is Rachel finally coming to her senses and moving back in with Joey, where she belongs.

– The One With the Blind Dates. Joey & Phoebe are asked to set up Ross & Rachel on blind dates, so they decide to use their combined mental powers to hatch an evil plan (complete with evil laughs) to get them together again, by putting them with loser dates. Joey of course is so dumb that he picks the perfect woman for Ross, but Phoebe finds Steve from season one, the amazing Jon Lovitz as a stoner restaurant owner. He of course steals the show. Ross gets stood up, resulting in free crab cakes. Monica and Chandler babysit Emma, and debate the morality of having sex in front of her, but then decide to do it in the bedroom instead, so Joey steps up and removes the baby from the situation. Good for him. But he blackmails them into naming THEIR first baby Joey, so he can carry on his family name. In all fairness, I had to think about that one for a bit, too, so you can’t entirely blame Joey there. Lovitz rules it, the rest goes nowhere and likes it.

– The One With the Mugging. Chandler finally gets a job after weeks of the writers milking his unemployment for marginally funny jokes, and he gets to be an intern. Joey gets an audition with a pretentious Branaugh-like Broadway director who shills cell phones on the side, and this is Jeff Goldblum hamming it up in fine fashion. The running gag with Joey’s acting skills improving because he needs to pee is great stuff. Main plot sees Phoebe and Ross getting “mugged” on the street, where we learn that Phoebe used to be a mugger too, and Ross was her victim. So now they have a connection! Chandler discovers that he’s a BIT older than the other interns when he has to find a way to sell rollerskate sneakers. Solid stuff.

– The One With the Boob Job. The Bings are short on bling, so they have to do the unthinkable and ask Joey for money. But neither wants to admit to the other that they need it, so each goes separately and lies about it. Joey’s cover story to Chandler is that Monica wanted it for a boob job, so you get the usual silly double-entendres. Mike decides to move in with Phoebe. Rachel babyproofs the apartment, but really just Joeyproofs it. Phoebe discovers that Mike is less excited about marriage than she is, and for some reason gets advice from Ross the Divorce Force about it. So she breaks up with Mike. More angst results.

– The One With the Memorial Service. Ross & Chandler start a silly and escalating war of postings on their alumni website, which leads people to think the Chandler is as gay as the day is long and Ross is dead via blimp-related injury. Well, the first one is a mistake that many have made. Joey gets threatened when Emma ends up with Hugsy the Bedtime Penguin Pal, and it sets off a show-long war of wits between Joey and a baby. Again, this is why he has a show of his own now. Monica gets her dream job, as Phoebe puts her in charge of making sure she doesn’t call Mike again, and then we get clarification of one of those details I had always wondered about — what IS Monica’s married name? Gellar-Bing, according to Phoebe. I had always thought it was just Bing, but I guess not. When the website war reaches “Ross is dead” and no one responds, Ross freaks out and holds a memorial service for himself to see who will come. Not many people, as it turns out. Joey and the penguin are great, the rest not so much.

– The One With the Lottery. The gang decides to pitch in $50 each for a $300 million lottery, but Ross is skeptical as usual. So it’s another “six in a room” episode, as they wait out the drawing and drive each other crazy. Chandler is waiting to hear about a job, Rachel does her second Ross impression of the season, and it’s funny stuff all around. Running theme has them planning what to do if they win, but things get ugly when Monica buys extra tickets and Phoebe accidentally dumps half of the tickets off the balcony. Emma says “gleeba” on the phone, which Rachel claims as her first word, and of course master of the petty argument Ross just can’t let THAT one go without a fight. Sum total of the winnings when all is said and done: $3. No matter, two weeks of their real-life salaries would be more than the jackpot anyway.

Disc Four

– The One With Rachel’s Dream. Soap opera geek Rachel hangs out on Joey’s set again, while Phoebe annoys customers outside of Monica’s restaurant. Ross & Chandler take a non-romantic getaway to Vermont after the hotel forces Chandler to keep reservations he wanted to cancel, and then loses the reservation once he gets there. Now THAT’S true to life. Things get worse for him, as Ross is amped up on maple candy and going through the shakes. But they hatch an evil scheme to get back at the hotel, by taking as much free stuff as possible. Ross’ rules of hotel stealing etiquette have a bizarre internal logic to them. Rachel shares a romantic moment with Joey, but it’s just a dream. I mean, c’mon, now they’re just taking stuff directly from soap operas! Joey & Rachel have an awkward discussion about their previous near-thing, and now Rachel loves Joey.

– The One with the Soap Opera Party. Only one episode into Rachel’s new crush, they immediately start jerking the viewers around. Gotta love that. Rachel is having the funny feelings for Joey and wants some sex to test her feelings, and everyone of course thinks THAT’S a bad idea. Ross meets Professor Charlie, and also wants some sex. This marks Aisha Tyler’s first role of three on my three favorite shows: Friends, 24 and CSI. Joey throws a party for work on the roof, and tries to get rid of the others by giving them tickets to a one-woman show. Only Chandler gets stuck going there, sadly, because Joey is too dumb to fool Rachel. Ross gets intimidated by Charlie’s dating record (only Nobel Prize winners and geniuses), despite obviously being perfect for her, and loses her to JOEY. How the hell does that one work?

– The One With the Fertility Test. The gang wonders the same thing we all do — WTF is with Joey and Charlie? Phoebe gets all offended by Rachel has a gift certificate for a corporate massage place, but then it turns out that she works there. Mondler get fertility tests done, and the news is bad. Ross coaches Joey on the Metropolitan Museum, but forgets the most important lesson for Joey: Left v. right. Janice returns to torment Chandler in her yearly cameo. Big downer for the finish as Chandler and Monica learn that no baby is forthcoming, and it’s more angst. It’s supposed to be a COMEDY. Geez.

– The One With the Donor. Phoebe & Rachel take Charlie shopping, because she’s supposed to be terrible at it despite dressing like a runway model and having perfect makeup. Well, it is TV land, where glasses make you the ugly duckling. Anyway, Rachel can barely contain her hatred of Charlie, and it’s Julie all over again. No really, it’s the SAME STORY, all over again. Mon & Chan decide to go with a sperm donor, and the unlucky candidate is John Stamos, playing a guy from Chandler’s work. Joey’s suggestion that Ross should give them Ben doesn’t go over too well, sadly. Rachel accidentally tells Charlie about her feelings for Ross while in the dressing room, but Charlie thinks it was Phoebe talking. Because it’s a sitcom. Ross tries to convince a professor to make him the keynote speaker at a convention in Barbados, but puts him to sleep, so he makes the most of it and gets the job. Phoebe gets all dolled up to show Mike that she’s over him, but runs into David again, back from Russia for good, and decides to settle for him instead. And this all sets up the season finale…

– The One in Barbados. I love the blunt admittance from the producers on the commentary, as they basically say that they had no major life events scheduled, so they just put them in another country for something to do. The destruction of David culminates here as he’s back with Phoebe, but she’s still thinking of Mike and saying his name all the time. This gives us a great David & Chandler scene, as Chandler is terrible at giving advice (“His penis was too big”) and ends up telling David to propose. Really he should have told him to give her a smack and stop talking about her damn ex-boyfriend, but that wouldn’t have gone over well with the female demo. Monica’s hair gets really poofy as a result of the humidity in Barbados and becomes the big running gag of the show. David’s decision to propose makes him the de facto villain in the Mike-Phoebe saga, which is totally unfair to such a nice guy, and the producers admitted that too on the commentary. Chandler accidentally deletes Ross’ big speech, so Ross and Charlie have to stay up all night re-writing the speech. Truly high romance. Speaking of romance, Monica scolds Chandler for meddling, then meddles herself and brings Mike back into Phoebe’s life. So Ross & Charlie bond, as do Joey & Rachel, and the commentary reveals that they had no intention of getting either together for good and were just filling time because they didn’t expect to go another season. Well at least they’re honest about it. Poor David tries to propose, but Mike returns and Phoebe kicks David to the curb like a piece of crap, and the poor guy disappears from the show for good on that note. Marta Kaufman is REALLY apologetic to the fans on the commentary while that is going on, basically saying that they handled it badly. Into the second part, as Ross makes his boring dinosaur speech and thus wins over Charlie, while boring Rachel & Joey into each other’s arms. So the Bings and Hannigans head downstairs for some ultra-competitive ping-pong, which gives Mike his first home-run line of the series: “By the way, I’m awesome”. Charlie finally comes to her senses and dumps Joey, and he runs to Rachel for comfort and FINALLY clues into what her feelings about him are. Joey, however, resists temptation because he doesn’t want to hurt Ross. Ross, however, has no such scruples and he’s all over Charlie first chance he gets. And of course Joey sees that and goes back to Rachel for good, and that’s the season.

Overall, I won’t go so far to say that I disliked this season, but it definitely became a much different show than I enjoyed for the first 7 seasons, and I don’t think it was a positive direction to go in. Much of the messy writing direction was forced by uncertainty over the show’s future, but some of it was just the writers running out of new ideas for the characters, and it shows. As noted, Fonzie was well into the air and nearing the ramp by the time that this season ended.

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. A good mix, but not a necessary one.

The Extras

As usual, there’s commentary from Kauffman-Crane-Bright on three of the best episodes of the season, and other than that the extras are pretty thin this time around. Well, it’s been nine seasons now, I guess they’re running out of stuff to talk about. You get…

– “Behind the Style: The Look of Friends”, a 20-minute featurette about the makeup and wardrobe.

– The now traditional gag reel. Joey improvising “I went in there to lay a little cable” is funnier than most of the stuff they wrote for the actors all year.

– A video for the Flaming Lips song “Phoebe Battles the Pink Robots”, which is connected to the show by using Phoebe footage. Weak.

– Gunther previews the 10th and final box set, sort of, and basically says goodbye in a pretty sad little bit.

– “Who’s Your Best Friend” trivia game.

The Ratings

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

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