Friends: Seasons 1-2 (TV Review)

Friends: Seasons 1-2 (TV Review)

There may be little point in writing anything about Friends, one of the most popular network sitcoms of all time. But with its recent release of the full 10 seasons on Netflix, it warrants another viewing, and a few notes on the early years of the show we are so familiar with.

Going back and re-watching the early episodes of such a classic show offers a few points that may have been forgotten as the show dragged on towards its conclusion, essentially becoming a drama with the occasional giggle thrown in.

friends2Seasons one and two of Friends offers some definitely hilarious moments, and some excellent episodes. The show could change from goofy and fun, and was always able to drop in the right amount of seriousness to keep viewers endlessly entertained. There is little doubt that during its initial run, the will-they-or-won’t-they relationship of Ross and Rachel was one of the best on television. Binge watching on Netflix takes some of that away, as there is no waiting to see what is going to happen next between the two of them. I recall waiting in agony to see what would happen after Rachel goes to meet Ross at the airport, or what would happen with Julie, or how they would react to their first kiss, or the fallout from The List.

The writers of the show did a good job in managing to wait about a season and a half before getting the two central characters together. In a current era where we can guess from the pilot episode which characters are going to hook up (think of New Girl, or The Mindy Project), Friends really did keep us on the edge of our seats waiting for the inevitable love connection between the two.

It is nice that a new generation is able to watch the show. For those who missed the initial run on TV, they can now see the whole thing, and “get it” whenever someone who is now in their 30s or 40s makes a reference to an episode, or to a character. This is a major advantage of Netflix, and it has ensured that Friends will remain a part of our popular culture for a long time to come.

friends3As for the episodes themselves, the first couple of seasons offer up some of the best single episodes that the entire series had to offer. There are some classics, including when Joey and Chandler get their chairs, and refuse to leave their newly found comfort for any reason. Or when Chandler gets Eddie as his new roommate. Or the one where nobody is ready, and Joey brought the term “going commando” into the popular lexicon. There is the museum date between Ross and Rachel, or the flashback episode to Rachel and Monica’s prom.

There is something comforting about watching these episodes again, because they are so familiar. We know the six characters of the show, because we grew up with them on Thursday nights. It is kind of nice knowing that they are always there now, with a quick scroll through your Netflix list, and that you can bang out a few episodes here and there, whenever you feel like it.

friends4The first two seasons of Friends offers us the best view of the characters, as well, before they essentially became caricatures of themselves as the series plowed along. Sure, Joey is still a little dumb at the beginning, but it was a new joke, and was still funny before his complete buffoonery in the later seasons. And Phoebe is always weird, and kind of the most annoying of all of them, but there is something endearing about her at the beginning, before the convoluted story lines of her family start creeping into the show too much. They were all such distinct and new characters, and looking back at seasons one and two, we see so much of the gang in the sitcoms that have followed, with too many other shows trying to capture some of the magic that made Friends such a massive success.

I remember the debates on who the funniest character was, or the Rachel vs. Monica debate taking over from the ages old question of who was hotter, Betty or Veronica. How every person in the world, seemingly, knew the theme song inside and out, and how it quickly became impossible to watch the intro to the show without clapping at the appropriate moment. How Rachel’s haircut became a phenomenon, perhaps one of the most copied hair styles of all time. Everybody from the 90s knows what a “Rachel” cut is, and probably knew at least one friend in their real lives who tried to rock it. This show launched the careers of the actors into super stardom, even if it never really lasted for any of them.

That famous haircut.
That famous haircut.

Now, Friends offers some great 90s nostalgia, and that is never a bad thing.

For original fans of the show, it is nice to go back to Central Perk, and remember the episodes with shocking clarity. For those who have never seen it before, it is a must-see, since along with Seinfeld, Friends created a massive pop cultural hit that helped to define the 90s for millions of people.

Happy Endings: Seasons 1-3 (TV Review)

Happy Endings: Seasons 1-3 (TV Review)

I truly love the show Happy Endings, and believe that it is one of the most underrated sitcoms to come out over the past few years. Going through the entire series on Netflix again recently, I was surprised that I hadn’t done a write-up on it before.

The show had a stunted beginning, and the first season suffered a little bit from them basically restarting the series part way through, in order to get more viewers in who had not tuned in for the original few episodes. This causes a little bit of repeated material, but overall, it was a road bump instead of something that was a complete turn off for viewers.

happy5The basis of the series is a group of six friends, and their zany lives after Alex leaves Dave at the altar. The rest of the group includes Alex’s sister, Jane, and her husband Brad, perennial single girl Penny, and Max, the gay character, who has as much trouble with men as Penny does. While the show definitely took a few episodes to get rolling, once the writers found the niches for their characters, it was off and running, and created a generally hilarious television sitcom.

And one that was cancelled too soon, as it still had plenty of steam going in Season 3 to keep going.

There are many things to like about this series, so I will try to outline a few of them. I would highly recommend Happy Endings to anybody, as the viewership could span from fans of Friends and New Girl to more intelligent and quirky comedies like Arrested Development.

1. The comedic timing of the actors is dead on, and adds to a clever dialogue. There are strong performances throughout the series, and the actors have truly bought in to their characters, and their individual quirks. Much like other sitcoms, each character has a distinct role, and their foibles serve as a primary engine to the plot. Jane is the Type A personality, Max is the uncaring one, Dave thinks he is much cooler than he really is, Alex is the dumb blonde, Penny is the train wreck, etc. The actors are good enough to make us buy into these characters, even though they are indeed cliches. But they work here.

2. The show is aware of itself. They will make fun of the plot holes that emerge in the series, or when a character seemingly appears from nowhere. An example of this is at the end of Season 3, when an older sister to Jane and Alex is introduced. They know it is far fetched, but aren’t above making fun of that fact. There are other “fourth wall” moments, when the characters indicate that they know they are in a TV show, and they work well.

happy43. The catch phrases. There are plenty of them, and they use them lightly. It is not one of those shows where they will beat a catch phrase to death. In fact, they will move on and use new ones. Most of these revolve around Penny, and her abbreviating common terms, or alternate pronunciations. They remain quirky and fun, because once we start to get bored of one, they have moved on to another.

4. The running jokes. A good series will use running jokes, but they aren’t so intrusive that it will alienate new viewers. Think of shows like Arrested Development or Archer. The jokes are always there, and they are brought up a few times, and they consistently work. In Happy Endings, they use jokes like Alex’s love of ribs (or general love of food), Max’s chubbiness, or Dave’s love of V-necks, in several episodes, and it always works.

happy35. The allusions. A smart show will use its cultural references well. Something like Family Guy, which is basically one episode long allusion to pop culture, is on the overkill spectrum. Happy Endings uses them much more sparingly, and to a much greater effect. When you catch one, they are generally hilarious. They go from imagined married names for celebrities, to a well placed “I am Queen’s Boulevard.” If you get it, they can be hilarious.

6. The plot. Unlike most sitcoms, that end up becoming dramas before too long, Happy Endings keeps it light. Sure, there is a plot that follows through each episode, and it could easily become drama, but they tackle it in a way that makes it not too plot heavy. The hijinks is what matters, and the running plot is secondary. We don’t have to care too much about the “will they or won’t they” storylines that have affected, and often ruined, other TV comedies.

happy27. Elisha Cuthbert. More known for dramatic roles, like as Jack Bauer’s daughter in 24, she really shines in a comedic role. Alex is extremely goofy and simple, and she plays it to a T. It doesn’t hurt that she is incredibly beautiful, and credit goes to the writers that they didn’t play that aspect up too much. Rare is the episode that focuses on her being a hot girl. Character first, looks later.

8. The chemistry. These actors work well together. There is great on-screen comedic chemistry between the bunch of them, and this makes it even funnier. They are able to play off one another, and their acting styles and characters mesh well enough that they can rattle on for a few minutes, and produce some gold.

Happy Endings is definitely well worth the watch. Never being too serious, it is not needed that the viewer becomes too invested in the whole thing. It is a fun show, and it is meant to be taken lightly. It was unfortunate that it never received the viewership it truly deserved while on air, and I can envision this show becoming more of a cult classic as time moves on. For now, check it out on Netflix, and enjoy the laughs.

The Mindy Project: Season 2 (TV Review)

The Mindy Project: Season 2 (TV Review)

By the second season of The Mindy Project, this show has definitely found its formula, and is sticking with it.

At the end of the first year, Mindy was faced with a decision of whether or not to move to Haiti with her three-month boyfriend Casey on a volunteer mission. We see all of this play out at the beginning of Season 2.

The new formula for the show is that Mindy manages to snag another seemingly perfect boyfriend, falls for him too quickly, and then things blow up in her face, leaving her heartbroken and alone. Until the next perfect boyfriend comes along. We can’t help but feel that she is the one that is blowing it in all of these relationships, adding to the calamity that she is. Mindy is still cute and funny, but she is selfish and ignores what is happening in the lives of the people around her.

The second season of the show definitely takes on more of a dramedy role that in Season 1. Mindy’s life becomes more serious, while the lives of the supporting cast become more silly and extreme, in order to garner some laughs in what is still considered a sitcom. Things get complicated when Danny, her co-worker that we expect will have romantic implications from pretty much episode one of the show, becomes a romantic complication, the show starts vaulting towards the inevitable will-they-or-won’t they that has plagued pretty much every ensemble sitcom that I can remember. We all waited with baited breath to see if Ross and Rachel would ever get together in the first seasons of Friends, and their first kiss, after watching the prom video, was a great sitcom TV moment. We had waited for so long to see if it was going to happen, and there was a part of us that never knew if it ever would. Now, we know which lead characters are going to get together. Was there ever any doubt while watching New Girl that Nick and Jess would become an item? Nope. Same goes for The Mindy Project. We know that Mindy and Danny will get together, it is only a matter of time. It just depends if the writers and producers can keep us laughing for long enough while we patiently wait. Then, like most sitcom relationships, we will hate it once it happens.

The secondary characters.
The secondary characters.

While season 2 of The Mindy Project is fairly repetitive, it is still pretty fun to watch. We know unfortunate things are going to happen in Mindy’s love life, but it is still enjoyable to see the disasters she can create for herself. There are a lot of good guest stars in the second season, including the likes of James Franco, more from the guy who plays Ders in Workaholics (too lazy to look up his name), and Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (again, too lazy to look it up). The guest stars are usually fun additions to the show, and they don’t take over an episode when they arrive. Take the repeated appearances of Kevin Smith, for example. He is there as a side story, not as something central, and this works well for the show.

With 22 episodes of 22 minutes, you can actually pour through the second season pretty quickly, if you have the time. The show flows well together, and the plot is a continuation from week to week. Sure, the secondary characters, including Danny, have changed and become more caricatures as they have evolved, but this is another sitcom trapping. Like Joey getting increasingly dumber throughout Friends. They find their niche, and they go with it.

The best addition to the show in its second year is the inclusion of Adam Pally as a full-time member of the cast. He played Max on the underrated Happy Endings, and essentially is repeating his role here. But he is fun, and a good fit on the cast of this show.

If you enjoyed the first season, then the second maintains the pace set in the original, and it remains worth watching. I can see the decline of the show happening in its third year, of which I haven’t seen, or even know if it exists.

There are definitely worse things on Netflix than the second season of The Mindy Project. Enjoy!

Drinking Buddies (Film Review)

Drinking Buddies (Film Review)

There is nothing about the premise of this film that I do not like. Friends who own a brewery, their complicated love lives, a “they belong together but are they clever enough to figure it out” relationship, beautiful women, strong acting performances.

drinking-buddies2
Johnson definitely as scruffy in this photo as he is in the film. He gets to sport an awesome beard.

Drinking Buddies, which is now on Netflix Canada, is a very strong movie, and it is led by the amazing performance by Olivia Wilde. In this film, she is best defined as being a beautiful disaster. She definitely isn’t glammed up at all in the movie, spending most of it with bags under her eyes, hungover, and in some fairly ratty tank tops. But there is still something about her that is incredibly desirable, and that speaks to the level of her performance. She is a complete mess, going through a breakup with her boyfriend, who could possibly the most boring human ever, and has no chemistry with her. But she is a mess that you want to know, because she is a cool girl, and one who is willing to down beer after beer with her friends. You can’t help but love her.

The movie also has a great supporting cast, including the always great Ron Livingston (seriously, him in Office Space and Band of Brothers is amazing) as Wilde’s dull and ill-fitting boyfriend, Jake M. Johnson (from New Girl) playing Wilde’s co-worker and best friend, and the always fantastic and sedate Anna Kendrick (if you are not yet a fan and only know her from Twilight, you are missing out. Check her out in Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air). The foursome makes this movie what it is, which is a quiet story about friends and falling in love.

This is Olivia Wilde's best performance.
This is Olivia Wilde’s best performance. Even roughed up, she is still beautiful.

Throughout the film, there is an understated jealousy between all of the characters, based on the nature of their relationships, and this provides the depth, and the warmth, of the film. There is nothing over-the-top to be seen here. There is no scene where the characters are running through an airport trying to tell someone that they love them before they leave their lives forever. No hammy romantic gestures that destroys the relationships that we learn to respect over the course of the hour and a half run time.

The movie is calm, and understated. Not a collection of drunken adventures. It is based in realism, and this is why I liked this movie so much. It is something that can happen, that has happened, and will definitely happen again. So many of us have been in situations like this before, where we don’t necessarily realize that the thing that is most perfect for us is sitting right before us. Sometimes it is painful to watch the realism, but this is the way things are in real life. It isn’t always fireworks and crazy hookups and insane parties. Sometimes it’s quiet conversations about the possibility of marriage, getting too drunk and trying to make a bonfire, or running into the ocean after far too many. Sometimes it is all about sitting quietly next to your friend over lunch.

This simplicity is what makes Drinking Buddies a movie worth watching. If you are in it for a rip-roaring drinking comedy, keep searching. This is not that film. This one is definitely something more than that, something that feels a little bit more important.

Well worth a watch.