Friends: The Complete Fifth Season
December 3, 2001
As Friends finishes its ninth and probably last season, it is amazing that the show has lasted this long and become such a significant part of popular culture. What started off as a modest sitcom about a group of friends living in New York City has grown into a show with characters that millions of people all over the world have grown to love and laugh with every week. This is due in large part to its universal appeal. The cast of characters have personality traits that almost everyone can relate to in some way. Everyone has known or is one of these characters. Now, fans can enjoy their favourite episodes on a collection of attractively packaged box sets from Warner Brothers. Their latest offering is the fifth season which saw the cast go to London and Las Vegas in addition to their familiar home turf of the Big Apple.
This season begins with the fallout of Ross (Schwimmer) saying Rachel’s (Aniston) name at the altar instead of his wife-to-be’s, Emily (Helen Baxendale). Chandler (Perry) and Monica (Cox Arquette) have started an affair and are unsuccessfully trying to hide it from everyone. Phoebe (Kudrow) is pregnant and on the verge of giving birth and Joey (LeBlanc) continues to struggle as an actor.
In earlier seasons, Ross was a lovable neurotic but during this one he turns into more of a whiny bastard, bordering on psychotic in some episodes. Of all the characters, he’s the one whose behaviour grates on the nerves the most. As the season progresses, Chandler starts to lose some of the sarcastic humour that made him the funniest friend in the cast, but his relationship with Monica and the situations that arise from it are a source of a lot of humour. Joey becomes a much funnier character, including one inspired slapstick moment when winds up with a whole turkey on his head. LeBlanc is able to get a lot of mileage out of his dumb guy schtick. Aside from the episode where she gives birth to triplets, Phoebe really isn’t given as many funny moments as the rest of the cast. Although, the episode where she finds a cop’s badge (Michael Rapaport) and uses it to impersonate a police officer is the best of the season, with a hilarious subplot of Ross trying to get a newly bought couch up a tricky flight of stairs (“Pivot!!”).
The writers wisely stick with the show’s winning formula and don’t try to push the envelope too much. The closest they come to pushing the envelope is ending the season in Las Vegas with Joey at a career crossroads. The writers also inject the occasional emotionally poignant and dramatic moment. Ross’ marriage to Emily dissolves over the season and even though it is dealt with comically, there is an underlying thread of tragedy that transforms Ross into a bitter character (which may also explain his sometimes irrational behaviour). They say a lot of comedy comes out of anger and this is certainly true in Ross’ case.
There are three audio commentaries spread out over three of the four DVDs. Each one features the show’s executive producers, Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. These are the movers and shakers of the show. They created it and they guide it. They offer all sorts of anecdotal information on their commentaries. For example, Kauffman was actually pregnant at the time of the episode where Phoebe gives birth and she also passed kidney stones like Joey, demonstrating how much of their personal lives they incorporate into the show.
The fourth disc contains the bulk of the extra material. “Gunther Spills the Beans” is a brief extra where the Central Perk manager gives us a preview of what’s to come in the next season.
The strongest feature is “The One That Goes Behind the Scenes,” a 43-minute Discovery Channel documentary that examines the process of how a season of the show is put together. One gets the impression that television is a writer’s medium as a lot of the preparation time for an episode is spent writing and rewriting. What’s interesting is how rewriting happens even while the episodes are being shot in front of a live audience. The writers even ask the cast for input if a bit of dialogue isn’t getting a laugh. There is even footage of Matthew Perry improvising a few lines that end up being better than anything the writers came up with.
“Friends: On Location in London” is a very brief puff promo piece with interviews with the cast about how wonderful it was to film in England and how rabid the fans are there.
While skimpy in the extras department, this box set does feature decent transfers with 5.1 surround sound and extra footage that was cut out of the re-runs because of commercial time. It would have been nice if the cast had been more involved in the extras, perhaps contributing a commentary or two. Regardless, fans of the show will want to purchase this box set so that they can watch all their favourite episodes whenever they want.