Saturday, August 2, 2008

Friends, dysfunctional friends, and Thanksgiving

My favorite episode of Friends is "The One with the Boobies," an episode that has Stephen Fisher play Pheobe's psychiatrist boyfriend who annoys her friends by analyzing them. Based on a single joke by Chandler, he deduces that Chandler is an only child and that his parents divorced before he hit puberty, calling it a "textbook" case of such behavior. He suggests that Ross subconsciously knew that he was marrying a lesbian, either because of low self-esteem or because he was trying to compensate for the attention he received from his parents due to a sibling who was perceived to be a failure. His best work of analysis is with the show itself: when Phoebe wants to break up with him he condemns the friends, saying that it is typical behavior of a dysfunctional group of friends. "Love me, need me, define me" characterizes their relationship and he says that it is ridiculous that they drink coffee "from oversized coffee cups that may as well have nipples on them." In this, he accurately summarizes the show, one that was incredibly safe and, excuse the pun, friendly over its lengthy run.

Perhaps nothing was more Friends than its Thanksgiving specials. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks someone wrote an article that I saw on the web talking about the choice of food for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, as Chandler unwittingly notes on the show, isn't about one's favorite foods (he would rather eat macaroni and cheese than turkey). The foods for Thanksiving are not people's favorite -- but they are comfort foods (Chandler chooses a comfort food of his own, perhaps in an effor to find solace in a holiday that was traumatic in some way for him). The thesis of the article I read was that Thanksgiving is a holiday about comfort -- and Friends, a show that never challenged its viewers or even convention, provided just that over the years. The TV sets showing Friends may well have had nipples on them, but that's precisely what the show offerred. That's why the show ended the way it did (with Ross and Rachel together).

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