I once hated "Friends."
I was a freshman in high school when it premiered, and it filled me with twined emotions of disdain and jealousy for its lackadaisical, glossy version of adulthood.
At fourteen, I already scoffed at the unreality of it all. Would I be able to spend all my time in coffee shops with my friends, making witty comments that my friends don't laugh at? (Seriously, why didn't anyone on that show laugh when Chandler said something funny?) Would I have a lofty, Richard Scarry job like "archaeologist" or "chef?" Its not-quite representations of city life and young people seemed to be so calculated to appeal to middle class America that I bashed it whenever possible.
"Did you see the 'Friends' where..." was once the "This is just like on 'Sex and the City' when..." Whenever anybody demonstrated this universal, encyclopedic knowledge of the show, I would roll my eyes, uninitiated and not interested. Once at a work party, when someone pulled out the Friends Trivia Game, I feigned tiredness and left . I willfully ignored an American obsession for the whole ten years it was on the air, beginning my freshman year of high school and ending the year after I finished grad school.
Anyone who watched the show, to me, was for people who didn't get the genius of more obscure offerings like "Mr. Show," "Freaks and Geeks," and "Spaced." Yes, I was a lame TV snob. I didn't care what was going on with Ross and Rachel. I didn't care about Monica and Chandler falling in love. My haughtiness was eternal … or so I thought.
"Friends" has been off the air for seven years now, and since then, it's been put into heavy syndication on a number of channels. In those years I grew up, became secure enough in my coolness to not give a shit about what's cool to like on TV.
And I started to watch "Friends."
I would sometimes put it on while I was making dinner, and I was shocked to see how many catch phrases I recognized. "We were on a break!" Smelly cat! How had I absorbed knowledge of a show I shunned? Why was I enjoying it now?
"Friends" is fun to watch, as somebody who didn't then, for meta reasons. It's fun to giggle at what TV networks considered to be the fashionable "grunge look" (plaid and overalls? Really?), to watch Matthew Perry's body weight fluctuate, and wallow in the hair (remember Caesar cuts?), but there's more.
Watching a show that so blatantly defined the '90s now is an exquisitely painful reminder of how nice things used to be, akin to what it must be like for my parents to watch "Leave it to Beaver." Let me remind you, this show blossomed with the Internet. iPhones and Twitter and the recession did not exist in the world of "Friends." Those characters had to process 9/11 just like the actors did.
"Friends" is a time capsule, but on top of its frozen-in-time thrills, I can now appreciate how well constructed the show was. The love triangles they set up were good enough to pleasantly string along for years. Every character feels like someone you might know, and they managed to keep the show firmly about them for ten years without people getting bored, or adding a small, adorable child "Friend."
Perhaps it wasn't up my outsider alley, comedy-wise, but I get it now. I watch it when I'm working out and genuinely laugh at Phoebe, at their giant cellphones and bowling shirts, and how silly I was for shunning something just because it was popular.
It still bugs me that no one laughs at Chandler, though. Poor guy.