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'Friends': Six Lives on Videotape

No sex, bad jobs, improbably huge apartments - why do we like 'Friends' so much?

May 18, 1995 12:00 AM ET
friends jennifer aniston Courteney Cox Lisa Kudrow Matt LeBlanc Matthew Perry David Schwimmer
The Cast of 'Friends' on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Mark Seliger

To: Sol the agent
From: Marcel the monkey
Re: Getting my primate ass off Friends

First of all, Bubby, how the hell did we end up without a piece of the action on Outbreak? Don't get me wrong, Solly – I'm delighted with what the flick's done for Dustin. I'm just pissed Dusty's getting rich while I'm back to being another banana-munching pisher scratching myself on goddamned episodic TV. How many times do I have to tell you – features, features, features!

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So anyway, we catch a break, and I hit big on this sitcom. Who knew? You told me this Friends thing looked like The Real World with punch lines – 13 weeks max, a quick payday and back to the zoo. A bunch of good-looking white kids hanging around drinking fancy coffees in New York – not exactly a recipe for success, right? Now America's going ape for us. I'm on the hottest show on television, Solly, but I ain 't feeling the heat. Everyone else is getting movie offers, and the mammal media's calling this Schwimmer kid the breakout star. Who does NBC think is bringing the 9-to-15 demographic to this party – Matt LeBlanc? I saw the guy's work on that Married ... With Children spinoff, and they call me simian!

Sol, I want out. The rest of the Friends treat me like I'm less evolved, and they get all the good lines. Hey, I didn't do four years with Stella Adler just so I could hump Schwimmer's leg! Don't misunderstand, the show's excellent, and those sexy grrrls are a real riot – I loved Courteney Cox's work in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective as much as the next animal.

Here's my proposal: Let's boldly rethink this show. How about calling it Marcel's Friends? Screw this human-ensemble shit Give the people what they really want – me – instead of neurotic pop-culture cannibals sipping lattes, yapping, watching TV, not making monkey love.

Babe, if you can't help me, maybe CAA can. Please talk to Littlefield ASAP.

P.S. Also check to see if maybe Ellen likes monkeys.

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***

Kato is about to testify, But nobody inside Stage 5 at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, Calif., is paying any attention whatsoever to the court proceedings being broadcast on a tiny black-and-white TV near the makeup room. Perhaps that's because everyone on this crowded soundstage is way too busy rehearsing the season-ending episode of a television series even more entertaining and popular than those wacky nonanimated Simpsons – namely that six-headed monster hit Friends.

"Courteney Cox was obsessed with the trial for a minute or two," says Matthew Perry, who plays the show's resident wise-ass, Chandler Bing. "But we've had to work right through the whole thing. However, I have been on the phone with Kato constantly, dealing with this whole crazy newfound-fame thing. 'Kato, man,' I tell him, 'I do believe the time has finally come for a seventh Friend.' "

Even without Kato apartment sitting, Friends has proven to be much more than the horribly contrived, Generation-X-rated Cheers wanna-be that its coffeehouse setting originally suggested. Friends may have looked like some scary market-tested flannelfest – imagine a less biting Reality Bites: The Series – but the reality's turned out to be something else entirely. Arguably the most consistently funny sitcom on TV, Friends has won over an evergrowing number of Nielsen pals as the show has made its way through such memorable episodes as – yes, Virginia, these are the actual titles – "The One With the Butt," "The One With the Boobies," "The One With the Monkey," The One With the East German Laundry Detergent" and "The One With the Evil Orthodontist."

This afternoon the cast and crew are preparing "The One Where Rachel Finds Out," an emotional cliffhanger in which princess-turned-waitress Rachel Green (played by Jennifer Aniston) discovers what the rest of us have known all season – that sensitive paleontologist Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) is desperately in love with her.

The mood on the Friends set today seems warm, casual and, yes, extremely friendly, if just a tad tense.

"I'd say it feels like the last days of freshman year in college," says Lisa Kudrow, who plays the spacey hippie Phoebe Buffay, as she takes a break on the Central Perk coffeehouse set. "We're usually pretty touchy feely around here, but now more than ever."

"We're all about to go into some form of Friends withdrawal," adds Schwimmer.

The show's executive producers – Kevin Bright, 40, Marta Kauffman, 38, and David Crane, 37 – seem friendly, too, despite the burden on their shoulders. It's Monday, usually the most difficult day in the show's work cycle. Tomorrow evening the show tapes, and the three friends who run Friends have their eyes on the prize now within their sight: a perfect TV season.

"The One Where Rachel Finds Out" finds Bright directing Friends for the first time. As a result, Perry – who, true to character, serves as Friends' on-set master of sarcastic ceremonies – is already going around calling the episode "Kevin's Gate."

"Laugh hard," Perry tells Kauffman's young daughter as he prepares for a scene. "Your mommy's the producer."

Perry's jokes are slightly loaded because nobody wants to screw up now. "At the end of every episode, we always look at each other and say, "Wow, there's another one that doesn't suck' " says Kauffman. "We all know from past experience how much can go wrong on a series. And on this show, everything's gone right." With that, Kauffman looks around for some actual wood on which to knock.

Kauffman and Crane – creative partners since their days studying theater at Brandeis University – came together with veteran comedy producer Kevin Bright while working on their popular HBO series Dream On, an unusually adult comedy much noted for its incisive wit, its use of vintage TV clips as a sort of postmodern Greek chorus and – lest we forget – the occasional tit shot.

Friends is a different and larger-scale sort of TV phenomenon and a more wholesome one as well. Think of Friends as a sort of anti-Melrose Place: a wildly successful show about a whole bunch of beautiful young people in improbably huge apartments not sleeping together.

The rapidly escalating popularity of Friendsis such that even other TV shows are making note of this baffling lack of sexual interaction. On a recent All-American Girl, Margaret's grandmother commented, "It's such an unrealistic show. Six very attractive, clever people who drink lots of coffee and don't have sex with each other. Yeah, right."

Perry has heard this point before. "Listen, none of us are sleeping together, either," he says with a grin. "What I have in the back of my head is that when these characters originally met, there was a little of that tension, but it worked itself out."

Even if they're not doing the deed, the show's cast members conveniently seem to have become the best of friends. "Yeah, it's pretty much a lovefest around here," says Jennifer Aniston. "It is kind of sickening, isn't it?"

"There've been no real fights to speak of," says Matt LeBlanc, who plays the Danzaesque would-be actor Joey Tribbiani. "Except, of course, for that time I beat the crap out of Aniston." Tragically, for the sake of inquiring minds, everyone around this surprisingly unglamorous studio appears legitimately fond of everyone else. Blessedly, there's one very notable exception: Marcel, Ross' pet monkey, whom virtually the entire cast confesses to loathing on a professional level. America loves the beast, but his colleagues reveal that as an actor, Marcel is less than generous. Actually, Marcel is played by two female monkeys – one creatively named Monkey, who was indeed seen in Outbreak, and her trusty double, Katy. "God bless the monkey – it's an innocent animal," Schwimmer says diplomatically. "But believe me, trying to capture a monkey doing what the writers want has become a complete nightmare. Put it this way: I really enjoy acting with people."

"You can't talk to that monkey," adds Perry, "and it's always eating its own feces – as opposed to the rest of the cast, who have the manners to just leave ours there."

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