'Friends': 25 Best Episodes - Rolling Stone
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25 Best ‘Friends’ Episodes

In honor of the iconic series’ 25th anniversary on September 22nd, our definitive list of its most hilarious, heartfelt, and utterly unforgettable episodes

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When Friends premiered on NBC 25 years ago this week, the cast had no idea whether it would even be picked up for additional episodes. Most of them had been struggling in Hollywood for years, and this new show about six twentysomethings in New York City felt like it might be just another pilot that went nowhere. “Everyone was kind of keeping their distance and not really investing too much emotionally,” David Schwimmer would recall on Oprah a year later. “There’s also the reality that any one of us could be removed after the pilot.”

Lucky for them, NBC debuted the series directly between new episodes of Mad About You and Seinfeld (and just 90 minutes before the first-ever episode of E.R.), which meant that an astonishing 21 million people watched Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc come together on the small screen for the first time.

It was the beginning of a cultural phenomenon — one that over 10 seasons would see the gang fall in and out of love, change jobs, apartments, and hairstyles, and spend an inordinate amount of time on a hideous couch in a coffee shop — that still resonates today. Twenty-five years later, what is it about this show that people love so damn much? In a world overblown with technology, more and more young people are drawn to a simpler time before they were born, when, in a desperate situation, all you could do was borrow a rich guy’s cell phone at a nearby restaurant table and drunkenly profess your love over voicemail. Friends is comforting, heartbreaking, hilarious, and bingeworthy — so addictive, in fact, that you may even get fired for watching it.

Sure, a show with six white leads and no person of color in sight would not fly in 2019, and was not really even OK back then. (“I’d like y’all to get a black friend,” Oprah told the cast. “Maybe I could stop by. In fact, I’m thinking about buying that apartment building next door!”) Still, the characters — sarcastic and romantically insecure Chandler; loopy, earthy Phoebe; intellectual yet emotionally unstable Ross; controlling, neurotic Monica; suave, dim-witted Joey; and charming yet superficial Rachel — were instantly lovable. Watching them bicker and bond, it felt like they were your actual pals, ones you developed a secret language with. (“Could I be wearing any more clothes?”) “The Friends should be like the Beatles,” co-creator Marta Kauffman told Rolling Stone in 1995. “Everyone has their favorite, and who you choose says something about you as a person.”

We love them all too much to choose, but in honor of this landmark anniversary, here are our favorite 25 episodes. From mortifying Thanksgivings and jellyfish stings to cross-country road trips, wedding dress capers, and more, it highlights the unforgettable hijinks and heartfelt moments we can’t wait to watch, over and over, for another 25 years.  — Angie Martoccio

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25

“The Last One” (Season 10, Episodes 17 & 18)

Finales are notoriously tricky, especially for beloved sitcoms. How do you say goodbye without losing the lightheartedness that made it work in the first place? The Friends two-parter delivers (pun intended) on all fronts. Erica (Anna Faris) gives birth to the (surprise!) twins Monica and Chandler are adopting, while television’s greatest will they-won’t they ends on “will,” as Rachel ditches a new job in Paris to get back with Ross for good. And it features good-old hijinks like Joey giving Monica and Chandler a chick and a duck as house warming presents… which soon get stuck in a foosball table. Even the show’s seventh character, the Apartment, gets a touching send-off: As Monica and Chandler prepare to decamp to the ’burbs with their babies, all six Friends turn in the keys and head out for one last coffee. “Where?” Chandler quips. As if there could be any doubt. Brittany Spanos

Friends- UpAllNight
24

“The One Where They’re Up All Night” (Season 7, Episode 12)

After kicking off with a meteor-viewing party where everyone takes brutal pleasure in intellect-shaming Ross, this ep breaks up the cast, following various combinations of Friends as they navigate New York into the wee hours. Monica and Chandler alternately quarrel and get busy as they take turns not being able to sleep. Phoebe’s kept awake by an errant fire alarm. Rachel and Tag — her short-term boyfriend who’s also her assistant — use an office miscommunication as foreplay. But the highlight is Ross and Joey, who end up stuck on Joey’s fire escape, forced to use each other as human ladders in order to climb to safety. Elisabeth Garber-Paul

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23

“The One With the Red Sweater” (Season 8, Episode 2)

In classic Friends form, this episode joins the end of one major plotline (Chandler and Monica’s wedding) with the start of another (Rachel’s pregnancy). As Chandler and Ross crash a wedding and take photos of each other to cover for losing the disposable cameras at Chandler’s own ceremony the day before, Monica and Phoebe try to figure out who Rachel’s baby-daddy is, their only clue being the titular piece of clothing left at her apartment. Joey, ever the gentleman, proposes to Phoebe, believing she’s the one who’s pregnant — and later to Rachel, after he finds out the truth. In the final scene, Ross visits the loft, picking up the red sweater on his way out. “Hey, my sweater,” he says. “I’ve been looking for this for like a month!” A reveal so clear-cut even Joey figures it out. EGP

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22

“The One That Could Have Been” (Season 6, Episodes 15 & 16)

It’s the alternate-universe episode! What would happen if Rachel never left Barry, Ross never got divorced from Carol, Monica was still fat, Joey never was never fired from Days of Our Lives, Chandler quit his job to write comics, and Phoebe took a job at as a stock broker at Merrill Lynch? In this two-part episode, we learn that the gang, for the most part, end up in the exact same place their present-day counterparts: Monica and Chandler find their way back to each other; Ross and Rachel’s first marriages both fall apart (presumably so they can find each other, too). And while the series’ fat jokes have not aged well in the age of body positivity, the revised opening credits sequence depicting the alt version of the Friends is still pretty amusing. Alison Weinflash

Friends- Laundry
21

“The One With the East German Laundry Detergent” (Season 1, Episode 5)

Yes, it’s the episode with Ross and Rachel’s first kiss — Rachel cross-legged in a laundry cart, overjoyed that she learned to defend herself against neighborhood jerks and do laundry (even if an errant red sock has turned all her whites pink) — but there are plenty of other awkward romantic entanglements on display. Over a marathon, espresso-fueled talk, Chandler breaks up with Janice (in her — and her notorious laugh’s — first appearance on the show), making bad jokes all the way through to diffuse the tension. Meanwhile, Joey tries to win back his ex by tricking Monica into going on a double-date with her and her new boyfriend. The catch? He tells Monica the couple are actually brother and sister in order to convince her the beau is up for grabs. Confusion, followed by conniving, ensues. EGP

Friends- Jellyfish
20

“The One With the Jellyfish” (Season 4, Episode 1)

In a fleeting moment over a beach weekend, the great we-were-on-a-break debate is settled: Ross agrees to the terms of Rachel’s 18-page letter, meaning he admits to cheating and accepts full responsibility for their split. The only problem? He’d fallen asleep while reading the letter and had no clue what he was agreeing to. Never one to let the past be the past, he reneges once he realizes what he’s signed off on, and a classic Ross-and-Rachel fight ensues, complete with Ross correcting her grammar and Rachel mocking his vocal inflections. Meanwhile, Monica gets stung by a jellyfish, spurring one of the show’s most iconic moments: In a noble and unconventional gesture of friendship — which became a litmus-test question for real-world friends for years — Chandler pees on her to alleviate the pain. Natalli Amato

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19

“The One With All the Wedding Dresses” (Season 4, Episode 20)

Love is in the air, sort of. Rachel abruptly proposes to new boyfriend Joshua to prove she’s moved on from Ross, who’s set to marry Emily. Chandler picks up a woman at a sleep clinic only to discover she has night terrors. Monica picks up Emily’s gown as a favor, but then becomes obsessed with wearing it herself. Phoebe gets in on the act, showing up to Monica’s apartment in her own bridal wear for fun, and eventually she, Monica, and Rachel are all hanging out on the couch, guzzling beers in wedding dresses, lamenting Rachel’s cringeworthy proposal. When Joshua shows up to give Rachel a second chance, he finds exactly what he was running from in the first place: Bridezilla Rachel in white, flinging open the door and shouting, “I do!” NA

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18

“The One With the Football” (Season 3, Episode 9)

What would Thanksgiving be without football? Or Friends without the Geller siblings’ crazy quirks? Thankfully, we never had to know a world that answers those questions. The gang decides to play a friendly game of touch football, but the stakes quickly escalate as Monica and Ross relive their childhood “Geller Bowl” rivalry and compete to the death for a musty, homemade troll-doll trophy, known to them as the coveted Geller Cup. Less interested in the Geller Cup, Joey and Chandler compete for a Danish model’s attention, ultimately driving her away with their embarrassing antics. The moral of this very special episode: Why count blessings when you can count the score. NA

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17

“The One With All the Resolutions” (Season 5, Episode 11)

This ep should really be titled “The One With Ross’ Leather Pants,” because no one else’s 1999 New Year’s resolution produces results as memorable — or disastrous. In an effort to try something new each day, Ross buys chic leather pants for his date with a woman named Elizabeth Hornswoggle (much to the chagrin of Chandler, whose resolution is to not make fun of his friends). But the luxurious material makes him so hot in her apartment, he has to run to the bathroom and pull his pants down for relief… only to come to the horrifying realization that he can’t get them back up, no matter how much lotion or baby powder he applies. The embarrassment is palpable as he exits in his boxers, holding the pasty aftermath in his arms. The real lesson? Never call Joey during a panic for advice. AM

Friends- EggplantSteak
16

“The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant” (Season 2, Episode 5)

In an episode that continues to hit home for anyone with friends in a different income bracket, the gang is divided after a fancy dinner to celebrate Monica’s promotion, where they split the bill evenly even though Rachel, Phoebe, and Joey have only eaten a side salad, a cup of soup, and a small pizza, respectively. When the rest of the group later head to a Hootie & the Blowfish concert for Ross’ birthday, the trio stay home in protest because they cant afford the tickets. They all reach an understanding in the end, though. After Monica winds up losing her job, Joey offers to pay for her coffee — even if Chandler needs to spot him a few. Alexa Pipia

Friends- Unagi
15

“The One With Unagi” (Season 6, Episode 17)

In an episode that centers on Monica and Chandler giving each other crappy Valentine’s Day re-gifts, it’s the B-plot that ends up being the most laugh-out-loud funny: When Rachel and Phoebe start self-defense classes, know-it-all Ross brags about his years practicing karate, and attempts to school them on “unagi,” which he claims is a “state of total awareness.” (It’s actually the Japanese word for eel.) His method? Jump-scaring them in their apartment, which kicks off a series of tit-for-tat sneak attacks where the trio try to kick each other’s asses — and Rachel mocks Ross’ terminology by calling her own strategy the “salmon skin roll.” Try not thinking about this episode when you go out for sushi, we dare you. AP

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14

“The One With Monica’s Thunder” (Season 7, Episode 1)

Though the events of the Season Seven premiere take place on the same day as the Season Six finale, the episodes were actually filmed four months apart due to summer hiatus — a period during which Matthew Perry lost 20 pounds due to a bout of pancreatitis. Continuity issue aside, this episode is a standout, revolving around an ecstatic, newly-engaged Monica becoming furious when she finds Ross and Rachel kissing in the hall. (“I’m sorry, apparently I’ve opened the door to the past!”) She accuses Rachel of stealing her thunder, and Rachel threatens to sleep with Ross for revenge. The B-plots aren’t nearly as funny — Joey tries to look 19 for an audition by putting on streetwear and uttering phrases like “That’s whack!”; Phoebe desperately urges Monica and Chandler to let her play at their wedding — except for the one about Chandler’s inability to get it up. AM

13

“The One With the Blackout” (Season 1, Episode 7)

NBC execs in the Must-See TV era were big on crossovers and theme nights. So after Jamie on Mad About You caused a citywide blackout, characters on most of the other Thursday-night sitcoms (save for Seinfeld, which had no time for such nonsense) had to deal with the power outage. While most of the group hang in Monica’s apartment swapping sex stories — and, in the process, ratcheting up Ross’ crush on Rachel, who obliviously falls for hot neighbor Paolo that night — Chandler is (all together now) trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre. Separated from the rest of the cast, with only a Victoria’s Secret supermodel to play off of, this was Matthew Perry’s first major chance to show his stuff. The result, just like the piece of gum Goodacre offers Chandler: perfection. Alan Sepinwall

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12

“The One With All the Thanksgivings” (Season 5, Episode 8)

The Thanksgivings on Friends could make the most dysfunctional family holiday look normal. As the group take turns sharing their worst Turkey Day memories, from Chandler’s parents using the day to announce their divorce to Joey getting the ceremonial bird stuck on his head, Monica holds back… until Rachel’s flashbacks helpfully reveal why: After one early Thanksgiving when Monica overheard Chandler call her fat, she loses weight, and at a later holiday dinner enacts her revenge — an attempted faux-seduction of her nemesis, where she drops a knife onto his foot, slicing off a toe. Is it more embarrassing than Joey getting his head stuck in a raw turkey? No. But it does lead Chandler to accidentally tell Monica he loves her, proving they were meant to be all along. AP

Friends-The Sandwich
11

“The One With Ross’ Sandwich” (Season 5, Episode 9)

Ross’ emotional breakdown over a colleague stealing his “Moist Maker” Thanksgiving leftover sandwich — “the only good thing in my life,” as he puts it — is insane, yes, but consider the lead-up: Thus far in Season Five he’s said the wrong woman’s name at the altar, abandoned Rachel on a plane to Greece, and been evicted from his apartment. So when the museum orders him to take a sabbatical, and he returns to Central Perk high on tranquilizers and nibbling mindlessly on cotton candy, you can’t help but feel for the guy. And little does he know, he’s about to find out his best friend is sleeping with his sister. AM

Friends- TheProposal
10

“The One With the Proposal” (Season 6, Episodes 24 & 25)

This two-part episode sees Chandler’s careful plan to pop the question to Monica thwarted when they run into her ex, Richard (Tom Selleck), at dinner. What starts out as a silly bump in the road evolves into Monica’s biggest life decision yet, as Richard professes his love while Chandler, trying in a characteristically bumbling manner to not ruin his engagement surprise, makes it seem like he doesn’t want to commit at all. (Fearing they’ll miss out on their own chance to wed, Rachel and Phoebe race to make marriage pacts with their two remaining single guy friends.) In Part 2, an emotional conversation with Richard leads Monica back home and straight into one of the most tear-jerking moments of the series, as she gets down on one knee to propose to Chandler. Just like Rachel, we’re only 80 percent jealous. BS

Friends- Ross Says Rachel
9

“The One After Ross Says Rachel” (Season 5, Episode 1)

Following two of the best cliffhangers on the show — Ross saying Rachel’s name instead of Emily’s at the altar; Monica and Chandler’s London tryst — Friends’ Season Five opener is as action-packed as it needs to be. Ross has to complete his vows with a fuming Emily, who later disappears during the reception. Rachel wonders what it all means, especially since she’d booked a last-minute trip to London to stop the wedding from happening. And Chandler and Monica dodge their romantically-stressed friends to get some alone time. It’s a perfect showcase for what the show does so well: meaningful plot developments for its main characters, handled with equal parts heart and humor. BS

Friends- Vegas
8

“The One After Vegas” (Season 6, Episode 1)

Like a bad hangover, the Season Six opener finds everyone trying to make sense of what happened in Vegas — and their feelings. Monica and Chandler are unsure about marriage, but neither wants to admit it first. Ross and Rachel, on the other hand, drunkenly did get married. But, dreading his impending third divorce, Ross concocts one of his most boneheaded ideas yet: only pretending to get an annulment, thereby leaving Rachel his wife. Thankfully, Joey and Phoebe provide a perfect antidote to the drama with a drive home that features every hallmark of a memorable road trip: the license plate game, a heartfelt rendition of  “Space Oddity” and a hitchhiker that Phoebe ends up giving her number. NA

Friends-Rumor
7

“The One With the Rumor” (Season 8, Episode 9)

Friends nerds and celebrity-gossip hounds alike will remember Season Eight’s Thanksgiving episode as the first and only time that Jennifer Aniston and then-husband Brad Pitt acted together onscreen. Pitt played Will, another Lincoln High survivor who, like Monica, used to be fat. He arrives to the day’s festivities shockingly chiseled, holding a pie and excited to reminisce — until he sees Rachel. “Look at her standing there with those yams,” he mutters. “My two biggest enemies, Ross: Rachel Green and complex carbohydrates.” Rachel later finds out that Ross and Will started an “I Hate Rachel Green Club” in high school, where they spread a rumor that she was a hermaphrodite. Though that joke sparked controversy, the episode cemented Pitt as one of the series’ most beloved guest stars. AM

Friends- Prom Video
6

“The One With the Prom Video” (Season 2, Episode 14)

Behold the episode that gave us a new analogy for declaring a soul mate. Comforting a despondent Ross over him and Rachel being on the outs, Phoebe declares early on, “She’s your lobster,” explaining that the crustaceans fall in love and mate for life. Later — after Joey and Chandler cement their own bond by exchanging gaudy, gold friendship bracelets — the titular prom video delivers plenty of big reveals: Monica was fat, Rachel had clearly gotten a nose job, and, most poignantly, Ross was ready to step in all those years ago when Rachel’s date stood her up. “See? He’s her lobster!” Phoebe declares as Ross and Rachel kiss to the studio audience’s raucous cheers. AP

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5

“The One Where Everybody Finds Out” (Season 5, Episode 14)

After sneaking around since Ross’s ill-fated wedding in London, Monica and Chandler’s big secret finally implodes. When Ugly Naked Guy puts his apartment on the market, Phoebe accompanies Ross to check it out — and through the window spies the undercover lovers having sex. But instead of letting the new couple know the jig is up, Phoebe and Rachel decide to mess with them. Phoebe gets flirty with Chandler, which eventually tips off Monica that Phoebe knows. What follows is a hilarious game of sexual chicken where Chandler (coached by Monica) and Phoebe (coached by Rachel) try to get one another to crack. While the sight of Phoebe’s bra isn’t enough to scare him off, Chandler can’t bear to kiss her, and proclaims his love for Monica. Meanwhile, Ross strips down with UNG in a desperate (and successful) attempt to score the apartment, and Joey’s stuffed penguin Huggsy is introduced for the first time. AW

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4

“The One Where Ross Got High” (Season 6, Episode 9)

Thanksgiving, a.k.a. Truth Day, unravels as Monica and Ross shout shame-inducing revelations about each other to their parents (Christina Pickles and Elliot Gould). Ross stole his father’s Playboy magazines as a child, smoked pot in college, hasn’t worked at the museum for a year, and drunkenly married Rachel in Vegas! Hurricane Gloria didn’t break the porch swing — Monica did — and she’s currently living with Chandler! In addition, Rachel accidentally puts beef in the trifle, Joey wants to ditch dinner for Janine, and Phoebe is convinced she’s in love with Jacques Cousteau. As Mrs. Geller says, it’s a lot of information to get in 30 seconds, but it all amounts to the series’ greatest Thanksgiving episode, hands-down. AM

Friends- The One Where No Ones Ready
3

“The One Where No One’s Ready” (Season 3, Episode 2)

A high concept perfectly executed, the story unfolds entirely (save for a brief epilogue at the awards dinner) in real time inside Monica’s apartment. Ross panics about being late to a big event. Monica obsesses over a voicemail Richard left her, making things worse with each attempt to fix the problem. And Joey and Chandler go to war over a chair, which leads to Chandler stealing all of Joey’s underwear, and Joey in turn putting on all of Chandler’s clothes at once, sans underwear (a.k.a. “going commando,” a phrase this episode placed in the cultural lexicon), and doing lunges. True to form, Ross’ temper and innate feeling of superiority nearly ruin everything, but his willingness to drink a glass of chicken fat to apologize to Rachel is maybe the most romantic thing he does on the series. AS

 

Friends- The One With The Embryos
2

“The One With the Embryos” (Season 4, Episode 12)

A classic that’s also classically mis-titled. When people talk about this episode, nobody starts off with the IVF procedure that Phoebe undergoes to help out her brother Frank and his older wife Alice. No, this should be called “The One With the Game Show,” as it presents the best rapid-fire joke set-up in Friends history: Joey and Chandler competing against Rachel and Monica in a trivia game about one another, with the highest of possible stakes: occupancy of Monica’s huge illegal sublet. After a spate of delightful facts about the group unfurl — Joey’s favorite food is sandwiches, Chandler’s TV Guide subscription comes addressed to “Miss Chanandler Bong” — the game all comes down to a question every Friends fan had wondered about for years (and still goes unanswered): “What is Chandler Bing’s job?” AS

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1

“The One Where Ross Finds Out” (Season 2, Episode 7)

The will-they-won’t-they aspect of Ross and Rachel’s relationship was a key part of the show going all the way back to the pilot, when the two split an Oreo and Ross gently inquired if he could ask her out sometime. That moment created millions of passionate Ross and Rachel shippers, but the showrunners didn’t give in — until now. Where Ross had secretly pined for Rachel throughout the first season, the finale flipped the script heading into Season Two. This time it’s Rachel who’s devastated, trying to conceal her emotions as Ross and his girlfriend Julie (Lauren Tom) look into buying a cat. In a drunken voicemail, she informs Ross she’s over him. A shell-shocked Ross hears the message the next morning — with Rachel clinging to his back, trying to seize the phone from him. “You’re over me?” he whispers. “When were you… under me?” Later, while Rachel wipes down tables after hours at Central Perk, Ross angrily tells her “This ship has sailed!” and storms out. But then he looks into the foggy cafe windows and catches her in tears. After they make eye contact, Rachel silently unlocks the door, and the two share an intense kiss. The writers would quickly break them apart in the next episode (“The One With the List”), but this heart-rending scene, which marks their first union, is the most gratifying of the series. And just 205 episodes later, they’d be together for good. AM

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