EW Staff
January 08, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Our guide to top ”Friends” eps from season 1

PLOT We’re introduced to the world’s most telegenic twentysomethings — where else? — at NYC’s Central Perk café, where the Friends are having one of their many meandering chats (Chandler’s naked anxiety dream) over lattes. The gang’s personas are nailed before the first commercial break: Joey, the dim-bulb lothario actor (Matt LeBlanc, doing an exaggerated Noo Yawk shtick that softens in future episodes); Monica (Courteney Cox), the fastidious singleton; Chandler (Matthew Perry), the self-deprecating wiseass; Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), the New Age flake; Ross (David Schwimmer), the depressed divorcé whose wife has just ditched him for another woman; and rich girl Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Monica’s high school pal, who runs into Central Perk in a wedding dress having just left her orthodontist husband-to-be, Barry, at the altar. INTRODUCES Central Perk and the gang; the patented ”Friends” ”looking out the window pensively” shot (performed here separately by Ross and Rachel); one of TV’s most polarizing theme songs. BEST LINE ”Do the words ‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’ mean anything to you?” (Ross, on how long it’s been since he’s had sex) CRITIQUE It’s remarkable how quickly this ensemble of unknowns (save Cox) establishes a comfortable, comedic vibe — especially in the throwaway ”hanging out” bits that pepper the action: attempting to decipher a Spanish telenovela, trying to assemble Ross’ furniture over a few beers, chanting ”Cut! Cut! Cut!” as Rachel scissors her credit cards. After 22 minutes, these six people are believably set up as lifelong buddies. B+

PLOT Manhattan is hit with a power outage, leaving Chandler trapped in an ATM vestibule with a lingerie model, the gang confessing sex secrets in Monica’s candlelit pad, and Ross attempting to escape ”the friend zone” by finally asking Rachel out. INTRODUCES Paolo (Cosimo Fusco), Rachel’s smarmy Italian beau; Monica and Rachel’s perpetually peeved downstairs neighbor, Mr. Heckles (Larry Hankin). HISTORIC MOMENT Phoebe’s would-be Central Perk singing debut is shut down by the titular power outage. CREATIVE CASTING Jill (Goodacre) Connick as herself. BEST LINE ”Who am I going to meet in a blackout? Power company guys? Eligible looters?” (Monica) CRITIQUE The series is at its best when plot contrivances are put aside for chatty, casual comedy mixed with physical high jinks (Ross wrestling Paolo’s cat on the balcony is definitive ”Friends” slapstick). A-

PLOT It’s Valentine’s Day and the gang is — go figure — dealing with dating disasters: Chandler’s blind date turns out to be his ridiculously irritating ex, Janice; the girls nearly torch Monica’s apartment with an out-of-control ”boyfriend bonfire”; poor Ross ends up sharing a table with his ex-wife while on a date. BEST LINE ”C’mon, man — she’s needy. She’s vulnerable. I’m thinking, ‘Cha-ching!”’ (Joey) CRITIQUE What ”Friends” does best is mine laughs from love woes. Janice and Chandler’s antichemistry continues to yield shrill comedy, and the bonfire is just the kind of true-to-life silliness we watch this show for. B+

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