If you've been watching Friends this season, you may recognize this plot line: One of our six favorite TV pals cares deeply for another, but the object of his affection seems oblivious. They fight. They split up even though they'd never really gotten together. He pines. We sympathize. Ross and Rachel? Nah, that's old news. We're talking about the show's latest hot couple, Chandler and... Joey.
Exactly which gender Matthew Perry's wry, witty, lovable but lovelorn character should be dating has been a subject of amused discussion for two seasons now among many fans of the NBC sitcom. They've looked past such distractions as his failed Super Bowl-night fling with Julia Roberts to speculate that Chandler just might be The Friend Who's Gay But Hasn't Figured It Out Yet. Consider the evidence, as it's been bandied about on gay-friendly, Friends-friendly Internet sites like soc.motss (members of the same sex) and GayNet: Chandler hasn't had a steady girlfriend. Everyone he works with assumes he's gay (the confusion was the subject of a first-season episode). His late neighbor, the cranky Mr. Heckles, thought he was gay. He deflects inquiries about his romantic life with smart, self-deprecating banter. And he fits the requirements offered by Must See TV cohort Jerry Seinfeld ''single, thin, and neat'' to a tee.
''Sure, there are all the little clues, the little in-jokes about his sexuality,'' notes Loren Javier, director of information systems for GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). ''And since the coming-out process is often a long one, it wouldn't be insane for Chandler to realize he's gay. Many gay people see Friends [which recently showcased the lesbian commitment ceremony of Ross' ex-wife] as the kind of show something like that could happen on.''
Debate heated up with a pair of February segments in which Chandler's roommate Joey (Matt LeBlanc) moved out, and in a parody of an earlier Ross-Rachel rift Chandler was left alone, bereft in his puppy slippers, gazing forlornly through a rain-soaked window. ''You're going to have to accept that you're just friends now,'' counseled Ross, ''not [long pause]... roommates.''
But despite Friends' occasional winks at the topic, the final word comes from the sitcom's (gay) cocreator and executive producer, David Crane. ''No, Chandler isn't gay. Nor will he be gay,'' he says. ''It's not as if he has a choice. He either is or he isn't. And he happens not to be.'' Not, as Seinfeld might add, that there's anything wrong with that.