The Subtle, Problematic Influence of 'Friends' on Everything

The hit podcast talks about the highs and lows of revisiting 90s friendship.

The Best of Friends Podcast is Headgum’s hit show featuring two friends watching every episode of Friends and really hashing out the details of what makes this one of the most beloved shows in TV history. The podcast is branching out into live shows and is already into the sixth season of their coverage. To celebrate how close they are to conquering the show, I sat down with Jamie Woodham and Erin Mallory Long to ask “Are we on a break?”

How did the two of you meet and how did you decide to start such a specific podcast?

Erin: When we started the podcast it was because our former co-host, Krista, had tweeted about wanting someone to start a Friends podcast with her and we both responded.

Jamie: Erin and I had actually never met, save for one time I saw her walking on Franklin Boulevard and ran into Birds to avoid awkwardly meeting an internet acquaintance.

What are the takeaways from spending this much time on this show? What did you learn about storytelling and yourself?

Erin: I’ve always been very analytical about TV shows. And I studied film and TV and I’ve written TV scripts (that my cats think are great) but starting this podcast has really made me think of Friends in a totally different way. I’m used to watching 6 episodes in a sitting. So just watching two and really focusing on those two episodes and seeing what works and what doesn’t and how it fits into the whole arc of the show is really interesting.

Jamie: At this point, if you handed me only the first act of an unaired Friends script, there’s no doubt in my mind that I could probably write the rest of the episode to an alarming degree of accuracy. We know their tropes, their models, their arc structures, etc.

Hell, we could probably even tell you how many episodes a guest will be in just based on how much depth and focus they’re given in their introductory episode. Broadly, one of the most fascinating takeaways for me has been a grand understanding of how sitcom television has changed over time. In most ways, a 90s sitcom and a modern sitcom are very different art forms, but it’s been great to track the change/mutation/evolution of situational comedy from the airing of Friends in 1994 to what it looks like now in 2016.

Who is your favorite character and why?

Erin: My favorite character has always been Chandler. His quips keep me going and I have always had crushes on brown-haired sarcastic fictional characters. (See also Pacey Witter from Dawson’s Creek). I used to think I was a Monica as well so that played into it, but on my re-watch I see that I’m totally Rachel in a lot of ways.

Jamie: Chandler, I believe, is the 90s. He generally does well in most regards, but he’s nevertheless constantly wading through a bog of confusion, self-consciousness, and a complete refusal to approach any situation without the protective armor that is his sense of humor. Everything he does is essentially in self-defense. He grew up lonely and nerdy and preyed upon, and the character of Chandler as an adult displays perfectly who a kid like that becomes with age.

Just because you grow up doesn’t mean that you automatically become well-adjusted and outgrow the defensive sense of humor that guarded you for so long, and Chandler is a walking example of that.

What are the worst parts of Friends for you?

Jamie: Uh oh. This question. As a result of the time it hails from, I’d say the worst parts are the handful of outdated and/or ignorant storylines involving gay panic, traditional gender role reinforcement, and generally trite iterations of a past generation’s social shortcomings. Plus there’s an episode where Monica honestly thinks Chandler is into shark porn. That was just a low point for everyone.

Erin: This sounds weird but anything that’s so over-the-top sitcom-y. Friends is obviously a great example of a sitcom but part of what I love about it is how much I care about the characters. So when it goes so totally into sitcom territory I get less interested.

What are the parts of Friends that will last forever? What are the highest highs?

Erin: The emotional parts. I think the whole idea of being on a break is a lasting effect at least for me, from Friends. Those episodes where Ross and Rachel break up are some of the most emotional pieces of TV I’ve seen.

Jamie: No one could plan that this would be a show that represented the heart and soul of an entire time period. No one could plan that it would effectively teach future generations more about life in the 90s than any history book can. For millennials in particular, Friends seems to viewed with a sense of optimistic envy, and it still ignites a perhaps unobtainable yearning for a time in which people simply hung out with their friends and truly spent time together, without all the trappings of modern technology.

What was it like to lose the third member of your team and why did she have to bail?

Jamie: A while back, Krista got a sweet new job in Austin, Texas and had to leave us. It was a bummer at the time, of course, but it also had the unintended effect of reinventing the show in a lot of ways. Now that it’s just Erin and I, we have a much stronger telepathic bond, especially when it comes to bits and jokes and general funny business.

I think there’s a reason there are far more comedy duos than comedy trios, and it usually comes down to everyone being on the same page comedically. The podcast was great when it was all three of us, but it always felt like something that was strictly a podcast.

The podcast in its current form, however, feels more like Erin and I are performing an improvised comedy act centered on the discussion of a sitcom. All those words make sense in my head, so I hope they translate well. The point is it was fun before and it’s still fun now, but it’s just a slightly different thing.

Where does the show go from here? What happens when you reach the end of the run?

Erin: We want to do more live shows. We’re going to be doing this show at least through sometime in 2017 and then we’re gonna focus on “Joey” - assuming we can find all the episodes somewhere! We’ve chatted about continuing with other sitcoms we love and have a running joke of doing a show a day - 7 days of Sitcoms - but for that we need a millionaire investor to pay us for living. So….