Wednesday, 2 April 2008

FRIENDS Week: Why Ross Is My Favourite Friends Character

This is a highly contentious point to make because as everyone knows, Chandler was by far the funniest character through the history of the show, and Joey was also a brilliant creation. But Ross as a character has one thing on his side, and I’ll explain that in just a moment.
Everyone knows that the female characters on Friends were there almost purely for attractive set-dressing. After the three hundredth-time that Monica loses her rag over someone not being clean, her character got supremely irritating. The fact that once you realised Monica was annoying you also realised just how one-dimensional Courteney Cox’s performance was (even for, admittedly, a sitcom). She spends her time in mild hysterics attempting to wring laughs out of the audience, something which she ramps up as the seasons go by so that towards the end Chandler merely has to say one thing before he is subjected to a torrent of shriekiness. See also: the girl from The IT Crowd. Jennifer Aniston’s role as the girl who made sense as a person was underdeveloped, in fairness, despite her relationship with Ross.

When she was called upon to be the funny character, her lines tended to come off as bitchy and cruel as opposed to cutting and funny. And Phoebe… well, let’s not even discuss how underused Lisa Kudrow was. Her character wasn’t even allowed to get together with Joey, EVEN THOUGH that had been the obvious direction the series had been going in throughout its run. Instead she got sidelined with someone else, and almost ignored/saddled with side storylines that kept her out of the limelight. I don’t know who it was who paid off the producers to keep Kudrow off the sidelines, but as she was the best comedienne of the three girls I’d wager that Bass-Cox and Aniston were both involved somehow.

Joey is tricky, because the point of his character was that he was one-note and one-dimensional, but despite this Matt LeBlanc built up a lot of pathos and humanity into his performance, and brought his A-Game almost every time when it came to comedy. Everyone loved Joey, because he was so optimistic and happy all the time, despite being fed continual lemons in his hopeful career as an actor. He even overtook Chandler as funniest character for a while when Bing got saddled with Monica, so why wasn’t he my favourite? I’ll tell you: his relationships towards the end of the series. As I previously mentioned, it was obvious that he and Phoebe were meant to be together by the time the show finished, there are clues scattered literally everywhere in most episodes, but instead in the final series, when you’d expect this to happen, he goes for Rachel instead. Where did that come from? Despite the fact that he and Aniston had zero chemistry between them, this was just a way to completely mess up his character. Throw into the mix that he span-off to his own show and seemed to have lost any development he’d gained over the past ten seasons, and well, Joey gets pretty annoying.

The damage done to Chandler is painful. He has the most thankless job in the show, when he is paired up with Monica. You might remember how brilliant he was, how funny, when he was perpetually single, and you might point out that he defiantly was the funniest character on the show up until this point, but here’s a pointer for you: Monica and Chandler get together during series 4. This means that we see more of Chandler when he is with Monica than when he is single over the course of the entire show. Seems wrong, doesn’t it? The fact that series five is one of the worst the show ever had is no coincidence – it’s when Chandler’s storylines are all concerned with him and Monica keeping their relationship a secret, a one-joke story that takes almost an entire series to complete. For anyone watching the show who loves Chandler, the fall of his character from comedic grace makes for highly depressing viewing. And then the storyline towards the end where the two try to adopt? Oh Lord, please no.

So that leaves me with Ross. Why did I elect to pick my favourite character through elimination, rather than just… picking one? Well, because for me, the humour in a sitcom is all down to how long they can stretch out the character. Will and Grace as a show was completely stolen by the other two characters, Jack and Karen, because they were the funny ones (well… Will was quite funny too, I suppose), but that show wore down once those characters became overused and overdone, which led to its eventually end. On Friends, the funny characters were almost always the three men, and two of them were devastated by being paired up with women who, quite frankly, didn’t deserve them. Now don’t get me wrong, I know Ross ends up with Rachel, but Ross deserves her.

As a character, his main motivation was how lame and nerdy he was. For the nerd to end up with the hottest female on the show was justification for how much Ross wanted it to happen. He controlled the relationship and never let Rachel’s whiny pithiness take over. It helps that David Schwimmer had mastered the art of moaning by the end of the show, because that’s most of what Ross does. But he does it in such a funny way that you can’t help but like the guy. All six of the main characters on Friends, with the exception of perhaps Phoebe, were assholes. Really. They all do horrible things to other people. Ross was the only character who knew he was an asshole. That’s why I like him. When awash in a sea of cliché, it takes guts to accept your stereotype and run with it. Chandler became a succession of one-liners; Monica a shrieking bag of SHUT THE HELL UP; Rachel was never likable; Phoebe’s kookiness was overdone; and Joey ended up looking like a pathetic wannabe. Ross, on the other hand, was always an idiot, and that’s where his comedy came from, which is why I like him best.

Plus he bagged Jennifer Aniston AND Helen Baxendale AND Heather Graham. He got game!

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