Before their roles on Friends, the main six cast members were somewhat familiar to television viewers, but were not considered to be stars. During the series’ ten season run, the actors all achieved household name celebrity status, and all pursued careers in the movies, with varied success. Aniston’s movie career is predominantly populated with light romantic comedies including The Good Girl, Bruce Almighty, Along Came Polly, Rumor Has It, The Break Up and Derailed. Cox made several lightweight films and achieved her greatest success with the Scream series, in which she co-starred with her then husband, David Arquette, who had made a guest appearance as Ursula‘s stalker in Friends. This was followed by the critically acclaimed TV series, Dirt, that portrayed her as a ruthless editor of a two-bit tabloid magazine. Kudrow fared best in low budget indie films, most notably The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings, and also films like the comedy hit Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Analyze This. Lisa starred in the sitcom Web Therapy in which David Schwimmer made a guest appearance. Most recently Kudrow played a main character alongside Hilary Swank in 2007’s P.S. I Love You. Perry co-starred in the Canadian mafia comedy The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards along with Bruce Willis, who had also made guest appearances on the show. He also starred in the romantic comedy Fools Rush In. He also starred as the title character in the critically acclaimed The Ron Clark Story, and has since co-starred in TV drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and an episode of Scrubs titled “My Unicorn” as Murray. He has also played the leading role of the film Numb which, while released straight to DVD, has gained an appreciation and collection of high praise from critics. Matt LeBlanc took a leading role in Lost in Space and starred as the boyfriend of Alex (Lucy Liu) in Charlie’s Angels. He also reprized his role as Joey Tribbiani in the show’s spin off series, Joey. In 2001, Schwimmer co-starred as Capt. Herbert Sobel in the 2001 TV mini-series Band of Brothers. In 2005, Schwimmer starred as the voice for the giraffe Melman in the movie Madagascar a role which he reprized in the 2008 Madagascar 2. David Schwimmer directed ten episodes of Friends and two of Joey. His big directorial debut “Run Fatboy Run” was released on March 28, 2008.
Series co-creator David Crane wanted all six characters to be equally prominent, and the series was lauded as being “the first true ‘ensemble’ show”. The cast members made efforts to keep the ensemble format and not allow one member to dominate; they entered themselves in the same acting categories for awards, opted for collective instead of individual salary negotiations, and asked to appear together on magazine cover photos in the first season.
In their original contracts for the first two seasons, each main cast member was paid $1,600 per episode. Before the third season, the cast threatened to go on strike unless they received pay increases, which resulted in each actor receiving $100,000 per episode. For the series’ sixth season, the cast members were offered $250,000 to return. The cast members again entered negotiations before the sixth season, asking for $750,000 per episode, and during the ninth and tenth seasons, received $1 million per episode.
Behind the scenes, the show was known for its unusually cohesive and unified cast. The six main actors made deliberate efforts, from early on, to keep the show’s ensemble format and not allow one member to dominate; notably for a show of its length, the six principals each appeared in every episode of the run. The actors became such close friends that one guest star, Tom Selleck, reported sometimes feeling left out. The cast remained good friends after the show’s run, most notably Cox and Aniston, with Aniston being godmother to Cox and David Arquette’s daughter, Coco. In their official farewell commemorative Friends Til’ The End, they each separately acknowledged in their interviews that the cast had become their family.
Storylines and format
The first season introduces the six main characters: Rachel Greene, Monica Geller, Phoebe Buffay, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing, and Ross Geller. Rachel, who left her fiance at the altar on her wedding day, has come to New York and ends up living with Monica. It establishes early on in the season that Ross has been infatuated with Rachel since the two characters attended high school. Several episodes revolve around his attempts to tell her how he feels. Meanwhile, Ross’s estranged lesbian wife Carol is pregnant with his baby. This puts him and Carol’s lesbian life partner, Susan (played by Jessica Hecht), in an awkward position. When the baby is born at the end of the season, Ross, Carol, and Susan agree to name him Ben: after a name tag on a janitor’s uniform worn by Phoebe. The episodic nature of the season sees the other characters having multiple dates, many of which go wrong (Monica dates a minor in one episode). The recurring character of Janice (played by Maggie Wheeler) is introduced as a girlfriend Chandler breaks up with in an early episode but frequently returns to through the ensuing ten seasons.
The second season features more serialized storylines; it begins when Rachel discovers that Ross is dating Julie (played by Lauren Tom), someone he knew from grad school. Julie returns for several episodes early in the season. Rachel’s attempts to tell Ross she likes him mirror his own failed attempts in the first season, though the characters eventually begin a relationship that lasts into the following season. Joey, a struggling actor in the first season, gets a part in a fictionalized version of the soap opera Days of Our Lives but loses the part soon after when he angers the writers by saying in an interview that he writes many of his own lines. Tom Selleck begins a recurring guest role as Dr. Richard Burke. Richard, a friend of Monica and Ross’ parents who is recently divorced and with grown children, is 21 years older than Monica but despite this they date for the second half of the season. In the season finale, they end the relationship when they realize that he does not want any more children and she does. The second season also served to deepen Chandler and Joey’s friendship. This becomes especially apparent in the episodes in which Joey temporarily moves out and a creepy guy named Eddie (Adam Goldberg) moves in.
The third season took on a significantly greater serialized format. Rachel begins working at Bloomingdales and Ross becomes jealous of her coworker, Mark. Ross and Rachel break up after Ross sleeps with the hot girl from the copy shop, Chloe. His insistence that he and Rachel were “on a break” becomes a running gag through the remaining seasons. The two show significant animosity towards each other through the second half of the season, though the cliffhanger ending suggests the two reconcile. Interestingly, the first episode after they break up does not focus on the two of them, but on Chandler, who’s having a very hard time dealing with the situation, as it reminds him of his parents’ divorce. Phoebe, established as having no family except for an identical twin sister, becomes acquainted with her half-brother (played by Giovanni Ribisi) and in the finale discovers her birth mother she never knew she had (played by Teri Garr). Joey develops a crush on Kate, his acting partner in a new play. (played by Dina Meyer) At first, she doesn’t harbor feelings for him, even after sleeping together. However, after her boyfriend/director dumps her following a scathing review of the play, she turns to Joey for support. The relationship doesn’t last long, as she is given an opportunity on a soap opera in Los Angeles. Monica begins a relationship with Pete Becker, a millionaire who has a crush on her. (played by Jon Favreau) At first, she only sees him as a friend, but eventually, the two begin to date. Preparing for what she thinks is a marriage proposal, Pete confides in her that he wants to become the Ultimate Fighting Champion. After seeing him get beat up badly in two matches, she tells him he has to give it up. Since he won’t, she breaks up with him.
During the fourth season, actress Lisa Kudrow became pregnant. This was written into the show by having Phoebe become a surrogate mother to the children of her brother and his wife Alice (played by Debra Jo Rupp). Ross and Rachel briefly reconcile in the premiere but soon break up again. During the middle of the season, Monica and Rachel are forced to switch apartments with Joey and Chandler after losing a bet on how well the four know each other. They bribe Joey and Chandler to switch back with Knicks season tickets and a one-minute kiss. Mid-season, having seemingly moved on, Ross begins dating an English woman called Emily (played by Helen Baxendale) and the finale, featuring the wedding of the characters, was filmed on location in London. Chandler and Monica sleep together when, after a wedding guest mistakes Monica for Ross’ mother, Monica seeks comfort in the arms of a friend. Rachel, depressed by the impending wedding enough to chase away a potential boyfriend in Joshua, attends the wedding at the last minute, intending to tell Ross that she still loves him, but decides not to. Things are thrown into chaos when Ross replaces Emily’s name with Rachel’s while saying his vows.
The fifth season follows Monica and Chandler keeping their new relationship a secret from their friends, while Ross’ marriage to Emily ends before it even started, following their wedding (Baxendale’s pregnancy prevented her from appearing on-screen in all but two episodes). Phoebe starts a relationship with Gary (Michael Rapaport), a police officer she meets after finding his badge. Although cautious of moving in with Gary, she eventually agrees but before doing so, the relationship ends with a bang, literally, when Gary shoots a bird outside of their apartment. Monica and Chandler’s relationship becomes public and on a trip to Las Vegas, they decide to get married. On a cliffhanger, Ross and Rachel drunkenly stumble out of the wedding chapel. It received Emmy nominations in 1999 for Outstanding Comedy Series.
In the sixth season premiere Ross and Rachel’s marriage is established to be a drunken mistake and, although Ross is reluctant to do so, the two get a divorce (Ross’s third) after failing to get an annulment but agree that if they get married for real, it would be the one that stuck. Monica and Chandler decide just to move into her apartment together and Rachel moves in with Phoebe, having briefly lived with Ross. Joey, still a struggling actor, gets a female roommate, Janine (Elle Macpherson) and a part on a cable television series called “Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E”, where he stars alongside a robot. Ross gets a job lecturing at New York University and starts dating his college student, Elizabeth (played by Alexandra Holden). Bruce Willis makes a three-episode cameo as her father and briefly dates Rachel but she dumps him because of his crying. Phoebe and Rachel’s apartment catches on fire, causing Rachel to move in with Joey and Phoebe with Chandler and Monica. In the final episodes, Chandler decides to propose to Monica. Trying to make it a surprise, he starts acting like his old commitment-phobic self, telling her he opposes marriage. For a brief moment Monica considers going to back to Richard, who confesses to her that he still loves her and is willing to have children with her. Monica gets wind of Chandler’s idea, and attempts to propose to him but breaks down in tears and cannot finish. Chandler then asks her to marry him and the show is ended with celebration with many of the friends who were standing outside the door. It nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series at Emmy Award 2000.
The seventh season largely concerns various wedding-related antics by Monica and Chandler. Joey’s television series is canceled but he is offered his old job back on Days of Our Lives. Phoebe’s apartment is fixed but due to the way the apartment has been rebuilt, Rachel stays with Joey. The two-part season finale follows Monica and Chandler’s wedding, with guest stars that include Kathleen Turner as Chandler’s transvestite father. The closing moments of the season reveal that Rachel is pregnant.
The eighth season‘s first episodes follow a “Who’s the father?” format, with the father revealed to be Ross in episode two and Rachel telling him in episode three. Joey begins to develop romantic feelings for roommate Rachel and when Joey’s feelings are revealed things become awkward for the two. Eventually their friendship returns to its status quo but in the finale, following Rachel’s giving birth to a daughter, she accepts an accidental proposal of marriage from him. The season was regarded as a return to form for the series; its ratings increased as viewers tuned in for comfort following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2002. The first in that category for the series.
The ninth season follows Ross and Rachel living together with baby Emma after she and Joey clear up the misdirected proposal. She soon moves back in with Joey after a fight with Ross. Monica and Chandler, inspired by Ross and Rachel, decide to conceive a child of their own. They seek medical advice after several episodes of trying for a baby, and discover that both of them are physically unable to conceive. Paul Rudd appears in the recurring role of Mike Hannigan, a new boyfriend for Phoebe. Hank Azaria returns as David “the scientist guy”, a character originated in the first season, and Phoebe must choose between the two in a touching finale, deciding to choose Mike. The finale is set in Barbados, where the group goes to hear Ross give a keynote speech at a Paleontologist conference. Aisha Tyler appears as the series’ first recurring black character. Tyler plays Charlie, Joey’s intelligent girlfriend. Even though Joey’s attracted to her, she finds herself eventually becoming attracted to Ross, who is more her intellectual equal. Rachel develops feelings for Joey and Joey’s feelings return after Charlie dumps him. They agree to clear it with Ross first, until Joey catches Ross kissing Charlie. The finale ends with Joey and Rachel kissing.
The tenth season closes up several storylines; Joey and Rachel try to contend with Ross’ feelings about them being together. However, consummating the relationship becomes disastrous, and they decide to remain friends. Charlie decides to return to Benjamin Hobart (Greg Kinnear), her old flame, and from whom Ross was trying to obtain a research grant. Monica and Chandler decide to adopt a child, and meet Erica, a birth mother from Ohio (played by Anna Faris). Erica gives birth to twins in the series finale. Phoebe and Mike get married towards the end of the season and Rachel prepares to take a job based in Paris after getting fired from Ralph Lauren. Ross bribes her boss into giving Rachel her job back at Ralph Lauren and declares his love for her but she initially gets on the plane anyway before famously appearing in Ross’s apartment saying “I got off the plane” and they resume their relationship (not making any mistakes this time) in the season finale, while Monica and Chandler move out of their apartment into the suburbs. Joey is upset that everything is changing. In the series finale, at the end, a tearful Rachel says ‘Shall we go get some coffee?’ to which Chandler sarcastically responds, ‘Sure. Where?’ (the last words spoken on the show).