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Friends: Seasons 1-10 Review

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Season 10 - The final instalment in the lives of Joey, Chandler, Rachel, Monica, Ross and Phoebe

★★★★★

So farewell then, Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. Friends is now The One That Finished After Ten Seasons. Now that it’s gone, it’s time to say that, far from being an empty vision of yuppie heaven with conveyor belt gags, we’ve just lost one of the greatest — and most influential — American sitcoms of all time.

Friends presented an impossible dream. It gave us a glimpse of a New York lifestyle we’d all like to lead, where improbably large apartments are available to people who seem to work only nominally; where bed-hopping between a cabal of six friends never really upset the equilibrium; where the sofa in your favourite coffee house was always available, night and day.

Yes it was slick, yes it was glossy, providing its critics with easy ammo, but Friends was rarely less than consistently funny, boasting some of the finest acting and sharpest writing of any American sitcom. Ever. Period.

Unlike the one-dimensional blackhearts that peopled Seinfeld, this was a sitcom about nothing that was resolutely about something: friendship, of course. It veered dangerously close to soap opera territory at times (particularly in this final season, as the thuddingly dull Ross/Rachel saga twisted and turned unconvincingly), but the key to Friends was empathy: we genuinely cared for these characters as they developed.

We’ve watched the emasculation of Chandler; the cunning development of Ross from a whiner into an über-whiner, bringing David Schwimmer’s physical comedy gifts to the fore; Phoebe’s transformation from slightly sluttish kook into loyal wife; and Joey’s subtle relocation as the heart and conscience of the show (which won Matt LeBlanc his forthcoming spin-off).

For its resolute perkiness and mainstream appeal, Friends will never be as critically celebrated as the more mean-spirited likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and there were times when the standard dipped alarmingly — Season Five, anyone? — but we always had the Chandler-Joey double act, Monica in a fat suit and innumerable catchphrases — "I know!", "We were on a break!", "How yoo doin’?" — to bring us back. Simply put, it made us laugh like hell for ten years straight. Could there be a better epitaph than that?