How have I not written about this before? I practically have it memorized. But let’s be honest , the first season (or 2) of Friends was pretty bad. But clearly it resonated way, way back in 1994 despite all those atrocious hairstyles and the need to shove each character into a stereotyped package. (Ross is a nerd, Rachel is spoiled, Phoebe’s a flake, Joey is a womanizer, etc.) It took until season 4 to round it out to “married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, lives in a box.” 

Eventually, each Friend become a well-rounded human being who we watched grow over a decade, but it was like the writers didn’t give us viewers credit for having the patience to get to know them. Who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have.

This pilot is so pilot-y. We are bombarded with back story, character quirks, and strained jokes. Everything is over the top: the hairstyles, the coffee cups, Joey’s accent. On the off chance that you haven’t seen it, the plot is that Ross (David Schwimmer) has just split from his wife, just as Monica’s (Courteney Cox) old high school friend Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) leaves her husband-to-be at the altar and runs off to Manhattan to get away from her suffocating suburban existence. Ross has had a thing for Rachel since puberty, and now the possibility of a relationship finally exists.

One thing we can observe from the pilot of Friends is that, although it’s purported to be an ensemble show, it’s really about Ross and Rachel. Always was, always will be. In this opening episode the other four are basically just comic relief. The jokes were pretty bad, too. Even Chandler is unfunny, for Chandler (Matthew Perry). The only part that makes me laugh out loud is when Rachel is on the phone to her father. She is all disheveled, still in her wedding dress, pleading with him for understanding. To paraphrase, she describes how everyone has always told her she’s a shoe and today she’s realized she’s a hat. There’s a pause, then: “No I don’t want you to buy me a hat. It’s a metaphor, Daddy!” So although she’s an ingénue, she’s wacky, and a solid comic actress (who gets funnier each season). You may have heard the story about how she originally auditioned to play Monica.

If for some reason you haven’t seen this, just watch one of the 500 channels that carry the show in syndication and you’re bound to catch it.

Cougar Town

It’s easy to think you have this show all figured out based on the title and a few teasers. I wanted to give it a chance to defy my expectations. I prepared to be offended by sexist/ageist jokes.

I must say it’s refreshing to hear women be obnoxiously sexist, and not under the guise of feminism like those materialistic know-it-alls on Sex in the City. This was genuinely funny. And the name “Cougar Town” actually refers to the high school football field, although the double meaning comes through loud and clear.

Courteney Cox, as Jules, is a riot. She is very close to the Courtney Cox we remember from Friends, with a little older-and-wiser edge. Even though she is still gorgeous, I think it’s great that the show opens with her checking out all her imperfections in the mirror. (I saw an interview where she confirmed that is it’s really her body we see.) This from the actress who was reportedly a size 0 when we knew her as Monica Gellar. Also, I was delighted to see Christa Miller of Scrubs, who must have majored in snarkiness in drama school.

I love that, despite her purported intentions to go all cougar on the boys of her community, Jules is actually really uncomfortable when a man comes a-calling. She retains some dignity this way; she’s not Stiffler’s mom. Plus, we’re set up from the first few minutes to expect that she’s going to fall for her divorced, similarly-aged neighbor.

The poor son. His mother’s cleavage is all over town on real estate posters and his dad is cutting the lawn at his high school. We don’t worry about him too much, though—what teenager isn’t embarrassed by their parents? Jules shows that she does care by standing up for him towards the end.

By the time Jules ends the episode by hitting the sheets with a 20-something, we’ve gotten to know her. I for one felt like she was just trying to enjoy life, not that she has turned into some sort of sexual predator, as the term “cougar” might imply. If this show lasts as long as Friends, however, we should hope that she won’t spend the entire decade on the prowl. It could get old.

Memorable lines: “Give me twenty bucks. I’ll buy you a drink.”

[Son taking banana away from mom] “You’re not allowed to eat these any more.”