A strange thing happened to me the other night. I had just finished my trivia article about Friends, which you can read elsewhere on the site, to celebrate its Netflix arrival. Naturally, I was feeling a bit nostalgic, and went straight to Netflix to re-watch some of my favorites Friends episodes, like the “The One with Chandler in a Box,” “The One with the Embryos” (aka the big Trivia contest episode), “The One Where Everybody Finds Out,” and the first couple of season 6 episodes after Ross and Rachel’s drunken Vegas wedding. My family was around, occasionally sitting down to watch one of the episodes with me. As they laughed at all the best jokes, with, “I’d forgotten how funny this show was” expressions on their faces I found myself practically mouthing every line in each episode. For example, right before Chandler explained why he was in box I was remembering that his next line was going to be, “The meaning of the box is three-fold,” and there wasn’t a single line I’d forgotten from the legendary trivia contest which resulted in Rachel and Monica having to switch apartments with Joey and Chandler (which their apartment building was somehow totally cool with). My personal favorites lines from the contest both come from Chandler, “Actually, it’s Ms. Chanandler Bong” in reference to the incorrect name listed on the label of a paper he subscribes to, and “His legs flail about as if independent of his body” in reference to his fear of Michael Flattery, Lord of the Dance.
I suddenly felt really guilty. I have clearly already seen these episodes way more than most. Part of that is because Friends always seems to be on in re-runs somewhere, or at least it always is whenever I channel surf. A larger part of it is because I was the type of fan who used to actually tape Friends off of TV onto VHS tapes (man, I’m really dating myself here), editing out the commercials in the process. I would then take those tapes with me into the video store I worked at and play them in the background.
Incidentally, I repeated that same trick with Quantum Leap and The Simpsons. I didn’t necessarily do this because I couldn’t make it through a work shift without watching my favorite TV shows. I did it simply because I could, and having a familiar show on in the background as I worked was preferable to some inoffensive family film or a weird loop of trailers for the new releases of the moment. The end result is that I truly have seen most of Friends Season 1-6 (since the show was still in its 7th season when I worked at the store) more times than I can remember, to the point that all these years later I still remember most of it pretty well. In fact, I remember it well enough to know that the versions of the episodes on Netflix are the syndicated ones. The tapes I had were mostly the original broadcast versions, and I noticed a brief scene from the broadcast version missing from Netflix’s “The One Where Everyone Finds Out.”
But when I remember Friends well enough to anticipate every punch line and notice specific scenes have been cut out for syndication it poses the question of whether or not re-watching Friends has become completely pointless for me. This is not to say that I received no enjoyment from my brief Netflix binge. A lot of those jokes are still funny even if I know they’re coming. However, this is largely an experience I’ve already had before many years ago. The beauty of Netflix is that it can reacquaint you with an old love like Friends, but the flipside is that Netflix also constantly taunts you with the many, many other films and TV shows you’ve never seen before. That’s why I suddenly felt guilty re-watching a show I have apparently, in some places, memorized by heart. Shouldn’t I be spending my Netflix time widening my horizons and finally getting around to finishing the second episode of Black Mirror, BBC’s Twilight Zone for the internet age?
Not only would that give me a new experience it would also potentially give me something new to write about on the site. Just glancing at Netflix’ home page right now, I see that I could drop in to the Cillian Murphy show Peaky Blinders, or I could see how accurate I was in assuming David Duchovny’s Showtime series Californication is just a new version of HBO’s forgotten sitcom Dream On (which, coincidentally, was created by the same people who made Friends). There are plenty of interesting movies on there, too, be it something vaguely newer (Wolf of Wall Street) or an older film I really should have seen by now (Muriel’s Wedding).
This is an argument I’ve been having with myself with years, and I’ve had people remind me that there’s nothing wrong with TV comfort food, nuzzling up next to an old friend and, in the case of Friends, simply appreciating the impeccable joke-delivery-machine writing of a classic sitcom. I’ve also had a friend joke that as sad and petty as it sounds she sometimes wishes she could simply forget everything she knew about a favorite movie or TV show and get to experience it as if she was doing so for the first time. That’s part of the reason she loves turning people onto new films and shows because getting to watch them experience it for the first time in a way actually helps you re-discover your love for it as well. I’ve also had a brother listen patiently to my argument, and rather bluntly tell me to stop watching so much damn TV and get a life.
We’ll table that suggestion for later, and the “I’ve seen Friends so many times I remember all the jokes” is probably the definition of a champagne problem, the likes of which will justifiably receive no sympathy in some quarters. I’m not asking for sympathy, though. I’m simply realizing that I’ve seen Friends, at least what I would deem the good years, so many times that re-watching it has become almost pointless. Have you ever had that issue with a film or TV show, Friends or otherwise? If so, did it kind of bum you out? Or are there certain things that you have seen practically beyond count, you can quote its every line, and you simply don’t care because you still love it so much? Let me know in the comments.
Oh, btw, in case any longtime readers are wondering I did kind of anticipate this would happen to me when Friends’ Netflix arrival was first announced. So, yeah, I have only myself to blame.