Sunday, September 7, 2008


When I was in middle school and "Friends" was in the height of its popularity, my mother didn't let me watch it. It affirmed her principled opinion that "primetime sitcoms" were "too risque." She objected to its cavalier attitude toward sex. "People are always just...sleeping together," she used to say.

Maybe because of the mid-'90s ban, I've experienced a huge surge of interest in "Friends" for about a month now. Maybe it's because I'm now officially twenty-something. I keep thinking I'll get sick of it, find its Normalcy ultimately unappealing. But what Nick termed its "blandness" is, I think, exactly what gets me about it. "Friends" appeals to a universality that shows like "Seinfeld" ignore. I long to be as comfortable with the structure of my existence as these six seem to be. Though the theme song alludes to their Troubles ("your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA..."), they seem really happy being humans. They don't feel driven to distinguish themselves from one another, or to accomplish wordly goals. Their personalities are enough.

Central to the universal appeal of "Friends" is, clearly, the boner everyone gets for Jennifer Aniston. In the first season, Rachel's miniskirts and white lace aprons and that blue velvet mock-turtleneck (!) render her basically irresistible. But one does wonder what it is about Jennifer/Rachel. She's not THE most beautiful woman in the world (her chin is really strong, none of her features are delicate---dare I compare her to Blake Lively??), and as Ross points out when he's deciding whether he should date her, she's Ditzy, Spoiled and Just a Waitress. Nonetheless, the impression one gets when watching "Friends" is that men are powerless in the face of Rachel Green. And it makes sense--she plays by the rules. She plays her evolutionary role, and it's super attractive. Also, duh, she has great boobs.

In "The One With the Fake Party," (click "read more" at the bottom to watch a crucial section), Rachel stages a party for Ross's girlfriend Emily in order to invite over the man she has a crush on. As the night progresses, she walks herself through the process of attaining Joshua, growing increasingly desperate, but never losing confidence in the basic tenets of her method. She plays hard to get, she demonstrates to Joshua that she can knot a cherry-stem with her tongue, she changes into her "lucky" black dress, she stages a game of Spin-the-Bottle, and finally, she relies on the powers of her high school cheerleading uniform. It's really hilarious, because everyone knows that Joshua must at least be attracted to Rachel. Who wouldn't be? And Rachel never suffers from any real loss of self-esteem; instead, she experiences intense frustration that things aren't going her way au moment.

I wonder about this alpha-female prototype. To me it's totally exotic and fascinating, and yet all women have some idea of how to play the game at which Rachel displays such expertise. It's not that hard to impress dudes, and yet I have trouble imagining myself as Rachel---so fully entitled, and so fully committed to her own femininity.

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