Friends: “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate (Pilot)”

The Theme Song

Katie: Oh god that fucking song. Some pilot episodes skip the opening credits, and I had hoped that “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate” would be one of them. No such luck.

The worst part is admitting I know the whole song because I used to have the Friends soundtrack and now I have the lesser-known verses running through my head like a goddamned pop music nightmare.

Rich: There are lesser known verses of this song? Oh dear! Like you, I wasn’t expecting the theme song and the fountain montage. I figured I’d need to watch the first 20 seconds of episode 2 for that. Nope. Thank you NBC.

The Show

Katie: Like just about everyone else in my generation, I tuned into NBC each Thursday for Must See TV, but mostly for Friends because now I can’t remember what else was on there. Mad About You?

Rich: Even 20 years after this pilot aired, I can still see how gd brilliant the creators and cast are and will eventually be. Within the first 90 seconds, I have a rough idea of everyone’s personality based on fashion and hair alone.

Also, I didn’t need to Google a single thing for this show. I knew all the characters names right off the bat. Point, me (I guess?)

Monica: The professional. Jacket blazer thing with shoulder pads, dark-hair power do, huge suspenders on high-waisted pants, a man’s watch and a ring on her wedding finger. Smash the patriarchy.

Joey: The tough, dumb, woman-crazy greaser. Black leather jacket with black t-shirt (he’s not the Fonz, guys!) tucked into his pants and a Deppian 21 Jump Street haircut. Dark blue jeans and black cowboy boots. Chicks, amirite?

Chandler: The fun guy. Fun-guy polo shirt with traditional blue jeans and unassuming shoes.

Phoebe: The hippie. Torn jean jacket vest with some kind of weird elbow-length shirt underneath, pigtails, giant earrings and rings on every single finger. And not just past the second knuckle, but those just past the fingertip rings too (those creep me out for some reason).

Ross: The classic, conservative schmuck. Popular 90s haircut (kind of like a Clooney — I had one around 1996–97 and it worked great for me, but I tried to bring it back in 2002 and failed miserably). Stylish jacket, red button-down, khakis.

Katie: Ross is a paleontologist! He has seriously the greatest TV character occupation of all time, and there is no mention of it in the pilot but I don’t care. Ross is a paleontologist and therefore the best Friends character, even though he spends the entire series in love with someone with the depth of a litter box and everyone makes fun of him for having a PhD and working at a museum. That’s some real Mean Girls shit, Friends.

Rich: I also loved that Ross was a paleontologist and hated his girlfriend. But for a unique reason. His annoying high-pitched voice girlfriend was named Janice. My high school girlfriend was also named Janice. There aren’t too many Janices in pop culture. So I got to hear a lot of Janice on Janice bitching as I tried to awkwardly make out with my real-life Janice on Thursday nights. (Katie: Have you been hating the wrong man’s girlfriend all this time, Rich? Chandler dated Janice (though Ross did sleep with her). Ross dated Rachel. I stand by my statement.)

Katie: Once we’ve established the basics, Rachel bursts into the coffee shop in said wedding dress, having just dumped Mr. Potato Head at the altar. She’s looking for Monica, whom we’re pretty sure she hasn’t seen since high school. Through the magic of sitcoms, by the end of the episode they’re living together. But Monica probably needs some help paying rent on that apartment anyway, so it all works out in the end.

The other storyline follows Monica’s brief dalliance with Paul the Wine Guy. Wine Guy woos her with a story about not being able to perform since his divorce several years before. Because if there’s one thing the ladies love, it’s a first-date conversation about impotence and ex-wives. Turns out he’s worked his way through Manhattan with that line. This is why she’s out to crush the patriarchy, Rich.

And that’s pretty much what happens.

The Sort-Of Review

Rich: There’s some cringe-worthy dialogue that hasn’t aged well, partly because it was probably never funny but partly because we’re a lot more culturally sensitive to things like jokes about lesbians and suicides. There should be trigger warnings for Phoebe’s entire back story.

There were also two very obvious uses of jokes that are part of the fabric of America’s rich quilt of comedy — the “Did I say that out loud?” joke and the, “Anyway…” joke. We’d need a comedy anthropologist to figure out the origin of these two styles of joke, but would the writers really insert two obvious and high-profile examples of this comedy into their pilot if it wasn’t fresh and new? Is it possible that this was the first “Did I say that out loud?” and “Anyway…” joke in network television history? Probably not, but, maybe?

There’s a ton of product placement in the apartment scenes. Soda, dish soap, vitamins, bagels, beer. TV shows are a lot more careful with that stuff these days.

I’m looking at this 30-minute episode as a pop culture artifact that made a jillion dollars, launched most of these actors into some successful future (Katie: I hear Joey was a huge hit.) and perhaps signaled the end of the hyper-popular multi-camera sitcom, if you don’t count Modern Family or the inexplicably popular Two and a Half Men.

Katie: It really was a phenomenon. Every woman over the age of 16 suddenly had the same damn haircut. Teenage boys tuned in to ogle Rachel’s boobs and watch the show. I bet people even bought monkeys and stuff. (Rich: Not to be the contrarian, but none of the Friends women did it for me as a teenager. I just Googled my crushes because I couldn’t remember who I was into when I was 17. In no particular order, Kelly Kapowski, Denise Huxtable, Six Lemeure and Shauni McClain.)

Rich: They do some weird stuff right out of the gate. A major plot line about a lesbian wife discovering herself and leaving her husband (set to the laugh track). A joke about a dream and a phone as a penis and it being his mom (laugh track!) And the aforementioned suicide back story:

It’s hard being on your own for the first time. I remember when I first came to this city and I was 14. My mom had just killed herself and my dad was back in prison. (laugh track) And I got here and I didn’t know anybody and I ended up living with this albino guy who was cleaning windshields outside port authority. And then he killed himself (laugh track) and then I found aromatherapy.

What? That’s bonkers insane. Today, that seems either incredibly subversive or just shocking bad taste.

As a standalone episode of television, you could do way worse than 24 minutes with this crew. The plot is tight (if kind of fucked up) and it’s so easy to follow the characters and their motivations thanks to the magic of archetypes. Thanks fashion and hair!

Katie: I think I disagree with you on this one, Rich. I realize I’m risking some friendships by saying this, but if I were to have seen the pilot now I may not have given the show another chance. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just trying too hard.

But then I remember the good times — getting trapped in an ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre, Big Fat Goalie!, “Could I be wearing any more clothes?” — and I regret nothing. Except for buying that soundtrack.

The Other Stuff

Katie: Anyone remotely familiar with Friends knows that the Ross-and-Rachel question drives the series. The pilot absolutely sledgehammers this home.

First, in the world’s least-subtle foreshadowing, Ross whines to the group that he “just wants to be married again,” and *POOF* here’s Rachel in her wedding dress. Next, Ross peers through the blinds, wondering aloud who he would possibly ask out if he were ready to ask someone out while, across town, Rachel gazes sadly out her own window. By the end of the episode, Ross confesses his longtime crush to Rachel and asks if maybe he can ask her out sometime, and she says yes, maybe he can, TWO DAYS after each of them became single again (then again, 48 hours might be a record for Ross “We Were On a Break” Geller). But it’s a pretty sweet moment and Ross’ awkwardness is completely endearing. The writers proceed to milk ten seasons out of this.

Rich: This isn’t a unique thought, but the key to any great TV comedy is keeping the Will They, Won’t They alive. As soon as they do, it’s over. They can never come together and be happy. End of show. The Office started to get really crappy when Pam and Jim got together. Parks and Rec was best when Ben and Leslie weren’t an official item. Moonlighting, Cheers, Arrested Development (just kidding). But it’s not cheating to drag this premise out for a decade or more. Hell, the X-Files had a big fat Will They, Won’t They. Did they? I forget.

Katie: You know, I think the jury is out on that one. I vaguely recall some theory that Scully had Mulder’s baby, and in the second movie they were together, but do the movies really count? I prefer to think that Mulder and Scully found happiness with others but nursed this great, unrequited love until the very end. Keep the romance in the plastic, folks, alongside your Star Wars action figures.

Katie: I confessed my crush on Ross, the nerdy paleontologist; which of these fine ladies was plastered on your bedroom wall, Rich?

Rich: As I mentioned earlier, neither. I seem to recall some guest stars and girlfriends who I liked, but I’m neither a Rachel OR Monica guy.

Katie: If you had just dumped your bride at the altar, which of the Friends would you invite yourself to live with, and why?

Rich: Monica is probably the best bet, right? Professional. Tidy. A professional cook. You know at some point you’ll get to meet Tom Selleck. Kind of a no brainer.

Katie: See, I think Monica and I would hype each other into a frenzy. We’d never be able to have company because they might leave crumbs on the sofa and a watermark on the table. Instead, I’m going with Ross. Because Ross is a paleontologist.

Katie: I’ve already stated my feelings on the Friends theme song. In your opinion, what is the greatest TV theme of all time?

Rich: I have to admit to taping some TV theme songs because I liked them so much. I have a vivid memory of my mom helping me stretch an extension cord and my dad’s boombox close enough to the TV so that when we blared the Miami Vice theme song at the start of the show it would sound good when I played it over and over in my room. Pretty sure I also recorded the A-Team theme song.

These days, I like the Boardwalk Empire open (though the song is super long) and I liked the True Detective open.

Katie: The Greatest American Hero. Done.

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