The One With The Data Scientist: A Closer Look At The Friends of Friends

Elizabeth Ter Sahakyan
Jun 28 · 8 min read
Credit: Warner Bros Television

Intro

Friends was a popular 90s sitcom featuring the six fictional friendships of Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, and Ross — but I probably didn’t have to tell you that. It’s arguably one of the greatest and most timeless tv shows and considering the frenzy that broke out last year when Netflix tried to go “on a break” from Friends where they had to renew the deal for $100M — it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. People keep their Netflix accounts just so they can watch reruns of Friends. I’m one of them.

It’s safe to say that the producers, directors, writers, actors, and everyone else who contributed to this show created magic, and it’s worth analyzing further. Each episode consisted of several storylines, and each storyline included different groupings of the 6 characters. In this project, I have analyzed the character groupings in all storylines to explore the closeness of relationships, identified the fan favorite characters, and compared the distribution and sentiment of different gender dynamics.

This project builds on top of Alex Albright’s work on “The One With All The Quantifiable Relationships” which aims to quantify the closeness of all of the relationships in friends based on the number of storylines they shared together in the show. I’ve added in the layer of viewer ratings to visualize viewer sentiment and how these opinions may have driven production decisions.

Whether you’re a data scientist or a fan of the show — I hope you enjoy the read!


The One With The Friends of Friends

The dynamics between Chandler, Joey, Monica, Phoebe, Rachel, and Ross are the friendships everyone wants in their lives. Here are the relationships that evolved over the 10 years of their glory days:

The One With All The Relationships

In the chord diagrams above, chord thickness represents the number of storylines characters shared with one another. Every two-character grouping possibility was taken into account and the number of storylines shared were identified and visualized. We can clearly see that Rachel and Ross spent the most time together (thickest yellow chord), and siblings Ross and Monica were almost never alone together (thin blue line).

The bar graph outlines the number of instances where a pair appeared together in a storyline throughout the 10 seasons.

If you consider spending time alone together a valid measure of closeness, the closest relationships were:

  • Rachel and Ross
  • Chandler and Monica
  • Chandler and Joey

Expected. Moving on…

Let’s look into the time not spent together.

There were the best of friends, there were the worst of friends, but the worst of friends weren’t really friends — they were siblings! Monica and Ross hardly spent any time alone together, 4 storylines out of the 236 episodes to be exact. A coincidence?

The second weakest relationship, Chandler and Phoebe, shared 6 storylines together. Did they secretly hate eachother? Has Chandler been holding a grudge since the day Phoebe couldn’t rhyme anything with his name? I guess we’ll never know…

Phoebe realizing this

The One With All The Ratings

Friends was on air for 10 seasons for a total of 236 episodes. The ratings of each individual episode can be found on IMDB, which I collected in a spreadsheet to quantify which characters were the favorite, objectively. Rachel is obviously the best regardless of results.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Viewer Rating Visualizations

To start, I visualized all of the ratings on a heatmap where you can see that the last two episodes and a few in the middle were the best performing (darkest color). The top 5 episodes were:

  • The Last One: Part 2
  • The One Where Everybody Finds Out
  • The Last One: Part 1
  • The One with the Embryos
  • The One with the Prom Video

Then I aimed to find an objective ranking of the characters. I filtered out the data to include only a certain character’s individual storylines, and calculated the average ratings. I visualized this for pair storylines as well, where the character was in a storyline involving only 1 of the other main friends.

Using the viewer ratings, I also quantified the performance between the different gender dynamics. These were the questions I wanted to answer:

  • Did viewers like episodes with more female-only storylines or did they prefer male-only?
  • What was the number of female-only storylines vs. male-only?

The One With The Favorite Friend

There were significant differences in ratings found when some of the characters were in individual storylines vs. being paired up with a friend.

For instance, Chandler was rated the lowest of all of the characters when he was alone, but the highest when he was with another friend. This tells us that viewers didn’t really care for Chandler’s work life which was mainly when he was pictured alone, and really loved the dynamics between Chandler and Monica or Chandler and Joey, which is who he spent the most time with.

Joey was the favorite when considering individual storylines. It seems people loved seeing him go on auditions.

Overall, Chandler and Joey were the favorites!

The One With The Gender Dynamics

Of the 427 gender exclusive storylines analyzed out of a total 696, results showed the viewers had a sliiiight preference for male-only storylines. Women ranked an average rating of 8.45 and males led with 0.03 pts at 8.48.

There were almost exactly the same number of women-only storylines as men-only, 213 women-only and 214 men-only.

The even distribution of gender exclusive storylines was the insight that surprised me the most in my analysis, it shouldn’t, but that’s where we’re at in 2019.

This definitely wasn’t a coincidence and took a lot careful level of planning in production. Creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman paid careful attention to that detail and it likely was a factor in the show’s massive success. I want to make the distinction that equal representation, whether it is gender or diversity, should be the bare minimum consideration, and not something to be overly commended, it should just be. David and Marta were just ahead of the curve in their thinking and set a good example for others to follow. It makes you wonder what other details they deeply considered that went unnoticed by the general audience.

I’ll leave it on that note to have the same level of consideration for representation and let be a guiding principle in your work and decision making.

TL;DR

696 storylines were analyzed from the tv show Friends. These are my findings.

The best friends were:

  • Rachel and Ross (70 storylines)
  • Chandler and Monica (63 storylines)
  • Chandler and Joey (36 storylines)

The worst friends were:

  • Ross and Monica (4 storylines)
  • Chandler and Phoebe (6 storylines)

Joey was the favorite character in individual storylines with an average rating of 8.51.

Chandler was the favorite character pair storylines with an average rating of 8.60.

There was an equal distribution of gender exclusive storylines:

  • 214 men-only storylines
  • 213 women-only storylines

Men-only storylines were rated slightly higher than women on average:

  • 8.48 average rating for men
  • 8.45 average rating for women
The One With All The Visualizations

Data + Code + Design

This project was designed entirely in Google slides and the visualizations were created using Matplotlib, Seaborn, and D3.js. The data and code required to recreate these visualizations are provided in my github repo. You can also view the github repo for the original project by Alex Albright. The chord diagram was created using code from Nadieh Bremer’s project “Story Telling with Chord Diagram” that can be found in this gist.

I went with a similar color palette from the show’s logo:

Friends Logo — Credit: Warner Brothers Television

The font used for the project can be downloaded for free here.

Here is a before and after of design application:

Future Ideas

I’ll leave you with a few more ideas if you would like to keep this going:

  • Were Rachel and Ross really on a break? The world needs to know. Data can be collected via twitter survey, google forms, etc. and visualized. To go further, look at the differences in votes between different genders.
  • Who kissed who? Create an interactive visualization to map all of the kisses that took place and you can see the episode title when you hover over each instance and maybe some context of the scene. Here is a reddit thread from r/dataisbeautiful to get you started.
  • Which pair had the highest ratings? Is there a correlation between the highest rated pairs, and the number of times they appear in a storyline together? You can visualize each pair’s rating by season and compare it to the number of times they were grouped together in that season. A correlation would indicate that show’s producers were making data driven decisions based on viewer ratings.

Let’s be F R I E N D S. Find me on twitter at @elizabethets!

Feel free to share this project with your F R I E N D S and please credit this original Medium post :)

Disclaimer

This work was completed as a project for Lambda School’s Data Science track and is in no way affiliated with the Warner Bros Television show Friends.

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