The 25 most relatable 'Friends' episodes as the show turns 25
Posted August 16, 2019 2:50 p.m. EDT
CNN — "Friends," the ubiquitous sitcom about six New York City companions, turns 25 this year.
Although creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman's series premiered on September 22, 1994 and went off the air on May 6, 2004, its sustaining popularity on streaming services -- coupled with our love of celebrating retro moments through a social media lens -- means that there are a ton of over-the-top promotions tied to this anniversary.
There's a "Friends" product tie-in with Pottery Barn, which is a nod to a specific episode of the series, as well as a jewelry line from retailer Alex and Ani that's inspired by the show. There's also planned pop-ups in New York and Los Angeles and movie theater screenings of select episodes. For those who prefer to celebrate in the anonymity of the digital space, a partnership with GIF repository site GIPHY includes the release of over 2,300 GIFs that call out specific moments.
To the layperson, this seems like overkill. To "Friends" fans, it makes sense. As the topic was recently explored in The New Yorker, "Friends" wasn't just about jokes and culturally significant haircuts (although the shag style that actress Jennifer Aniston's Rachel Green populated early in its run certainly made its mark).
While the show has been criticized for a lack of racial and economic diversity, its stories about the struggles of early adulthood still resonate. Just like early seasons of "The Real World," it gave viewers an instant-family or network -- and served as a conversation piece for those trying to build a real-life version.
In honor of this, we've made a chronological list of 25 of the most honest and funny-because-it's-true "Friends" episodes.
1. "The Pilot" or "The One Where Monica Gets A Roommate" (Season 1, Episode 1)
The first episode sets up the premise for this sextet of singletons and their co-dependency. Paleontologist Ross (David Schwimmer) is depressed because of his recent divorce while his chef sister, Monica (Courteney Cox) falls for a guy she meets through her restaurant who is lying about his own past relationships. Ross's college roommate, Chandler (Matthew Perry), works in data processing and is insecure, so he makes self-deprecating jokes as a defense mechanism. Massage therapist and part-time singer Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) is quirky and struggling actor Joey (Matt LeBlanc) is emotionally immature. Rachel (Aniston) thought marrying rich would make her happy -- and realized a little too late that it wouldn't. These are all personality traits and life events that could be relatable or aspirational for anyone looking to join their peer group.
2. "The One with the Sonogram at the End" (Season 1, Episode 2)
TV shows love to showcase how emotionally complicated unplanned pregnancies can be. In "Friends," things are taken up a notch because Ross's ex-wife Carol (Anita Barone) is in a relationship with a woman and the three of them must now have to figure out how to co-parent when she's unexpectedly pregnant. Like others in his situation or a variant of it, Ross also must process how his life will soon go from one of minimal responsibility to that of a single dad.
3. "The One With All The Poker" (Season 1, Episode 18)
Rachel spends much of the early "Friends" seasons figuring out this whole adulting concept. She wants to stand on her own and find a career, but she doesn't always have the connections or skill set to get there and barely making rent as a waitress at the neighborhood coffee shop. She thought she was getting somewhere after a positive job interview, only to learn at the end of the episode that she was wrong. This scenario is all-too-real for anyone with big dreams who is (or was) stuck working at a soul-crushing job to pay the bills.
4. "The One Where Rachel Finds Out" (Season 1, Episode 24) and "The One Where Ross Finds Out" (Season 2, Episode 7)
The will they/won't they relationship dynamic between Rachel and Ross did grow tiresome. But, to anyone harboring an unrequited crush, these early episodes where each finds out about the other's romantic feelings can be a life preserver.
5. "The One Where Heckles Dies" (Season 2, Episode 3)
A sense of loneliness and isolation can outwardly manifest in various ways, particularly in a city as crowded as New York. When Rachel and Monica's downstairs neighbor (played by guest star Larry Hankin) suddenly dies, Chandler questions his own life choices and worries about ending up alone and cranky.
6. "The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant" (Season 2, Episode 5)
Wage inequality in the workplace is a headline-grabbing topic. Among your personal peer group? Maybe not so much. This episode lets Phoebe, Rachel and Joey actually talk about how much of a struggle it is to keep up when their friends make so much more money than them. It also ends with Monica losing her job at a restaurant, thus reminding that not all paychecks come with a lifetime guarantee.
7. "The One with the Lesbian Wedding" (Season 2, Episode 11)
This episode aired in 1996 and, although we'd like to think that our culture has become more inclusive since then, many LGBTQ people find themselves lacking in family support -- just as Ross's ex-wife Carol (now played by Jane Sibbett) did when she married her partner Susan (Jessica Hecht). Ross puts aside his own feelings of seeing his ex move on and encourages Carol to go through with the ceremony.
8. "The One Where Rachel Quits" (Season 3, Episode 10)
Sometimes it takes a fear of the unknown to break you from complacency. In this case, Rachel realizes that she's never going to jump-start her desire for a career in fashion if she continues to wait tables, so she turns in her notice.
This episode also has a lesson in righting your mistakes when Ross accidentally injures a little girl (a pre-famous Mae Whitman). She had been selling cookies door-to-door so she could earn a trip to Space Camp, so Ross steps up and attempts to help her fulfill her dream.
9. "The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break" (Season 3, Episode 15)
Oh, the struggles of a work-life balance. Rachel is killing it at her new job at Bloomingdales, but that also means she's working long hours and doesn't have time to celebrate her anniversary with Ross. Jealousy and drunken decisions ensued and fans still debate what constitutes cheating on one's partner. Eventually, the phrase "we were on a break!" would be screamed into the lexicon.
10. "The One With The Jellyfish" (Season 4, Episode 1)
Several "Friends" episodes discuss grown children's issues with their parents (both Monica and Chandler are routinely frustrated with theirs). In this episode, Phoebe -- who, it is increasingly revealed throughout the series, comes from a very non-traditional family -- feels hurt and betrayed that her birth mother never tracked her down when she needed her most.
For the smug grammarians in a friend group, this is also the episode where Ross teaches Rachel the difference between "you're" and "your."
11. "The One Where They're Going to Party!" (Season 4, Episode 9)
Part of getting older means accepting that it's OK if you can't, or don't, party like you did in your youth. In this episode, Chandler and Ross are super psyched that their old friend is in town and they begin to think of all the crazy shenanigans they can get into this time. When the friend bails, they realize they're content to have a calm and predictable night without him.
12. "The One With Phoebe's Uterus" (Season 4, Episode 11)
This episode may resonate with any woman who has ever considered being a surrogate, as Phoebe is asked to do for her brother and his wife (played by Giovanni Ribisi and Debra Jo Rupp, respectively). But it's also another "Friends" episode that deals with class, as Joey takes a job at Ross's museum and learns that there's a divide between doctors and staff. To others, it's best remembered as the one where Monica teaches Chandler (and maybe some watching from home) about female erogenous zones.
13. "The One With The Embryos" (Season 4, Episode 12)
This episode was an early example of TV comedies teaching about the expense of IVF and its iffy success rate. Phoebe has five embryos implanted in the hopes that she can become a surrogate for her brother and his wife (spoilers for first-time watchers: things work out!).
14. "The One With All the Thanksgivings" (Season 5, Episode 8)
This episode's famous scene of Monica dancing with a turkey on her head has been commemorated through everything from T-shirts to GIFs. But let's not forget why she broke out the poultry millinery: It was to cheer up Chandler. He lost a toe many Thanksgivings ago when he was a bone-headed college student who took an interest in her after she lost weight and the two are now secretly dating. (He also apologized for the body shaming).
15. "The One With All the Resolutions" (Season 5, Episode 11)
In an effort to become better people, Rachel and Chandler spend this New Year's-themed episode vowing to -- respectively -- avoid gossip and mocking others. These are lofty goals for almost everyone who isn't a nun.
16. "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" (Season 5, Episode 14)
Secret hook-ups in a friend group are common, but it's time to come clean when it's clear that things are serious. Chandler and Monica use this episode to finally admit their commitment to each other, but not before Phoebe attempts to break him by turning on the charm offensive. More importantly, this episode is also a tale of why people shouldn't be ashamed to seek psychiatric help -- particularly after a jolting life experience. Ross's boss and coworkers suggest he may have some rage issues after his split from his second wife, Emily (Helen Baxendale).They are right.
17. "The One with the Cop" (Season 5, Episode 16)
This is an episode about doing good deeds even if you're a meh person. Phoebe finds an NYPD badge and decides to use her newfound power to scare strangers out of committing various crimes and infractions. Joey decides he wants a relationship and needs Rachel to school him on exactly what that means. And Rachel and Chandler help a determined Ross try to move a new couch into his apartment. (It won't go up the narrow flight of stairs no matter how much he instructs them to "pivot").
18. "The One In Vegas" (Season 5, Episodes 23 and 24)
Sometimes it's hard to know for certain if your partner is over an ex. At the end of Season 5, Chandler is put in just this spot when he learns Monica met up with ex-boyfriend Richard (Tom Selleck) -- even if the encounter left her with no romantic notions. This episode is also about rallying around a friend who may be down on job prospects and is forced to take on an embarrassing (if temporary) gig, as Joey is when the gang finds him working as a gladiator in a Las Vegas hotel when his film production shuts down.
19. "The One Where Joey Loses His Insurance" (Season 6, Episode 4)
Facing an injury while lacking health insurance can bankrupt many an American. In this episode, Joey struggles to find any acting gig imaginable so as to stay covered by the Screen Actors Guild's medical plan.
20. "The One With The Holiday Armadillo" (Season 7, Episode 10)
It's hard for those who practice religions other than Christianity to feel seen during the month of December, particularly if Christmas and Santa Claus are commonplace in the household. In an attempt to get his son to recognize his culture, Ross dons an armadillo costume while he explains the story of Hanukkah. And thus, an all-inclusive holiday mascot was born.
21. "The One Where They All Turn Thirty" (Season 7, Episode 14)
Although this episode doesn't track chronologically within the show's universe, it is an interesting look at how the various friends accept aging. Joey worries about mortality while Phoebe learns her complicated family circumstances led her to believe she's younger than she thought. Rachel uses the opportunity to break up with a younger guy (Eddie Cahill's Tag) when she decides she wants someone more mature.
22. "The One After 'I Do'" (Season 8, Episode 1)
The Season 8 premiere picked up with the previous season finale cliffhanger and confirmed that Rachel was unexpectedly pregnant. It also brings up real discussions of single parenting and even lets Rachel show a moment of relief that she might not be expecting when Phoebe decides to test her friend's purported happiness.
23. "The One With The Mugging" (Season 9, Episode 15)
Phoebe's backstory of a complicated home life (her dad split; a mom who died by suicide) and years living on the street always set her apart from the other main characters who grew up in more stable environments. Things come full circle in this episode when it's realized that she actually once mugged Ross. Not everyone has a suburban, middle-class upbringing before they make the trek to find their paths in the big city.
24. "The One With The Lottery" (Season 9, Episode 18)
It takes a lot of courage (and stability) to start a career path over again, as Chandler did toward the end of the series' run. While much of this episode was focused on the gang's quest to win the lottery, it also had a smaller storyline focused on whether Chandler would be able to turn his internship at an advertising company into a permanent position in one of three open assistant roles (and the ego blows he faces each time he learns of one going to someone else).
25. "The One With The Birth Mother" (Season 10, Episodes 9)
Not everyone is fortunate enough to easily get pregnant every time it's convenient for them. Monica and Chandler's issues with infertility are addressed quite a bit in the show's final seasons, be it the Season 9 episodes "The One with the Fertility Test" -- where they learn that neither of them can conceive -- or "The One with the Donor," when they hunt for a sperm donor. They eventually opt for adoption and connect with Erica (Anna Faris), the birth mother of their eventual twins, in Season 10.
"Friends" was produced by Warner Bros. TV, which shares parent company WarnerMedia with CNN.