FRIENDS: 10 Years of Character Progression

This September marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of a little show called Friends.  The show ran from September 22, 1994 until May 5, 2004 and became a runaway hit and cultural sensation during its ten year run.  After I realized that the show had been off the air for ten years, I found that I missed my old friends, and started watching the series again from the beginning.

It was interesting to go back and watch the first few episodes again to see where the characters started.  Fans of the show, like me, have fond memories of everything that happened after and we all have our favorite moments from the series.  But watching that first episode, it really struck me how much the characters had grown throughout the course of the show.

Each of the friends was a much more simplified version of themselves, but developed depth as the first season and the whole series progressed.  Joey was the dim-witted one with a good heart, Monica the responsible and slightly neurotic one, and Phoebe was the flighty but bubbly new-age girl.   Understandably, this was done to help viewers associate with each character.  Friends was a new show, and we didn’t know who they were yet.

By watching the show again, with episodes back-to-back, I began to realize just how far the characters had come.  In particular, Rachel had developed the most out of all of the characters.  Not only did they grow from a basic type of character, their personalities completely changed from the beginning to the end of the show.

Rachel, after running out on her wedding.

Rachel began as a self-absorbed, naïve girl who ran away from her wedding.  We saw that she had been a privileged girl, living on her parents’ money and never having done a day’s work in her life.  In fact, she was clueless about doing laundry or cleaning the apartment.  After being cut off from her family’s money, she was forced to take her very first job at Central Perk—a job which she was terrible at, and didn’t enjoy.

Eventually, Rachel gets a lead on a job in the fashion industry—a career that she has always wanted.  She is happy to quit her waitressing job and go into her dream job.  Unfortunately for her, she has to pay her dues and ends up serving coffee to the people she is working for.  Through the rest of the series, she becomes more confidant and progresses through the ranks of the fashion industry to Bloomingdales, then Ralph Lauren.

By the time that Rachel’s sisters visit her, she has a secure job, making good money and has learned a lot of life lessons.  Her sisters, Jill and Amy, serve as a mirror to show us where Rachel had come from at the beginning of the show.  The contrast between Rachel and her sisters is striking by this point in the show and, if we didn’t realize it before, we finally see just how far she has come.  They are spoiled and self-centered, and Rachel has a hard time dealing with them, yet she used to be like them.

Rachel and her daughter Emma.

Some of my favorite shows have shown a lot of character progression, in fact that’s one of the factors which make a show great.  Friends had that progression for everyone, and especially Rachel.  We got to see her go from a sheltered life with no skills to a confident working mother.  We lived and laughed with all of these characters for ten years and watching the show again is like a reunion with people you haven’t seen in a long time, but you love hanging out with them from time to time.

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