No-one came out of Friends with a successful career. Matthew Perry helmed the biggest televisual anticlimax of recent years in Studio 60. David Schwimmer just appears on the National Lottery and Simon Pegg’s coattails. And the rest have all racked up films and TV of varying quality (Kudrow’s Comeback is awesome, even if she has aged to about 57), but consistently shoddy ratings and takings.
Matt Le Blanc’s plan of sticking with Joey certainly wasn’t the most awe-inspiring. In Friends, his character peaked around series nine. Even without taking that into consideration, in an ensemble cast, all six characters were nothing more than vague caricatures. They propped each other up in a hilarious programme, but alone each wouldn’t be able to keep a series of commercials afloat for long.
The start of Joey itself wasn’t great. Characters were created to fulfil functions that weren’t really needed. Without having a burgeoning need to capture the zeitgeist that Friends managed and then held for ten years, what the heck was a character supposed to do? Without that role, the earlier episodes pay alarming resemblance to other contemporary US crude sitcoms, or as it’s known here, ABC1.
But pay closer attention to the later episodes. Joey’s sister Gina was actually a pretty good comic foil, playing stupid off against stupid (after all, Joey and Phoebe always had the funniest bits in the olden days). His self-conscious nephew Michael fulfilled the Chandler function without becoming a worrying echo from yesteryear. Only Jennifer Coolidge, as his oversexed, screeching agent hits a consistently bum note. It’s certainly not a bad ratio of good-to-rubbish characters for a spin-off to be hitting.
What the programme needed wasn’t the undertow of heartwarming storylines that the Central Perk crowd used to provide, and after a while, the writers of Joey seemed to realise this. Getting stuck into the daft stuff allowed plenty of set pieces and dozy jokes that raise some genuine laughs. They’re not original and won’t set the world alight, but it remains a well-crafted programme.
Still, the programme snuck under most people’s radar. The end of series two hasn’t even been shown in the States; how it even got the second season is something a mystery, given the shoddy ratings the programme has enjoyed. Broadcast in the televisual dead zone of Channel Five over here, you probably blinked and missed it finishing last weekend. Now it lives on only on Five US, as the company tries to recoup the massive outlay it made for what’s proven to be a ratings and critical turkey.
Joey isn’t Friends. Friends was the most successful sitcom since at least Cheers, if not ever. Joey never stood a chance of escaping out from its shadow, and only came into itself after several months of dud episodes. But it didn’t deserve being overlooked to the extent it was on five. Tune it – there’s still a fair few wheezes to be weedled out of the programme in its afterlife.
Previously in Bad TV REDEEMED:Last of the Summer Wine (yep, really)