There was a time, thanks to the enthusiasm and regularity of its syndicated broadcasts, when it felt as though Friends was more air than a sitcom. It was ambient. Omnipresent. It would always be there as part of the TV scenery. And then all of a sudden, it went away. We learned a valuable lesson that day: don’t take sitcom for granted. Treasure it and keep it close to your heart.
In the interests of cherishing the show that coined a hundred phrases and made Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Monica and Phoebe fixtures in our lives, here are 25 of its top episodes…
25. The Last One
Season 10, Episodes 17 and 18
“I got off the plane”
While not one of the absolute greats, “The Last One” deserves a place here for reasons of sentimentality. Put simply, it’s the last one. It’s the end of an era. That’s not to say it lacks for laughs. There are plenty here, from Chandler’s awkward small-talk with an in-labor Erica (Anna Faris, in one of the show’s best recurring guest spots), to Joey’s “I could get a goose!” to Jim Rash’s passenger panicking about “the left phalange” on Rachel’s Paris-bound plane.
Predominantly though, “The Last One” is a weep-fest. After yet another airport chase (how many is that now? Three? Four?) It reunites the show’s main couple in a classic rom-com moment that makes clever use of Ross’ “and get stamps” answerphone, and bids a fond farewell to Monica’s apartment, the site of a decade of silliness and romance.
24. The One Where Ross Is Fine
Season 10, Episode 2
“L is for life, and what is life without love?”
This one’s included for one reason only: David Schwimmer. In “The One Where Ross Is Fine,” Schwimmer puts in an extraordinarily good comic performance combining silliness and—Lord knows how he did it—genuine pathos.
The pairing of Rachel and Joey may have gone against the grain of Friends but at least it gave us this little slice of joy. Armed with just a jug of margaritas and a pair of oven mitts, and with no tan, whitened teeth or holiday armadillo costume to help the laughs along, Schwimmer shines.
23. The One With Rachel’s Inadvertent Kiss
Season 5, Episode 17
“You got courage, you got integrity, you got… courage again, and you got not litigious”
If the above was a Ross classic, then “The One With Rachel’s Inadvertent Kiss” is a showcase for Jennifer Aniston’s comic talents. See Rachel gradually climb the ladder of humiliation through a series of job interviews in which she mistakenly accuses her interviewer of sexual harassment.
Elsewhere, Joey gets into trouble looking for his “hot girl” crush in another building, Ross is a dork, and Chandler and Monica’s relationship matures beyond the first flush of excitement.
22. The One Where Ross Can’t Flirt
Season 5, Episode 19
“A lot of other gas smells…”
Joey convincing his Italian grandmother (played by screen star Lilyan Chauvin) that a hastily filmed sequence with a toy gun and a duck is a bonafide Law & Order appearance after his scene was cut makes for one of Friends’ silliest moments. Happening alongside that is one of the show’s sweetest moments, as Rachel shows how much she still cares about Ross by going to bat for him when his embarrassing inability to flirt with a pizza deliverer lowers his spirits.
All that, and Chandler Bing gives us his idiosyncratic but unmissable rendition of Space Oddity…
21. The One With All The Thanksgivings
Season 5, Episode 8
“Reliving past pain and getting depressed is what Thanksgiving is all about”
Friends flashback episodes (as opposed to compilation episodes) giving a glimpse into the gang’s past are always good for a laugh, if for the fashion choices alone. This one though, does a little bit more. As the sestet recount their worst Thanksgiving experiences, it tells the story of Chandler’s offhand cruelty about Monica’s weight and Monica’s humiliation and plan of revenge (he loses a toe).
See Rachel instructing Monica in the mode of seduction, and Chandler telling Monica he loves her for the very first time. Bonus points to Courteney Cox for playing that whole scene brilliantly with a fez-wearing turkey on her head.
20. The One After The Superbowl Parts 1 & 2
Season 2, Episodes 12 & 13
“Ah, the bat. Ambassador of darkness, flitting out of his cave like a winged messenger. Sightless spectre of the macabre”
This two-parter has more ’90s A-listers thrown at it than Ocean’s Eleven. Julia Roberts and Jean-Claude Van Damme join Brooke Shields and Chris Isaak as guest stars in a tale of romantic revenge, an unhinged stalker, and a monkey mystery. It’s fun for all those reasons, but most of all for the gang’s Marcel-luring acapella rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
19. The One With All The Poker
Season 1, Episode 18
“But look how happy she is”
A season one classic that pits the guys against the girls in a series of poker matches. It all leads up to a big confrontation between Rachel, whose job search keeps throwing up disappointments, and Ross, representing the male side of the table.
Ross may be terrible in lots of ways, but here, he sacrifices a victory for the sake of giving Rachel a much-needed boost.
18. The One With The Hypnosis Tape
Season 3, Episode 18
“You are a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke”
Any Frank Jr episode is a good episode, but this is a cracker. The introduction of Mrs. Knight (sorry, Alice), Frank’s former home economics teacher and now fiancée is an amusing set-up that takes an unexpectedly sweet turn. Ross and Joey are tasked with dissuading young Frank from marrying Alice, but end up envying him for the love he’s found.
Meanwhile, Pete tips Monica $10,000 in her 1950s diner, and Chandler walking across the back of set in a towel provides one of the series’ best silent jokes as the anti-smoking hypnosis tapes he listens to while asleep gradually make him discover his feminine side.
17. The One Where Ross And Rachel…You Know
Season 2, Episode 15
“Sweet mother of all that is pure”
This is an episode of many firsts. It’s the first appearance from Dr. Richard Burke (Tom Selleck), the first arrival of Joey and Chandler’s La-Z-Boy recliners, and the first time Ross and Rachel… you know. Not all goes as planned for the big event, dinner is interrupted when Ross is called into the museum to deal with an emergency (opening the door to Friends’ unkillable homo erectus joke).
Luckily for Ross, Rachel is much more understanding than he will be when she has to cancel a date for work in a later episode, and they end up sealing the deal to the sound of Friends guest star Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. All very romantic stuff.
16. The One With The Race Car Bed
Season 3, Episode 7
“I’m stuck here teaching a bunch of people, most of whom are too ugly to even be on TV”
Now, this one deserves a spot in any best-of list for the pre-credits gag alone, which presents each of the gang’s silent inner monologues. Everybody’s thinking complex thoughts apart from Joey, the inside of whose brain is just singing a song, while Phoebe’s thinking: “Who’s singing?”
It’s also great because it sees Joey giving back to the acting community by by teaching a class in which he explains the finer points of the “smell the fart” technique. By the episode’s cliff-hanger, Joey’s “surprise” face is put to the test when he spies Janice cheating on Chandler with her ex-husband.
15. The One With The Boobies
Season 1, Episode 13
“Her name’s Roni, she’s a pet mortician.”
An early gem here, as Joey discovers that his father isn’t the man he thought he was, Phoebe dates a shrink, and everybody walks in on everybody else naked. The plot about Joey’s father having a mistress named Roni turns out to be pretty sweet because of the spiral into which it sends Joey, to whom family loyalty is paramount.
The idea of Roger driving the gang mad by psychoanalysing them, is rewarding too, even this soon into the series. His dig at Central Perk’s big cups which “I’m sorry, may as well have nipples” is particularly fun.
14. The One At The Beach
Season 3, Episode 25
“Because I was mad at you, not because I stopped loving you”
The season three finale takes the friends to a beach house in Montauk, where Phoebe discovers her birth mother and Ross and Rachel discover they’re still in love. It also features the delights of Joey as a busty sand-mermaid, Strip-Happy Days-game, and the pre-Mondler irony of Monica and Chandler squabbling over his suggestion that he could be her boyfriend one day (something she thinks is ludicrous).
The main action though, is all Ross and Rachel. She still loves him, he’s dating sex-mad (and soon-to-be bald) Bonnie, and by the end of it, Ross faces a cliff-hanger choice between two women.
13. The One With The Proposal
Season 6, Episodes 24 & 25
“I want the Mister Beaumont!”
If you don’t at least well up when Chandler, sick at the thought that his tomfoolery has lost him the love of his life, walks into his apartment to see Monica there, with far too many candles than can possibly be appropriate for health and safety, waiting to propose to him, then you may need to see a doctor about being severely dehydrated. This two-parter in which Richard returns and almost breaks up Friends’ best couple, is a classic.
Not to mention all the back-up deals the others make to soothe their jealousy over Chandler and Monica’s happiness. And Joey accidentally buying a boat.
12. The One Where Mr Heckles Dies
Season 2, Episode 3
“I could have birds”
Some character development for a young Chandler Bing here, as Monica and Rachel’s downstairs neighbour Mr Heckles (Larry Hankin) exacts his final revenge on Noisy Girls 1 and 2. Heckles dies and leaves Mon and Rach his possessions, in the knowledge that all of it is worthless crap and it’ll annoy the hell out of them.
In Mr. Heckles though, Chandler sees the ghost of Christmas future, and realises that if he continues to let trivial things ruin his relationships, he too will end up alone, banging a broom on the ceiling. When Chandler decides to keep Heckles’ yearbook as a memento, it’s very sweet.
11. The One Where Chandler Crosses The Line
Season 4, Episode 7
“You should think of my work as wordless sound poems”
Whatever you think of Dr. Ross Geller, his keyboard compositions are in a genre of their own. After this episode debuts his “sound,” you’ll never press the helicopter blades button on a Casio without thinking of Ross.
The real story in this episode is, of course, Chandler being in love with Joey’s girlfriend Kathy, and kissing her, thus betraying his friend. Loyalty is everything to Joey, and here, Chandler goes so far over the line, he can’t even see the line. The line is a dot to him.
10. The One With The Morning After
Season 3, Episode 16
“This can’t be it.” “Then how come it is?”
In terms of story, this is a lynchpin episode for Ross and Rachel. After Rachel suggests taking a break, and Ross jumps straight into bed with Chloe, the girl from the copy place, he spends the next day desperately trying to cover his tracks, to no avail. Rachel finds out and is incandescent with rage. It leads to a fight that takes up half the episode.
Because Friends is a sitcom, not a drama, it’s a fight interspersed with comedy lines from the Greek chorus of Monica, Joey, Chandler and Phoebe, trapped in Monica’s bedroom and listening to the whole thing. Schwimmer is great, Aniston is great, and both characters come away truly injured.
9. The One With All The Resolutions
Season 5, Episode 11
“Make yourself a pair of paste pants”
A bit of silliness now, after all that pain. This is David Schwimmer’s episode, thanks to a Ross-classic date mishap. Wearing a pair of leather trousers as part of his “do something new every day” resolution, he suffers unfortunate trews-shrinkage and ends up trotting out of his date’s bathroom, trouserless, covered in a concoction of lotion and talcum powder.
This is also the episode in which Rachel finds out about Chandler and Monica’s relationship, kick-starting one of Friends’ best ever plot threads.
8. The One With Chandler In A Box
Season 4, Episode 8
“The meaning of the box is three-fold.”
Nobody likes it when Chandler and Joey fight, and this is their biggie. It’s Thanksgiving, and Joey refuses to forgive Chandler for kissing his girlfriend Kathy. To redeem himself in Joey’s eyes, Chandler agrees to spend the holiday silent, inside a large wooden box.
When Kathy turns up to tell the box that she doesn’t want to come between two best friends so is leaving town, Joey does the right thing and gives the couple his blessing. It’s sweet and absurd, with a great making-up moment between this show’s top romance – that between J-Man and Channy.
7. The One With The Blackout
Season 1, Episode 7
“Gum would be perfection.”
An early great episode, this. A city-wide blackout leaves the gang without electricity, and Chandler trapped in an ATM vestibule with Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre.
Still early enough for Rachel to be unaware of Ross’ feelings for her, he spends the episode trying to ask her out, but she gets distracted by a lost cat and its owner—a certain Italian hunk named Paulo.
6. The One With The Two Parties
Season 2, Episode 22
“I hear you can get people out of here”
A bit of classic farce here as the apartments-across-the-hall-from-each-other offer a last-minute solution to the problem of Rachel’s warring parents both turning up to her birthday party: have two parties, one for each parent!
Lots of early Friends episodes involve the gang coming to terms with the loss of their childhood status-quo, and in this one, Rachel has to cope with her memories of family togetherness being torn apart by her parents’ bitter divorce. It’s not all wistful pathos though, there are also tonnes of gags, from Ross steadily transitioning into Dr Green, to Joey passionately embracing Rachel’s mother, to Monica’s “rules help control the fun” approach to entertaining.
5. The One With The Embryos
Season 4, Episode 12
“Actually, it’s Miss Chanandler Bong”
Monica’s natural competitiveness gets the better of her when she and Rachel engage Joey and Chandler in a game of ‘who knows each other better?’ A simple bet escalates until, yup, she loses the apartment, leading to a multi-episode swap. This one’s great for fun titbits about the gang (Rachel’s favourite film is Weekend At Bernie’s, Chandler first touched a woman’s breast at the age of nineteen…).
Meanwhile, in a sweeter yet somehow, even more absurd thread, Phoebe is implanted with Frank and Alice’s embryos. Who doesn’t love the sight of Giovanni Ribisi jubiliantly shouting “My sister’s gonna have my baby!”?
4. The One Where No-One’s Ready
Season 3, Episode 2
“Could I be wearing any more clothes?”
You know how all the Friends are self-obsessed, petty and inconsiderate of other people’s needs? This one shows that off to excellent comic effect when they’re all too busy with their own stuff to get ready for Ross’ big work event. Joey and Chandler fight over a chair, Monica becomes obsessed with the contents of ex-boyfriend Richard’s answerphone, Pheobe stains her dress and Rachel can’t decide what to wear.
It all builds to a climax in which Ross prepares to drink a glass of fat (there were reasons. They were probably three-fold) and they all eventually behave. This is the one that coined the phrase ‘going commando’ too, according to legend.
3. The One Where Ross Got High
Season 6, Episode 9
“What’s not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Goooood”
Any episode that sees Ross and Monica revert to their childhood selves is good fun, and this is the top of the pile.
It’s a Thanksgiving special in which Judy and Jack visit their kids in the city, a holiday that involves eating Rachel’s beef trifle, finding out about their son’s college pot-smoking, discovering that Monica and Chandler are in a long-term relationship, and learning that Phoebe loves Jacques Cousteau (the latter having replaced Jack Geller, dream hunk, in her affections).
2. The One Where Everybody Finds Out
Season 5, Episode 14
“They don’t know that we know they know we know”
A stone-cold classic. More geography-based fun here as Ross’ move into Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment across the street leads to Phoebe stumbling on Chandler and Monica’s secret relationship. Instead of coming clean about the discovery though, she decides to have some fun first using the strongest tool at her disposal – her sexuality.
Cue Phoebe seducing Chandler (“so this is my bra”), the messers becoming the messees, and Chandler telling everyone he’s in love with Monica (six episodes after he said it accidentally when she was wearing a turkey on her head, incidentally).
1. The One With The Prom Video
Season 2, Episode 14
“See? He’s her lobster.”
An unashamedly sentimental choice for the top spot – it’s the one where Ross is Rachel’s lobster (a nonsense phrase now to be found on Valentine’s Day cards the world over).
It also offers our first look at young Monica, Rachel and Ross in the titular prom video (lots of fun) during the screening of which Rachel realises that she doesn’t care about the list Ross made comparing her and Julie, because he’s always loved her. It’s the start of an era.
And just for good measure, a bonus extra entry courtesy of Adam & Joe:
Seasons 1 – 10 of Friends are available now on Netflix.