The Friends! (l to r): David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Courteney Cox as Monica Geller, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay. (Warner Bros. Television)
Sometimes, suspense is overwhelming. Who would win that first season of Survivor? Who would win the presidential election? Will the bread dough rise? Will it rain on your birthday party?
Suspense was not overwhelming when we asked our listeners to rank the friends of Friends from best to worst, at least in one regard: We suspected Ross would come in last and be named Worst Friend. And it was true. Let's talk about the way our listeners ranked the Friends, beginning with Ross and working our way up to your BFoFF—Best Friend on Friends Forever.
[Just a note: As it turned out, these calculations weren't complex. The ranking of who received the most votes for Best Friend was the exact opposite of the ranking of who received the most votes for Worst Friend. So Ross received both the most Worst Friend votes and the fewest Best Friend votes, and so on.]
Ross got very mopey over the show's ten seasons, and he developed a temper at one point and started yelling at his co-workers, and he said Rachel's name during his wedding to Emily, and it took him forever to stop resenting Susan for being married to Carol, and so forth and so on. But I must say, I was still impressed to see that Ross received 76 percent of the thousands of votes for Worst Friend that came in.
That's so many! That means that if the other five Friends were statistically similar to our listeners, 3.8 of them would have thought he was the worst one in the group! Hopefully, Monica wouldn't, since that's his sister, so out of the four Friends he's not related to, only .2 people—like, just Phoebe's arm—picked anybody other than Ross as Worst Friend! Maybe he should have abandoned the Pivot Couch earlier.
This one surprised me a little more! I grew to appreciate Rachel's goofy sense of humor, but it's true that in the beginning, she was presented as spoiled and self-interested, obsessed with shopping and buying and reluctant to abandon her father's credit cards. Over time, I think Jennifer Aniston's offbeat comic energy gave Rachel a highly necessary jolt of strangeness, and I will never tire of her warm friendship with Joey, which led to such highlights as their exchanging their favorite books. Putting Little Women in the freezer was maybe the most Joey thing to ever happen, and it was Rachel who understood best that he needed to do it.
I think Monica fell into a little bit of the TV writing problem in which competence, especially in women, is easily exaggerated until it becomes a kind of neurotic unpleasantness (the same thing happened to Rebecca, played by Kirstie Alley, on Cheers). In the early going, Monica was the nurturer, the mom, the host, the adult. Over time, especially after she and Chandler were married (...spoiler alert?), she got kind of mean and critical in a different way I enjoyed a lot less. I think early Monica would have fared better if she hadn't been saddled with the problems of later Monica, much as I think later Rachel would have done better in our vote without the limitations of early Rachel.
Look, it's just science.
Joey became, for my money, the big beating heart of this show by the time it ended. It absolutely didn't have to be that way—he began as a kind of grody womanizer who had more hair than heart. But the sillier the character got, and the more they discovered Matt LeBlanc's extraordinary talent for face-pulling, the more Joey became a big lovable doofus who I prooooooobably would have ranked above Chandler, if it were up to me. He's probably the character who changed for the better the most, and if I had to pick one of these people to actually know in real life, there's a good chance I'd pick Joey. He has foolishness and insensitivity in him, but no meanness.
I was nearly a contemporary of these characters, which means that when Chandler was a twentysomething sarcastic joke-maker who seemed a little allergic to sincerity, I was a twentysomething goober with a soft spot I couldn't shake for sarcastic joke-makers who seemed a little allergic to sincerity. Chandler was my favorite in the early going, because I liked his jokes the best. But more and more, I've come to appreciate the perspective of Phoebe's psychiatrist boyfriend, played by Fisher Stevens, who was presented as irredeemably annoying but who nailed Chandler's personality when he said, "You're so funny! I wouldn't want to be there when the laughter stops." Chandler's position here, near the top, is probably a product of his sharp wit and the degree to which his sense of humor came to define the show's voice, in spite of what I would argue was eventually his exhausting and relentless funny-guy neediness.
Of course it's Phoebe! Phoebe didn't nail down Best Friend with quite the emphatic stomping that Ross nailed down Worst Friend; she received 50 percent of the vote for Best Friend. But given that there are six Friends to choose from, it's still a clear and resounding victory. Phoebe was always the gentlest and the nicest of these people, despite what had been a tough upbringing and a lot of pain. She found love with a couple of different lovely partners, including Hank Azaria's David and then Paul Rudd's wonderful Mike Hannigan, and nobody deserved true happiness more. She carried triplets for her brother, she played the guitar, and she would do anything she could for any of these goofballs, even when they were ridiculous. What's not to love?
The Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast panel includes Barrie Hardymon, Sam Sanders, and Bedatri D. Choudhury. The audio was produced by Jared M. Gair, and edited by Jessica Reedy.