4
Dec
2011
Bottle Up and Explode
The One Where No One's Ready
Jordan
Bottle Up and Explode aims to explore a tradition that is unique to television: the bottle episode. Each installment will examine one such episode to understand the constraints of the form, its particular strengths and weaknesses, and what it says about both the particular television show and about the medium in general.

"Alright, Ross. I just have to do one thing really quickly; it's not a big deal"¦" Chandler (Matthew Perry)

I grew up watching Must See TV Thursdays. I was raised on Seinfeld and its brethren from a very young age, and grew up thinking that NBC's Thursday night lineup was pretty much the best thing in comedy. So I watched Friends from very early in its run, if not from the very beginning. When the episode we will be discussing aired in September of 1996, I was seven years old, and I thought it was just about the funniest thing I had ever seen. Throughout the rest of the show's run (I was in high school and had markedly better taste by the time the show ended, but I still watched it every week until the final episode), I measured pretty much every other episode of the show against "The One Where No One's Ready." Only a few episodes (including season five's "The One Where Everybody Finds Out") ever came even close to it in my book. And while I now recognize that the episode's real-time structure and heightened stakes owe a lot to Seinfeld's, "The Chinese Restaurant", at the time that fact went right over my head. Instead, I saw "The One Where No One's Ready" as the perfect Friends episode"”no one else got in the way, nothing else was even needed. These six people hanging out together were funny enough for me.

This was the second episode of the show's third season, and was conceived by producer Kevin S. Bright as a way to save money for the upcoming year by using the single apartment set and no guest stars (though the blip at the end does have one outside character, and there are two voices heard on answering machines). This format was so popular it was used at least once per season for the rest of the show's run. "The One Where No One's Ready" has a simple enough set up: Ross (David Schwimmer) is giving a speech at a museum fundraiser, and arrives at Monica (Courtney Cox) and Rachel's (Jennifer Aniston) apartment exactly a half an hour before the group must leave to make the function. From there, the episode proceeds in real time (accounting for commercials) as Ross becomes increasingly anxious and irritated with his friends who are not prepared to depart.

Like "The Chinese Restaurant," every character has an arc here, but with six people instead of three at its center, this episode is played at a much faster, almost frenetic pace. While Seinfeld's first bottle episode added tension, it pretty much played out like the three characters were just interacting while waiting for a table. Alternatively, everyone in this episode has their own stakes that are raised throughout the episode, and everyone gets more and more comically frantic throughout. Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt Le Blanc) are engaged in an epic battle over a Seinfeld-ian dispute (Chandler got up to use the bathroom and Joey took his chair, and each believes they are entitled to the seat) that continues to escalate until Joey walks in wearing every piece of clothing Chandler owns and no underwear. Monica is frantic when she hears a message from her ex-boyfriend Richard (Tom Selleck) and does not know whether it is old or new. Rachel cannot decide what to wear, and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) is thrown into a similar situation when Joey accidentally flings hummus onto her dress while squabbling with Chandler. From there, just add comic escalation and simmer for 22 minutes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag--iJlaymM

Watching the episode again now, it is clearly less of a comic masterpiece than my seven year old self thought, but it is still markedly better than your average episode of Friends. As someone who takes pride in my critical taste, I recognize that Friends is miles away from being a great sitcom, but I don't think I could ever hate the show, or even really dislike it. Like so many things from my childhood, the show is tinged with such nostalgia, that whenever I see an episode (which is pretty rarely these days) I enjoy it enough, even if I see every joke coming from a mile away and barely find a chuckle throughout.

http://youtu.be/3naHw5ct60g

Part of this is due to nostalgia, but I also have to give credit to the cast, especially Matthew Perry, who does so much with so little it boggles the mind. Chandler was always my favorite character by miles as a kid, and I see why: not only is he given most of the best lines as the "funny" friend, but Perry plays him so perfectly it is a joy to watch even when the lines are pretty stale. I would liken his ability to wring a laugh out of a bad joke to that of Neil Patrick Harris, who has saved some real stinkers in the latter half of How I Met Your Mother simply with his delivery. And "The One Where No One's Ready" is a great Chandler episode. Watching Perry's slight annoyance at Joey sitting in his seat escalate into an all out war in which he employs childish tactics (including sitting on Joey's lap, playing a game of "not touching, can't get mad," and hiding his underwear) and is constantly more annoyed is just pure fun, again, more because of how much he commits than because the material is particularly strong.

I will also throw some credit at David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston for the moment when Ross finally explodes and just yells at Rachel. It is incredibly awkward to watch, much more so than I recalled, and is darker than anything else in this light as a feather episode by a mile. I wouldn't hold this Ross and Rachel fight up against some of the great couple fights in sitcom history (just think about Sam and Diane's fights, for example), but it is well handled by both, and it does lead to Ross almost drinking a glass of fat, which again is childish, but pretty funny. The Ross and Rachel relationship never interested me all that much as a kid. I was way more interested in Chandler and Monica once they finally got together, mostly because they were a funnier couple. I still don't see much in the pairing outside of injecting artificial tension into the episode (and the show, for that matter), but the two do have more chemistry than I used to give them credit for.

http://youtu.be/SGoY0tfrsVM

On the whole, "The One Where No One's Ready" is not a great piece of television by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great episode of Friends. I don't think I'll ever take the time to run through the whole series again (why would I?), but I'm willing to guess that if I did, this episode would still rank near the top for me. A large part of this show and television in general, is tied up in nostalgia which colors our impressions and affects our opinions. I see more clearly now that this episode has its problems and is very far from anything original, but for some reason, I'll always watch this as a seven year old giggling at how many clothes Joey is wearing. Good or bad, right or wrong, Friends played an important role in my pop cultural development, and for that, at least, I'll throw it a few laughs every once in a while. And hey, how else is a seven year old supposed to learn what "going commando" means?

Read more Bottle Up and Explode here

Coming up on Bottle Up and Explode:

12/18: "Pine Barrens," The Sopranos

1/1: "Three Men and Adena," Homicide: Life on the Streets

1/15: "The Dinner Party," Frasier

1/29: "The Apartment," Californication
Tags: Friends
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