There are a myriad of shows out there considered to be among the most influential, important, and/or popular programs of which I simply haven’t seen more than a few episodes. It’s not that they don’t pique my interest – in fact, it’s usually quite the contrary. I just tend to be more of a movies type of person. Thank goodness for projects like these, then, which will give me a good reason to seek out some more of these little-seen-by-me shows – specifically their Halloween episodes! As you may have guessed by now, Friends is one such show for me. I know more than a handful of folks who could effortlessly throw quotes from this show into everyday conversation – and yet, I’ve probably seen maybe four episodes in my entire life. I guess it just simply missed my radar.
This is important to keep in mind going forward with my review of the series’ only Halloween episode, aptly titled “The One with the Halloween Party” (every episode title of this show follows this “The One…” format). Stepping into this one, I don’t have the experience with this classic gang of six Manhattanites that others have had for years or even decades. Still, as is the case with sitcoms, even a pinch of familiarity is enough to follow along in the broadest sense. So yes, there is a Halloween party here, hosted by Monica and Chandler. Once this is established and the night of the party begins to occur, everything else seems to fall into place pretty naturally. There’s no real primary plot here – just a selection of side-plots that fall in the realm of typical party shenanigans. This makes for a generally breezy, naturally-progressing type of episode that works to keep the holiday theme front-and-center, for the most part.
Well, okay, there is a bit of a central conflict that dominates the narrative, but only slightly so. What did throw me off a bit initially was the early scene when Phoebe bumps into a woman on the street… who is basically herself?? It soon becomes clear that this is her estranged twin sister Ursula with whom she as recently reconnected. After finding out Ursula is engaged to be married, Phoebe invites her and her fiancé to the party. At the party, it is revealed that Ursula had been lying about her life and achievements, essentially coercing Eric into marrying her. And to make matters worse, through casual mingling it’s clear that Phoebe is developing feelings for him herself…
Honestly, though, these slightly more serious bits are some of the more weaker elements to the story. Maybe it’s all because of my detachment to the show or my own ulterior motives with watching the episode, but I mainly came for the awesome Halloween stuff. It’s a good thing, then, that this episode chooses not to skimp out on this. One aspect of the party I immediately loved was the variety of public domain costumes worn by many of the extras in the background. These days, cosplay and costumes have worn into each other so closely that it seems that practically every costume worn on Halloween these days are of licensed characters. And while there were some of those at the party in Friends (Phoebe as Supergirl, Monica as Catwoman, etc.), there was also basic outfits like a skeleton, cowboy, cow, military guy, disco woman… the likes of which don’t rear their heads around these parts anymore.
Some of the other side plots are pretty funny as well. At the start of the party, drama immediately starts when Chandler arrives in a hilariously gaudy pink bunny suit with which he is obviously displeased. Later on, Ross arrives in what has to be an outright parody of all those embarrassingly punny creations – he says “Spudnick”, though the rest of the gang claim “Doody”. Conversation arises over which of the two could beat the other in an arm-wrestly and… well, let’s just say the result is nothing less than absurd. But by far my favorite running gag of the episode goes to Rachel performing candy duty while pregnant. By being far too generous with giving candy to adorable youngsters, she runs out of candy in record time and resorts to straight-up handing out cash and writing checks to trick-or-treaters. By the time the candy is replenished, word has gone around that she is the money woman and now the kids want nothing less! I don’t think this predicament was ever fully resolved, but it sure makes for a funny subversion of the typically innocent, wholesome act of trick-or-treating, an undeniable staple of Halloween.
Of course, not everything here works – and some of the more problematic elements I’d mostly blame on the comedy climate at the time. For one thing, Eric introduces himself to Phoebe by assaulting her sexually – the fact that he is played by Sean Penn only makes matters worse (fuck you, Sean Penn). There is a homophobic joke that kind of just comes out of nowhere and is really, truly awful. Moreover, Ross’s date is repeatedly referred to as a “slutty nurse”. Okay, she’s dressed as a nurse and the phrase is certainly to make fun of the typically scandalous nature of many adult Halloween costumes. But she’s not really given any agency in the entire episode and ends up more of a sad punching bag than anything else.
For the most part, though, I think it’s really just the style of humor that prevents me from wanting to check out more of Friends. Somehow the show manages to carry much of its dialogue in a manner that is equally bland and obnoxious, and the laugh track certainly doesn’t help matters. But besides these criticisms, I think this show did a pretty alright job with blending its typical style onto a tasteful Halloween aesthetic. Rachel’s running gag is, once again, the best part and probably the one thing worth coming back to this episode for. For the most part, I’d say that Friends just isn’t for me, but this episode isn’t half-bad. Nonetheless, I’m ready to move onto to spookier stuff now!