One of the Best Decisions Friends Made

        Friends has consistently been one of my favorite sitcoms for well over a decade. Even if I go a few weeks without watching it (which has happened at least once or twice, I think), I still know each episode by heart and reference scenes on a daily basis.

But if you’ve read this blog before, you already know I’m a Friends fan. You also know that I have some relatively unpopular opinions about the series, including the fact that I’m not a fan of Ross and Rachel as a couple (but love the similar on again/off again Sam and Diane on Cheers) and consider Monica my favorite female character.

This post is about an aspect of the show that, while probably not as unpopular as the others, is nonetheless one that is often debated by fans: Should Joey and Phoebe have gotten together (however briefly) or were the creators right to keep them as just friends?

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Sitcom Study: The Friends creators were not only right to keep Joey and Phoebe just friends, but this was also one of their best and most important decisions.

For those of you who are fans of the Joey/Phoebe pairing, I can imagine at least a couple counterarguments you’re probably thinking right now:

  1. But Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow had such amazing chemistry!!

I agree. I’d also argue that one of the reasons Friends was successful in the first place is because ALL main cast members had amazing chemistry and so ANY combinations among the six worked well.

  1. Joey and Phoebe always had such sweet moments.

True. Still, I stand by the fact that all six characters had sweet moments with the others. Plus, if Joey fell for Phoebe, you’d have all six partnered off with each other (and no Paul Rudd). This would have been too unrealistic, even for a show with infamously unrealistic apartments.

Joey and Phoebe undoubtedly love each other, but this does not mean that this is a romantic love. I strongly believe in the notion that there are different types of love and that one is not necessarily more important than another. Many still believe that even if two people insist they are “just friends”, they will eventually fall for each other (or will harbor feelings until the “time is right” like The Office’s Jim and Pam).

This line of thinking is deeply problematic. Namely, it implies that a friendship’s only value is to serve as a stepping-stone for a romantic relationship. It also suggests that, if you do have romantic feelings for a friend, the best thing to do is keep this to yourself and wait for the stars to align. Let me get on my soapbox for just a second: do not ever wait for the stars to align. I believe everything happens for a reason and people can come into your life at the most unexpected times. Still, if someone truly wants to be with you, excuses such as “too busy” or “maybe it’s the wrong time” won’t matter in at least trying to make a relationship work.

The Joey/Phoebe relationship is perfect just the way it is; it serves as a reminder that the love between friends is beautiful in and of itself and should not be seen as merely the means to an end. Actually, in a way, I guess Friends did partner off all the main characters: the on-again/off-again couple (Ross and Rachel), the friends who do fall in love and get married (Monica and Chandler), and the pair who loves each other deeply as friends and share a special bond (Joey and Phoebe).

Female Sitcom Characters Who Changed My Life

In honor of Women’s History Month (and because a new post is definitely overdue), I’ve comprised a carefully considered list of the female sitcom characters I have cared about most over the years. Listed in no particular order, these characters have resonated with me more than others; I’ve come to personally identify with some, while others inspire me, and others still are just hilarious and well-written (or all of the above). My main rules in deciding the list: I could not choose more than one female character from the same series and I had to limit the list to three or four key characters. Now, onto the list!

  1. Monica Geller (Courteney Cox on Friends)

Memorable Lines: “Fine! Judge all you want to but, married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, livin’ in a box!!! and, of course, “SEVEN!”

As far as the Friends universe is concerned, I’m definitely a Monica-type. In addition to having this listed on pretty much all of my social media accounts (plus the About Me page of this very blog), Monica is my go-to “Starbucks name” (mainly because I know from experience that they won’t spell my real first name correctly anyway). While I’m not a “neat freak” to the level that Monica is (but I’m not sure if anyone really could be), I consider myself very ambitious, competitive, and organized; I’ve also been called either “the planner” or the “mom friend” by myself and others too many times to count.

For these personal reasons, Monica clearly holds a special place in my heart, but that’s not the only reason she matters to me. She’s also incredibly inspiring, arguably the most inspiring of the six Friends. Sure, it’s admirable how Rachel goes from the stereotypical “spoiled rich girl” and Phoebe is undeniably a strong woman who has overcome a great deal, but let’s not ignore the amazing journey Monica undergoes.

The product of an emotionally abusive household where she struggled with her weight and had a mother who constantly criticized her, Monica nonetheless overcomes this to become a strong, confident woman who goes after what she wants and never settles. In Season Two, she memorably dates the older and sophisticated Dr. Richard Burke. Even though she comes to love him deeply and, at the time, sees him as the probable love of her life, she musters the strength to let him go when she realizes a key difference between them: unlike her, he doesn’t want children (well, in his case, he doesn’t want children again.

Her personality was also never confined by any gender stereotypes. She excelled at football and was repeatedly proven to be one of the physically strongest Friends, but also relished in planning her wedding and took pride in cleaning. She was the glue that held the Friends group together and made them feel more like a family (and was probably the funniest drunk out of the six).

  1. Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched)

A Couple Memorable Lines: “I am a witch. A real broom riding, house haunting, cauldron stirring witch!” and “Oh my stars!”

In an earlier blog post, I credited Bewitched as the first sitcom I ever cared about enough to watch religiously (not to mention it was the first one I enjoyed analyzing closely). Even in my college thesis (which dealt with sitcom relationships), Sam and Darrin were the first couple I chose to analyze. Basically, there was never any doubt in my mind of whether or not Sam would make this list.

As I briefly mentioned in my aforementioned post, I’ve always stood firm in my belief that Bewitched is, indeed, a feminist show. Samantha, expected to live a supernatural life of wonder among the clouds, defies her family by marrying a mortal man and choosing to live (mostly) without witchcraft. Sure, Sam’s choice may seem a bit bizarre, but what matters is that it is her choice and it is one she proudly defends, whether she’s going up against the Queen of the Witches or her own mother. Played by the incredibly talented Elizabeth Montgomery, Sam was intelligent, unwaveringly kind, strong, and funny. She could have anything she wanted with a twitch of her nose, but used her powers for good and only as a last resort, always choosing to solve any problem first and foremost with her mind and heart.

  1. Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin on Frasier)

Memorable Lines: “I’m smarter than he is, more confident, more articulate, but the stupid little wusses think I’m a hothead!”and “When I die, I want it to be on my hundredth birthday, in my beach house on Maui. And I want my husband to be so upset he has to drop out of college.”

            On countless sitcoms, female characters are generally depicted as “incomplete” until they find “the one”, settle down, and marry. And then there’s Roz Doyle: snarky, career-driven, and unapologetically sexual. She takes pride in her work as a producer and, despite many a verbal jab from Niles and Frasier, she enjoys living an active single life (and can out sass the Crane brothers any day of the week).

Roz’s tough exterior masks a warm, sensitive heart; the times she allows herself to be vulnerable are few but beautiful to watch. She’s been let down and had her heart broken more times than she’d like to admit, but she never gives up on herself. Despite her initial fears when faced with the reality of becoming a single mother, she overcomes these hesitations and successfully balances her career with the demands of motherhood.

More than being unapologetically sexual, Roz was always unapologetically herself. She’s proof that a woman’s happiness does not have to be anchored by one person, but instead can come from within as a result of self-confidence, inner strength, and determination. Frankly, TV is still very much in need of more female characters like her.

  1. Diane Chambers (Shelley Long on Cheers)

Memorable Lines: (in response to Sam noting she’s drunk) “Wow, you’re stupid. I’ll be sober in the morning!” and “Diane has the bar.”

I’m aware that Diane gets a lot of flak for being pretentious and loquacious, but I absolutely love her. One half of my favorite will they/won’t they TV couple of all time, Diane elevates every scene she’s in on Cheers (and later as a guest on Frasier) to new heights (and Sam Malone’s character suffers deeply when she’s no longer around to simultaneously challenge and ground him).

If Roz Doyle guards her vulnerabilities with a mask of snark, Diane Chambers guards hers with one made of steel. Diane is bookish, quick-witted, moralistic, and not so secretly believes she deserves only the finest things in life. For all her book smarts, she often struggles to fit in with the “average Joe’s” at Cheers and in her most vulnerable moments, it’s evident that she longs to be accepted. Diane is frequently mocked by the other characters who don’t take her seriously, while she in turn often takes herself far too seriously. She can become giddy over simple things (such as when she’s given brief control of the bar) and has a treasured stuffed animal collection—proving she’s not as haughty as she’d like to appear. Beneath her pseudo intellectualism, Diane is very much simply a woman in search of her place in life—and she should absolutely be taken seriously (even if Shelley’s performance leaves you in stitches).

Remembering Mary Tyler Moore

January 25th started out as a pretty standard day, great even. Then, I overheard the following at work: “Mary Tyler Moore just died.” I froze. Nooooo. I had known of Mary’s health problems, but I struggled with accepting the fact that the woman I had always viewed as a strong, resilient fighter was really gone.

The real life Mary was always an excellent role model—she was a lifelong animal rights activist and worked intimately with the JDRF to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes (a condition Mary herself had). Still, like countless others, it was through her two most iconic television roles that I came to “know” her: Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. 

In addition to the fact that each sitcom features iconic performances from Mary, both are essential viewing for anyone even slightly interested in comedy writing and strong female sitcom characters. Laura was charming, intelligent, quick-witted, just as funny as Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie, and one heck of a dancer. Also, thanks to Mary’s influence, Laura revolutionized the way women dressed on television by donning her now iconic capris pants.

What is also worth noting about The Dick Van Dyke Show is how loving and mutually respectful the marriage between Rob and Laura was. Unlike many later sitcoms, where one half of the couple is “in charge” while the other half is often portrayed as a submissive buffoon, thus resulting in a somewhat repetitive cycle of “good cop vs bad cop”, Rob and Laura were true equals. They joked together, danced together, and when they argued neither of them ever came off as controlling or condescending. From episode to episode, the two alternated who was the “straight-man”, giving Van Dyke and Moore equal chance to play the fool.

A few years later (1970 to be exact) on her eponymous sitcom, Mary Tyler Moore continued to break ground as a woman whom was not a wife or mother—she was just Mary Richards. Career-driven, independent and funny, she was more than capable of helming her own story as the protagonist.

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In the pilot episode “Love Is All Around” (the same name as the series’ iconic theme song by Sonny Curtis), a newly single thirty-year-old Mary relocates her life to Minneapolis. She settles into a new apartment and quickly makes new friends (notably Valerie Harper’s quick-witted Rhoda Morgenstern). Then, in one of the most memorable scenes of the series, she interviews for a job at WJM-TV with Ed Asner’s gruff yet lovable news director Lou Grant:

Lou: “What religion are you?”

Mary: “Mr. Grant, I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that when someone’s applying for a job. It’s against the law.”

It’s a quick exchange, not nearly as iconic as the line anyone probably thinks of when remembering this pilot (referring to, of course, Lou’s “You know what, you’ve got spunk…I hate spunk!”), but it establishes something even more important about Mary’s character. Yes, of course Mary’s spunky; despite Asner’s excellent comic timing and delivery, the audience hardly needs reminding of such an obvious fact—especially when the aforementioned exchange between Mary and Lou so perfectly highlights Mary’s willingness to speak her mind, no matter whom she’s addressing or what the issue at hand may be. As the scene continues, Mary confirms that she will indeed be what the television landscape (and real life) is always in need of: an outspoken, confident woman who is willing and ready to fight for what she wants and knows she deserves. As Lou hired Mary as his Associate Producer, so too did countless women watching choose Mary as someone they not only wished to emulate as countless still saw her in themselves.

Decades later, this legacy continues. Thank you, Mary; thank you for your smile, individuality, independence, and spunk.

Thank you for paving the way.

Bottling Frasier’s Success

In many ways, the success—both commercially and critically—of many iconic sitcoms has come down to one crucial element: familiarity. How relatable are a character’s trials and tribulations to the ones the audience watching has faced? How comforting is the world of a particular sitcom and, moreover, to what extent is it able to serve as an “escape” from reality?

Timeless sitcoms Cheers and Friends are two such shows that exemplify this aura of intimacy between series and viewer. Cheers’ iconic theme song famously boasts the following line: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”––indeed, for eleven seasons millions of viewers came to feel as if they would fit right in among the titular bar’s quirky customers. Similarly, people to this day comment (whether jokingly or not depends on the person) that Friends’ Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross feel akin to true friends—maybe even family.

This is precisely why sitcom bottle episodes (aka an entire episode mostly, if not entirely, confined to the main cast in one primary location) come off as so endearing. Seinfeld’s “The Chinese Restaurant” and Friends’ “The One Where No One’s Ready” are memorable examples of this formula and, while I love and have repeatedly watched both episodes, it is the two expertly crafted bottle episodes from my other favorite (and often the most criminally underrated nowadays, out of the three) sitcom, Frasier, that will be highlighted here.

Sitcom Study: Frasier’s “My Coffee With Niles” (1×24) and “Dinner Party” (6×17)

Like any good bottle episode, these Frasier episodes primarily take place in one setting; in the first, season one’s finale “My Coffee With Niles”, it is the characters’ go to hangout Café Nervosa and in the latter, season six’s “Dinner Party”, it is Frasier’s apartment. What puts these episodes into a league of their own—aside from the witty repartee that exists in every Frasier episode but is at peak form here—are two additional factors. First, each episode is not merely about the show’s core cast; it is primarily about its two leading characters: Frasier and Niles Crane, which arguably double as the show’s primary “relationship” in that a consistent, central theme of the entire show is their brotherly friendship and, more often than not, inevitable rivalry. This leads to the second factor: the two episodes focus on exploring, and attempting to answer, two primary questions that are imperative as much to the episode’s plot as to the show’s eleven-year arc.

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1) “My Coffee With Niles”

Relevant Episode Information: Frasier and Niles spend the entire episode chatting about their lives at their favorite coffee shop, Café Nervosa.

Primary Question: Is Frasier happy? Moreover, what does it mean to be happy?

While Martin, Roz and Daphne periodically and briefly speak to the brothers throughout the episode, the crux of the episode is Frasier’s response—and lack thereof—to Niles’ inquiry of whether or not he is happy. Note their initial exchange regarding this question:

Niles: “So, Frasier, now that chapter two of your life is in full swing, do you mind if I ask you something?”

Frasier: “No, go right ahead.”

Niles: “Are you happy?”

[Frasier is silent]

Niles: “Did you hear the question?”

Frasier: “Yes, I’m thinking. It’s a seemingly complex question.”

Niles: “No, it’s not.”

Frasier: “Yes, it is.”

Niles: “No, it’s not. Either you’re happy or you’re not.”

Frasier: “Are you happy?”

Niles: “No, but we’re not talking about me.”

With the show’s first season coming to a close, there could not be a more apt time for Niles to ask Frasier this. By this point, viewers (many undoubtedly initial Frasier Crane fans from his Cheers days) have watched twenty-four episodes in which Frasier has worked to adjust to returning to his home city, tackling a new job, reestablishing relationships with his family and being a country away from his only son. So, is Frasier happy with this life-changing decision? This is not the last time such a question will be asked of him, though it often will take more specific forms, typically regarding his level of satisfaction with his job or love life.

One aspect of the aforementioned exchange that intrigues me so much is the fact that Niles and Frasier differ on the complexity of saying whether or not one is happy. In theory, I agree with Niles; I tend to think and speak of happiness as something akin to love in that it is instinctual—if you feel either, you know, otherwise you do not. In practice, however, I have found myself more on Frasier’s side of this discussion in that I usually take a few moments to reflect on recent events before offering a response.

Furthermore, of course, it is simply not in Frasier’s character to simply say “yes” or “no” to this or really any question without thoroughly weighing the pros and cons. Later in season four, Frasier will spend an entire episode agonizing over whether or not he believes Niles and his first wife, Maris, truly belong together. Even further along in the series, he will also struggle to choose between two women, asking literally anyone and everyone he encounters for input.

In the case of “My Coffee With Niles”, Frasier continues to evade the question until, finally, it is presented to him again, this time by a waitress growing tired of adjusting his order to meet his specificities:

Waitress: “Zimbabwe decaf, non-fat milk, no cinnamon in sight. Now—are you happy?”

Frasier: [really answering Niles’ initial question] “You know, in the greater scheme…yes, I’d say I am.”

Arguably, perhaps it is up to the viewers to decide how true this will prove to be for him as the seasons continue.

2) “Dinner Party”

Relevant Episode Information: Niles and Frasier decide to co-host a dinner party, but struggle to agree on the people they should and should not invite.

Primary Question: Are Niles and Frasier too reliant on one another? Are they odd?

Almost any episode that deals primarily with the brothers Crane rivalry is among the most re-watchable for me. In “Author, Author” and “The Innkeepers”, their egos humorously and inevitably clash as they try to co-write a book and co-manage a restaurant, respectively. In “IQ”, Frasier’s personal ego takes a major hit as he learns that Niles is the brother with the higher IQ—and that it’s more than just a mere couple of points in difference. Many of the show’s best one-liners are also directly relevant to their tendency to one up the other, for instance:

Frasier: “Niles, I would shave my head for you.”

Niles: “A gesture which becomes less significant with each passing year.”

 

Niles: [filling in for Frasier’s radio show] “Although I feel perfectly qualified to fill Frasier’s radio shoes, I should warn you that while Frasier is a Freudian, I am a Jungian. So there’ll be no blaming mother today.”

 

Indeed, “Dinner Party” is not without its bickering moments between the two. Nonetheless, aside from the joy of watching these two play off no one but each other for most of the episode, what makes this episode so memorable to me is that it poignantly touches on the fact that Niles and Frasier do, ultimately, have a loving and very close relationship despite everything. Still, a running joke throughout the series questions if they in fact spend too much time together; other characters repeatedly tease them for bringing the other as a “date” to one function or another.

Here, the brothers accidentally hear someone they are planning on inviting to their party refer to them as “that one” and “the other one”; it is unclear which is which but the underlying suggestion that the two are almost interchangeable to some is clear. Niles and Frasier proceed to over-analyze and debate its meaning:

Frasier: “Perhaps she has a point. Ever since your divorce you have become more and more attached to me. Maybe that’s why she said what she said.”

Niles: “What?”

Frasier: “You get Frasier, you get that Niles!”

Niles: “She didn’t say that. She said, “you get the one, you get that other one.” What makes you think that you’re the one and I’m that other one?”

Frasier: “I am the one giving the party, and you are that other one!”

Niles: “I’m the one that invited her, so that makes you that other one!”

And, in one of my favorite exchanges of the episode:

Niles: “Why is Joaquin on such a strict diet?”

Frasier: “Because the Joaquin they’re bringing to dinner is… their foster child, from a tiny village on the Pampas. He speaks no English and he gets nauseated when he eats American food.”

Niles: “So, he’s not the conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic?”

Frasier: “Oh, you are so “that other one”!”

This episode’s key question is not given a clear answer. Niles and Frasier bicker (whilst becoming increasingly disenchanted with the idea of throwing this party at all), Martin maintains that they are not odd (“just special”), and the episode ends with the brothers resolving to not care what others think and enjoy each other’s company at dinner—before quickly changing their minds.

Well then, are Frasier and Niles too dependent on one another? I am an only child and so cannot personally identify with a sibling relationship. At the same time, I—as, I believe, can most people—understand how rare and wonderful it is to find even one person with whom you can talk endlessly and share similar interests or ways of thinking and that there is nothing wrong with valuing such a friendship. To paraphrase Frasier’s final response in “My Coffee With Niles”, perhaps in the grand scheme of things it is one of the keys to lasting happiness.

Bewitched, Beguiled and Beloved

I owe a great deal to Bewitched. The first sitcom I ever cared about and watched religiously (via the magic of frequent reruns and DVDs), it is no exaggeration to say that my passion for sitcoms and television in general may not be where it is today without the iconic witch with a twitch.

I remember sitting at home with my mom well over a decade ago as she flipped through the channels and stopped on Bewitched. She explained its basic premise and how it had been a favorite of hers years ago; I was instantly intrigued.

“So, Samantha and Endora are both witches?” I asked. My mom nodded.

“What about him?” I inquired, indicating Dick York’s Darrin (by the way, if there is anyone who prefers Dick Sargent’s Darrin let me know as I have never encountered such a person).

“Nope, he’s a mortal, but Endora and Samantha sort of help him out sometimes,” mom said.

The more I watched Bewitched, the more I loved it. What’s not to love? The writing is funny and clever; the cast is wonderful (i.e. Darrin and Larry as the advertising dream team decades before Mad Men’s Don and Roger existed) and features some of the funniest and most memorable supporting characters of any series (i.e. nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz, incorrigible prankster Uncle Arthur and bumbling Aunt Clara).

Then there’s also the fact that Bewitched really was ahead of its time in that it had such a strong, independent female protagonist––something that quite a few people seem skeptical about when I bring it up to them. They wonder: Isn’t Samantha a witch who becomes a housewife upon marriage and promises to give up witchcraft to please her husband, Darrin? To which, I say: Yes…but not quite.

Yes, it’s no secret that Samantha promises Darrin she won’t use witchcraft (a promise she rarely keeps, otherwise there would be no show), but this isn’t him controlling her. It’s her choosing to have this life. The mere fact that Samantha, a witch who could zap up any dream man with a twitch of her nose, chooses to marry an ordinary mortal deemed extraordinary by her because she falls in love with him is in and of itself a sign of independence; she is choosing the life she wants, damning the consequences. If it’s considered rebellious to sneak out of the house as a teenager and risk punishment, imagine how much of a rebel Samantha was by defying her entire supernatural family’s wishes and living as a mortal.

 

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Sitcom Study: Bewitched’s “A is for Aardvark” (1×17)

Relevant Episode Information: After Darrin finds himself bedridden due to a sprained ankle, Samantha casts a spell that causes their house to respond to his desires. But will he become too carried away with his newfound witchcraft?

In what producer William Asher considered to be the definitive Bewitched episode, “A is for Aardvark” reiterates just how much Samantha loves and values her life with Darrin. The episode has several humorous moments as Darrin grapples with and ultimately enjoys his newfound magical prowess, but what really makes it so pivotal is its emotional ending. Fully embracing the magical life, Darrin retracts his objections to witchcraft and now fully supports living a more supernatural life. He goes as far as quitting his job and proposing that he and Samantha partake on an extensive trip around the world. This breaks Samantha’s heart; she doesn’t want such extravagance, she is happy with the life they have built and earned together.

Finally, Darrin comes around as he presents Samantha with a bouquet of flowers and a watch (“I love you every second” as the inscription):

Sam: “Oh Darrin, I love you… please believe me, this watch and these flowers are the most important things I’ve ever had in my whole life…but I want you to understand.”

Darrin: “I do understand, no one’s gonna take them away from you…I don’t know if I’m too crazy about the idea of never having to worry about anything anymore. “

Sam: “Oh! You do understand!”

The scene is particularly poignant not only because it highlights the sincerity of the couple’s love and Samantha’s commitment to living as normal of a life as possible, but it also reveals just how human Samantha truly is as a character. She does not want anything handed to her, she wants to make her own happiness. The tears she cries here are tears of joy; she is relieved that the man she fell in love with is not lost. She is relieved to work for what she wants and enjoy what she has. What could be more human for a witch to feel than that?

Why I Love Sam and Diane, But Not Ross and Rachel

It was only a matter of time before I would have to address a key aspect of any good sitcom: relationships. While types of couples such as “friends before lovers” (i.e. The Office’s Jim and Pam) and “the bickering yet lovable married couple” (i.e. Everybody Loves Raymond’s Ray and Debra) are undoubtedly common, one would be hard-pressed to find a trope more enduring and entertaining to watch than the “on-again/off-again” couple. This trope has become a part of nearly every sitcom and is often predictable to the point where it is usually easy to point out which two characters will engage in a series-long “will they/won’t they” dance as early on as the pilot episode. Nonetheless, two couples in particular stand head and shoulders above the rest as arguably the most famous (or infamous, as the case may be) to popularize this theme: Cheers’ Sam and Diane and Friends’ Ross and Rachel.

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Both couples have reached such an iconic level that, not only is it hard to say one half of either couple’s name without immediately thinking of the other, but each pair are so well-known for particular lines and scenes that one does not even have to be overly familiar with either show to recognize them. For Sam and Diane, these include: the “slap fight” (“Are you as turned on as I am?” “More!”), their legendary banter and “have a good life.” For Ross and Rachel, these include: “lobsters”, Rachel getting off the plane and “WE WERE ON A BREAK!”

Despite some understandable similarities between these two couples, I have always found myself loving Sam and Diane, but not Ross and Rachel. This has definitely surprised quite a few people in my life. After all, any good Friends fan is supposed to love Ross and Rachel, right? When I first thought over why I preferred Sam and Diane, the first answer that came to mind seemed a bit obvious to me: Sam and Diane engage in witty repartee a lot more than Ross and Rachel (in both the shows I watch and in my everyday life, I am a huge fan of banter). Still, I decided there had to be something more to this. Turns out, I was right.

Sitcom Study: Sam and Diane (Cheers) VS Ross and Rachel (Friends)

1) The Banter and Understanding

But first, I simply cannot write a post about Sam and Diane without talking about the sizzling chemistry that exudes every time they speak to one another. Like Star Wars’ Han and Leia or That ‘70s Show’s Jackie and Hyde, theirs is a “love-hate relationship” consisting of a seemingly never-ending battle of verbal judo, forcing the viewer to wonder when they will finally kiss and admit that this banter is only a mask for deeper, more genuine feelings (which, of course, they do). Sam and Diane never make things too easy for each other during their courtship days, but not in a dragged out “too afraid to say anything” way (*cough* Ross *cough*) or a “rambling on for eighteen pages––front and back” way (*cough* Rachel *cough*). Instead, Sam and Diane were all too aware of the other person’s flaws. Diane knew Sam had a history of womanizing and could be cocky and a bit dim-witted; she also recognized his warm heart and believed in him. Sam knew Diane talked too much and could be pretentious and snobby; he also knew she was fun and deeply caring. They were constantly challenging each other and, boy, was it entertaining:

Diane: “Didn’t you ever fantasize about me?”

Sam: “Yeah, I guess I did.”

Diane: “And I you. What did you fantasize about?”

Sam: “Mostly you’d stop using phrases like, ‘and I you.’”

Sam: “At least my dates don’t count the number of letters in sentences.”

Diane: “Your dates can’t form sentences.”

As much as Sam and Diane are aware that the other is far from perfect, so too are they quick and able to recognize their own shortcomings when it matters most, such as the way Sam does here:

Sam: “Diane, please…maybe Frasier can give you an iron-clad guarantee of a lifetime of security, but with me it’s a day at a time. Now, if you can live with that…call.

Due to Sam’s past, there are points in which he struggles with the idea of commitment and marriage––two things very important to Diane. As proven by the aforementioned quote, Sam understands that this has frustrated Diane. Not wanting to make her any empty promises he may not be able to keep (after all, there always is a drawback in thinking too ahead with, say, where you and your significant other’s currently non-existing children will grow up, right Ross?), he nonetheless lets her know he loves her.

2) Proving the Love

    One of my favorite things about Sam and Diane is that, amidst all the banter, they have several beautifully sincere moments that prove just how much they care and understand what is important to each other. In “Sumner’s Return” (2×05), Diane’s ex-fiancé Sumner comes back and makes Sam uncomfortable since Sumner is more academically smart than he is. But whereas Sumner may be more able to hold a conversation about literature or art, Sam’s actions are more sincere; Diane knows this, as exemplified by one of my favorite moments:

Sam: “Why did you pick me [over Sumner]?”

Diane: “You read War and Peace.”

Sam: “So did he.”

Diane: “You did it for me.”

So, while Ross may have been willing to “drink the fat” (“The One Where No One’s Ready, 3×02), neither Ross nor Rachel show an interest in the other’s primary interests in the way that Sam and Diane aim to do for each other. Instead, Rachel frequently joins in on jokes about Ross’ job, while Ross mocks Rachel’s first real step into the world of fashion as “just a job.”

As I have mentioned earlier, one of the most infamous aspects of Ross and Rachel’s relationship is undoubtedly when they went “on a break.” What is a comparably lesser-known fact is that there is an episode of Cheers in which Sam and Diane also take a “break.” Both “breaks” inspire anxiety for both couples but in very different ways that lead to drastically different results for each pair.

In the case of Ross and Rachel, Ross immediately leaves upon hearing Rachel suggest maybe they should take “a break from [each other]”, not bothering to take the time to sit down with Rachel and maturely discuss if this is really the best course of action for them. Rachel quickly realizes she does not want to take a break, and calls Ross only for him to jump to the incorrect conclusion that she is cheating on him with her co-worker Mark (Rachel should have been more adamant about Mark not coming over to talk, but still) and proceeds to sleep with Chloe the Copy Girl. This ultimately leads them to break up for good.

In the case of Sam and Diane, Diane proposes that the pair take a one-day “break” so that the two may have “One Last Fling” (5×18) if they so desire. Similar to Ross, Sam becomes anxious over the idea of Diane being with another man. Unlike Ross, Sam chooses to not have a fling (and neither does Diane).

3) They Knew When to Let Go

   Each couple ends differently by their respective show’s series finale: Ross and Rachel end up together (after six years of not being a couple), and Sam and Diane do not (after six years of being apart).

In Cheers’ season five finale, Sam and Diane are planning on marrying when Diane learns that she has the opportunity to achieve her dream of finishing one of her novels and having it published. Diane does not want to leave Sam, but he selflessly encourages her to live her dream in this heartbreaking moment:

Sam: “Hey, have a good life.”

Diane: “Have a good life?”

Sam: “What?”

Diane: “Well, that’s something you say when something’s over. Sam, I’m going away for six months. That’s all. So no more of this ‘Have a good life’ stuff.”

Sam: “You never know. You could die, I could die, the world could end. One of us could bump our heads and wander the streets the rest of our lives with amnesia. Or maybe, one of us will decide we want something else.”

Diane: “None of those things will happen. I’ll be back here. I will. I’ll see you in six months, OK?”

(Diane leaves)

Sam: “Have a good life….”

Ultimately, Diane does not return in six months. She returns in six years for the series finale where, after a brief engagement, she and Sam ultimately decide that too much time has passed for them to truly be together.

While I of course wanted to see Sam and Diane end up together, I applaud the strength and maturity it took them to let each other go––something Ross and Rachel never seemed to do. Ross usually receives more criticism for his jealousy throughout season three and the fact that in season ten (aka six years after they have broken up) Ross still cannot bring himself to be comfortable over the idea of Rachel kissing someone else (even though he himself has a girlfriend at the time), Rachel is not without blame. At the beginning of season five, Rachel decides it is a good idea to tell Ross she still loves him even though he is married and everyone has advised her why this is a horrible idea; she realizes this is a horrible idea herself, laughing at herself for telling him. And do I really have to address what is problematic about Rachel giving up her dream to go to Paris to stay with a guy she has not been with in six years (and with whom problems have not been fully resolved) or how Ross has never really supported Rachel’s career aspirations in the first place?

While Sam and Diane are certainly not without their flaws as a couple, when compared to Ross and Rachel I ultimately find them to be the far more entertaining, enduring pair––and did I mention their banter?