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How Friends is already the relic of a bygone era

中国日报网 2014-08-28 09:58





Friends ended less than a decade ago, but it's already a relic of a bygone era--a critically respected network sitcom that enjoyed massive ratings. That's the central irony of the Must-See TV show's legacy: It was one of the last programs to enjoy a national audience before cable and the Internet fully segmented audiences, but the show itself prophesied that fragmentation through its 10-year-long portrait of increasing social segregation.

Friends started out as a somewhat realistic (for network TV) exploration of metropolitan young (white) people, in the same way Roseanne sought to capture (white) working-class Midwestern life. In their original treatment, creators David Crane and Marta Kauffmandescribed the show as a look at "a time in your life when everything's possible," when the future was "more of a question mark." It was a Girls before Girls--Monica and Rachel are 24 when the show begins, just like Lena Dunham's Hannah--but much more optimistic because the economy hadn't yet vomited all over itself after another binge-and-purge cycle. Thus, it's no coincidence that so many of the complaints lodged against Friends--unrealistically expensive lifestyles, pervasive whiteness, youthful frivolity, all that sex--are now being recycled by the anti-Dunham crowd.

Crane and Kauffman contrasted their show against traditional living-room and workplace sitcoms with a then-innovative, now-rote concept. "It's about friendship, because when you're single and in the city, your friends are your family," read the original pitch to NBC. (The peacock execs were apparently so uncomfortable with the idea of a show about twentysomethings that they suggested the creators add a middle-aged man to dole out fatherly advice. Perhaps that explains that NBC also-ran sitcom where Ernest Borgnineplayed Jonathan Silverman's BFF?) The great achievement of Friends' 10 seasons is that Crane, Kauffman, and executive producer Kevin S. Bright convincingly carried the sexy sextet through several life stages: marriage, parenthood, divorce, and the rocky, too-often humiliating road to a fulfilling career.

But as the seasons progressed and its mythology expanded, the show shriveled, folding into itself. At the same time, the storylines became increasingly outlandish--the nadir of the head-scratching plots being Joey and Rachel's doomed romance--yet still somehow more depressingly realistic. The source of these two phenomena lay in the show's illustration that, as doors shut in your face during your twenties, you're not just increasingly penned in professionally, but also personally. The overarching narrative ofFriends charts how its characters' lives got smaller and narrower until they could no longer comfortably accommodate their makeshift friend-families--just a spouse and a child or two.

Kauffman articulated the show's ethos of "maturity means friends or children" whenshe denied rumors of a follow-up to the show earlier this year. "Friends was about that time in your life when your friends are your family," she explained. "Once you have a family, there's no need anymore."

To be fair, most sitcoms function as narrative islands. But from the start, Friends had sociological aspirations, making its observations of life as a post-collegiate lost soul in the big city more significant and purposeful than its time-slot neighbors likeSeinfeld and Frasier. And during the early years, there were good reasons for the sextet to stick so closely together.

In the first two seasons, when the show hewed to its slice-of-life ambitions, money was a constant source of anxiety. Friendsimplied that the high cost of fun made a lot of activities off-limits; its New York was never the playground of luxury and fashion that is Sex and the City's Manhattan, not even for clotheshorse Rachel. Early in the second season, the show had its most explicit episode about income and friendships, where three of the have-not Friends--Phoebe, Rachel, and Joey--balk at their better-earning counterparts' plan to buy Hootie and the Blowfish tickets (heh) for Ross's birthday. Say what you will about the sextet's caffeine addiction--Scientific American certainly did--but those venti mugs probably didn't exceed $5. Since both lattes and talk are cheap, Central Perk kept the Friends together by offering itself as an economic oasis.

The characters mostly take advantage of their urban environs by treating them as one long speed-dating assembly line. Friends relied heavily on the sitcom cliché of the Significant Other of the Week, a plot device that inevitably resulted in the SOW being dumped by the end of the episode, though some lasted a month or two. Especially in the earlier episodes, SOWs were routinely cast off because one of the other Friends disliked them. Over time, the repetition of the SOW storylines served to foster a loyal conformity among the Friends, as well as the creation and enforcement of a particular strand of promiscuous, gay-panicked, white-privileged, yuppie heterosexuality.

The decade-long accumulation of rejected romantic partners eventually turned Friends' New York from a marketplace of possibilities to a menagerie of freaks, thus providing further incentive to stick to the clique. It makes sense that Phoebe, who marries Paul Rudd's Mike in the last season, was the exception to the rule, since she has the most tenuous connection to the rest of the characters. (According to Splitsider, she is also the only character who doesn't share a previous sex partner with any of her Friends.)

By the show's end, having gone through all of white Manhattan, four of the six characters settle down with a mate from within their group. For all the cosmopolitan setting, then, the Friends eschew the romance of urban serendipity for incestuous familiarity. (This also explains the characters' lack of interest in people of other races--or even other boroughs.)

Like a lot of ensemble sitcoms about single characters, Friends eventually becomes a screed against dating. The parade of flawed, unworthy, or just-not-right partners is so long that settling down with (and for) a good friend ultimately seems like the most sensible choice: better the Long Island Princess you know than the one you don't. (The Friendscopycat How I Met Your Mother goes even further in this regard by making its protagonist's two decades of dating merely a prelude to his wedded destiny, and explaining away its most promiscuous character's obsession with sex as the product of severe neurosis.)

By the end of its run, the show groups its couples essentially by census bracket. The pairing of Monica with Chandler and Ross with Rachel unite the friends who are the most financially and ethnically similar (Rachel and the Gellar siblings are Jewish; Chandler is the Jew-adjacent kind of goy). Across town, masseuse Phoebe marries musician Mike, her "rightful" partner in anti-bougiedom. Friends has often been accused of being cash-stupid show--e.g., Monica and Rachel live in a huge West Village apartment despite no outward signs of being millionaires--but it's always been a very class-conscious one. Opposites may attract, but familiars breed.

The ultimate sign of the show's tenet of "settling down as settling for who's around" is the reunion of the will-they-now-or-will-they-later couple, Ross and Rachel. It's a pairing that only worked in the early years because of David Schwimmer's hangdog eyes, and the relationship's initial dissolution was rather welcome, not least for bringing out a sarcastic edge and a screechy feistiness in Jennifer Aniston.

Despite the characters' mutual attraction, they were always wrong for each other: Ross deserves a partner who's more intellectually challenging, Rachel one who's more fun. When they create a child and rekindle their romance in the show's last two seasons, their happy ending feels like a tragic death--of adventure, of idealism, of question marks. No longer so young, and yoked together by their kid, they see sense in trying to fall in love again, however many times it didn't work before. Their fate isn't written in the stars; it's dictated by two much more powerful forces: convenience and familiarity.




对比过去的客厅-办公室式情景喜剧,柯拉尼和卡夫曼采用了一种全新的即时创作手法,表现当下流行的种种观念。NBC最初把这部剧主题定位为“友谊”:当你孤身一人在大城市里,你的朋友就是你的家人。(那些高管们明显对于这个有关二十几岁年轻人的剧不满意,他们建议给剧中增加一些中年人的角色,以便适当的时候提出一些成熟的意见。这可能就是为什么NBC的另一部喜剧《The Single Guy》中,恩尼斯特·伯格尼演了乔纳森·斯利文曼的铁杆好友)。十年间,《老友记》的最大的成就莫过于两位编剧和制片人让这充满魅力的六人组携手经历人生种种:结婚,生子,离婚,艰难而曲折的追求自己的事业。




在前两季,《老友记》还坚持着反映现实的初衷,剧中主要困扰角色们的问题大多与金钱相关。诚然,他们所生活的纽约不是《欲望都市》(Sex and the City)中的曼哈顿,不是奢侈和时尚的游乐场,昂贵的消费水平使得许多娱乐活动受到限制,就连娇生惯养的瑞秋也不能大手大脚的花钱。第二季第五集以一种近乎露骨的方式表现了收入和友谊的关系——三个高收入的老友提出购买猫头鹰和河豚鱼乐队的演唱会门票作为罗斯生日礼物,而菲比、瑞秋和乔伊这三个穷光蛋则一直在试图回避这一话题。在剧中,这六个人咖啡的确喝的不少,且不管你如何看待这种行为(这是《科学美国人》的活儿),聚在一起喝咖啡绝对是一种便宜的联络感情方式。这样一杯咖啡,即便用剧中那种超大号的杯子,价钱也不会超过五美元。不用花什么钱,老友们就可以聚在一起和拿铁,侃大山。








(译者 leewh 编辑 丹妮)


《老友记》缘何已成明日黄花? 《老友记》缘何已成明日黄花?



















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