The final batch of episodes from season 6 of the exceptionally long-running sitcom Friends is, as is traditional with modern sitcoms, the section of the season where the writers shift into higher gear. With long-time fans of the show expecting momentous events to happen in the characters’ lives and the art of the cliffhanger final episode firmly in the back of their collective minds, the writers make their way back to the show’s “story arc” slowly but resolutely, first gently setting up the dénouement and then attacking it head-on. It’s also the part of the season where any padding that needs to be done due to a lack of storyline is put into place, and season 6 is no exception.
The main problem with all of this larger-scale storytelling is twofold. Firstly, and most tellingly, each season of Friends is written and directed by a large group of people, all working on separate episodes (even two-parters usually score separate writers and directors) from a template undoubtedly laid out by the show’s creators and myriad producers. And secondly, the overwhelming need to drive characters towards a particular story point can – and does – have a detrimental effect on the show’s normally free-spirited and often downright silly comedy. Still, it’s exactly this approach that has cemented Friends as a favourite with much of the show’s huge fanbase, and while it can be annoying for the sitcom cynic, that most likely isn’t going to trouble the Friends team one little bit.
The episodes contained on this third disc are, in order:
The One with Unagi: Ross, amused by the fact that two of the girls are taking self-defence classes, challenges them on their ability to defend themselves against a surprise attack, and even makes up a name for a zen-like approach to doing so – “Unagi”. The fact that Unagi is actually a food doesn’t deter him – initially. Meanwhile Chandler and Monica promise to make presents for each other for Valentine’s Day – leading to one of the funniest moments of the series – and equally amusingly, Joey hires an actor to pose as his identical twin so he can get accepted into a lucrative medical study on twins.
The One Where Ross Dates A Student: One of Ross’ students writes a come-on line on an exam paper, and it’s not long before he finds out that the student in question, Elizabeth (played by Alexandra Holden, also seen recently in Ally McBeal) is exactly his type of young, attractive woman, and they start dating. Meanwhile, a fire in Rachel’s apartment forces her and Phoebe to stay with Joey and Monica – but all is not what it seems.
The One With Joey’s Fridge: While Ross agonises over his new girlfriend’s plans to head to Florida for the infamous Spring Break with her friends, Joey tries all manner of diversionary tactics to get someone – anyone – to pay for his broken refrigerator.
The One With Mac And C.H.E.E.S.E.: Joey is up for an audition to play the lead role in a new drama series, but Chandler forgets to write down a phone message about a changed audition time, and chaos ensues. Unfortunately, what also ensues is what the blurb describes as “many memorable and bizarre flashbacks” – in other words, this is fundamentally a “clip show”, that most hated and unwanted bane of the sitcom, done when the writers are most likely too busy being at the pub to worry about this week’s storyline.
The One Where Ross Meets Elizabeth’s Dad: Meeting the father of any partner can be a daunting experience for the likes of Ross, and meeting the father of a very, very young partner is even more dread-inducing. But when said father happens to be Bruce Willis, that nervousness turns to pure fear and, inevitably, comedy. The leftover plot from the previous episode – with Joey and his TV show – is inserted here as well.
The One Where Paul’s The Man: Elizabeth’s dad Paul (Willis), unimpressed by Ross, threatens to expose the relationship and have Ross fired if he continues to date his new partner – but that doesn’t stop the two heading off to her father’s mountain hideaway for a spot of nookie that goes horribly wrong. Meanwhile, the setup for the series end begins as Monica accepts a dare to book a museum for her upcoming wedding that’s not actually upcoming.
The One With The Ring: The Chandler-Monica plot continues apace, while Rachel, now dating Elizabeth’s dad Paul, encourages his to get in touch with his feelings – with unexpected results.
The One With The Proposal Parts One And Two: The season wrap-up – presented as a special double episode in some territories, but divided neatly in two for this DVD – sees much romantic back-and-forth between Chandler and Monica as an old flame unexpectedly reappears on the scene. These episodes are incorrectly titled on the inside cover listing, but correctly titled both on the back cover and on the disc menu itself.
Season 6 has been a mixed bag on DVD, and this third disc is the most variable of them all, with video quality ranging from atrocious (with the ever-present “gauze”-like screen overlay annoyingly prominent during some episodes) to acceptable; overall, most of the episodes here look decent enough, but there are a couple that are nearly unwatchably grainy, blurry and artefact-ridden – though Side B’s squeezing of five episodes onto one disc side is not the reason, as the average bitrate remains the same across all episodes here. The culprit is undoubtedly the low-rent telecine work being done on the episodes, and for a show made only a year ago, such poor video quality is immensely surprising.
The episodes are again presented full-frame on a double-sided disc, four episodes on side A and five on side B. MPEG compression varies from average to reasonably good – post-production material like on-screen titles is not affected by the same problems as the telecine material here, which presents a serious challenge for WAMO’s encoders at the modest bitrate allocated to each episode..
Sound once again is fine; in straight stereo and perfectly clear (if slightly compressed) the audio here is of superior quality to that of the broadcasts of these episodes. A French-language track is once again provided.
Once again there are no extras, except for the PC Friendly software and an associated web site on DVD-ROM; once again, experience tells us that you should be wary of installing this software on your system, particularly if you already have a hardware or software MPEG-2 decoder installed.
Overall though, as with the other discs in this series, this offering is decent enough value (the bonus double episode making it even more so) – as long as sub-par picture quality (the fault of the production, and not the disc per se) doesn’t overly bother you.