It is hard to imagine a time when Friends was not part of the collective consciousness. By now, it seems extraordinary that any critic might not express love for the show or complement its snappy dialogue — let alone confuse Ross for Monica’s boyfriend and think it is the Courteney Cox character that pays her rent by working in a coffee shop. But, a look back at some of the show’s early reviews demonstrates first impressions don’t always stick.
On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the show’s debut in September 1994, Vulture combed the media archives to find out what critics had to say about what would become one of television’s most successful comedies. Vulture includes the Washington Post review which had a clear opinion of the sitcom’s lack of value:
“Friends is more a scripted talk show than a sitcom. You keep waiting for Sally Jessy or some other cluck to interrupt the jabbering. The show is so bad that Sally Jessy would actually come as a relief.
… [The stars] all look nice, and it’s sad to see them degrading themselves.”
The Hartford Courant, in a comprehensive article that panned almost all the new shows of the 1994-95 season, had no love for Friends, its dialogue or characters:
“[T]hese aren’t people you’d actually want to invite into your home… this half-hour is completely lacking in charm or intelligence.”
Entertainment Weekly had a bit of a more balanced take, praising the show’s appeal, and then expressing confusion about the characters and how they fit together:
“[E]ven when it’s not at its best, the crack acting and piquant punchlines give Friends a momentum and charm that win you over even if you’re not laughing… I don’t know where Ross lives. In fact, it took me two weeks to figure out that he was Monica’s brother and not her lover… [but the show] bulldozes past its confusions and clichés on the power of its zippy dialogue.”
And according to Vulture‘s quote of the Columbus Dispatch:
“Monica (Courteney Cox) works in a coffeehouse, so they can probably feed their habit at a discount.”
Twenty years later, those critics who panned the show — there were some who gave it positive reviews — may not be eating their words, but cannot argue with the show’s success. Friends was on for ten seasons, and in its last round of negotiations, cast members were paid $1 million per episode — a rate just matched by the cast of The Big Bang Theory.
[Image: Friends cast; Google]