This article originally ran September 4, 2014. We are reposting it now that all ten seasons are available to stream on Netflix.
It’s 1994–95 week here at Vulture, where we’re taking a look back at the influential, often-wonderful TV season of 20 years ago. One of the landscape-altering shows that premiered that year was Friends. We’ve looked at how the show came into existence, and we already know about the show’s lasting impact. But how did critics respond when the show first premiered? We sifted through the archives to find out. (Experience Vulture’s 31 Days of Friends right here.)
From EW, October 21, 1994 [TV Show Review: Winning “Friends”]:
Monica (Courteney Cox) is our primary character because — well, because Courteney Cox is the biggest name-brand star in this show. Monica is an assistant chef in a Manhattan restaurant, has a sunny nature, and radiates common sense; she’s the solid center in a circle of wacky pals. Among these is Monica’s roommate, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), who is a scatterbrained waitress at the coffeehouse where all the friends hang out. Across the hall from Monica and Rachel’s apartment live Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc): nice, macho, dumb guys. Then there’s Ross, Monica’s brother, played by David Schwimmer, best known as the doomed ”4B” on last season’s NYPD Blue. 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. (Speaking on behalf of other, possibly equally baffled viewers, I’d suggest to Schwimmer that he resist the thoroughly understandable temptation to hug Cox in quite so passionate a manner.) And finally, there is Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) — again, who knows where she’s from, but she’s even more scatterbrained than Rachel, and, as if I weren’t confused enough, is just a variation on the ditsy-waitress character Kudrow continues to play on Mad About You. Excuse me while I catch my breath.
From the New York Times, September 29, 1994 [TELEVISION REVIEW; Yes, More Friends Sitting Around]:
Oh, no, you might well moan, not another group of pals sitting around whining and nursing their anxieties, getting up once in a while to test the passing Zeitgeist. Oh, yes. But click into NBC’s “Friends” anyway. The creators and executive producers are Marta Kauffman and David Crane, whose “Dream On” has been exploring new boundaries of zaniness (and permissiveness) on HBO. “Friends,” more conventional on the surface, promises to be equally offbeat and seductive.
… The cast is appealing, the dialogue is pitch-perfect 1994, the time-slot is between the solidly established “Mad About You” at 8 P.M. and “Seinfeld” at 9 P.M. “Friends” comes as close as a new series can get to having everything.
From the L.A. Times, September 22, 1994 [TV Reviews : NBC’s Strongest Evening of the Week Has Its Weak Spot (that’s actually about Madman of the People)]:
… Given that the cafe and apartment look somewhat alike — and that the schmoozing and blizzard of acerbic one-liners occur in both places — juxtaposing these locales gets confusing. And the notion that all of these attractive people would remain platonic while flopping around together is a bit far-fetched. Yet these are nit-picks, and “Friends” has so many good moves that there’s really nothing to dislike. It’s all so light and frothy that after each episode you may be hard-pressed to recall precisely what went on, except that you laughed a lot.
From USA Today, September 22, 1994 [not archived online]:
No one seems to have anything better to do than swill cappuccino at a plush hangout or sit around Cox’s place watching bad TV (“Oh, I think this is the episode of Three’s Company where there’s some kind of misunderstanding,” Perry ironically jokes).
From People, October 3, 1994 [Picks and Pans]:
… The scripts are filled with pop references — e.g., gags about David Hasselhoff, Shari Lewis and Mentos mints.
A game cast delivers the barrage of banter with an arch coyness that suggests they think they’re in some Gen X Neil Simon play.
From the Columbus Dispatch, September 22, 1994 [not archived online]:
According to the horde of 20-something comedies crowding the schedule like flannel-clad devotees at a Smashing Pumpkins concert, most young people do nothing but drink coffee … Monica (Courteney Cox) works in a coffeehouse, so they can probably feed their habit at a discount.
From Variety, September 22, 1994 [Review: Friends]:
Concept is OK, but the humor’s less sophisticated than expected from the exec producers of HBO’s comedy series “Dream On,” and the dialogue is not exactly snappy. Ross: “I honestly don’t know if I’m hungry or horny!” Chandler: “Stay out of my freezer.” Moral and health issues are sidestepped altogether: “Friends” touts promiscuity and offers liberal samples of an openness that borders on empty-headedness. It’s not much of a positive example for juves, though.
From the Baltimore Sun, September 22, 1994 [ Good “Friends” fits snugly into NBC’s lineup]:
And it’s a smart marketing move. While there are “twentysomething” moments and concerns in the pilot, the overall sensibility is much the same as in NBC’s two other Thursday night sitcoms.
If fans of “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld” can handle the age difference, they should feel right at home with the six as they sit around riffing on life, love, relationships, jobs and each other.
From the Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1994 [A Singular Formula]:
Unlike “Ellen” and “Seinfeld, which pride themselves on exploring the trivial, “Friends” wants to be about something-which I suppose is its attempt to be a deeper, more poignant show. It isn’t, not yet anyway. But “Friends” is clearly a show of demographics-which is why it should do extremely well among those who, between the snappy dialogue, find themselves among the crowd.
From the Washington Post, September 22, 1994 [not archived online, sadly]:
NBC’s new sitcom “Friends” comes across like a 30-minute commercial for Dockers or Ikea or light beer, except it’s smuttier. One character says he dreamed he had a telephone for a penis and when it rang, “it turns out it’s my mother.” And this is in the first five minutes.
Another ghastly creation from professional panderers Marta Kauffman and David Crane, the witless duo who do “Dream On” for HBO, “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 include that cute Courteney Cox, formerly funny David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry. They all look nice, and it’s sad to see them degrading themselves.
From the Hartford Courant, September 4, 1994 [Emergency! 2 Hospital Dramas! 2 Sets of Parents Killed in Car Crashes! Lots of Bad Shows!]:
The dialogue generally goes like this: “I don’t know whether I’m hungry or horny.” Anemic and unworthy of its Thursday-night time slot.