No Longer Friends

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I discovered Friends much like the rest of the my generation – a few years before the show came to an end in 2005. Those were the days when our consumption of international entertainment was dependent on the few cable channels which would broadcast these shows and the hope that our parents wouldn’t be in the living room when the “adult jokes” would come on. While Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the antique-but-fresh-for-India Full House, and Third Rock From The Sun were all fun to watch, there was no doubt that Friends was on top of the list, and this is despite the fact that some of the jokes took a good five years to dawn on me.

Friends is easily the show that defined my generation and gave us the encouragement to define our own values and to assure us that it was okay to be who we really were. What’s interesting is that there are still younger people out there who are watching it, and deriving the same life lessons I did. I’m not alone when I make the statement that I knew Monica (Courtney Cox), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Ross (David Schwimmer), Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) as well as I did my own friends. Even today, when I’m having a slow, or an awful day, I take to the internet and watch carefully drafted compilations of “Chandler Bing’s best jokes”.

Friends gif

Over the years though, there have been many requests from fans asking for a Friends reunion either by way of a new episode or a movie, requests which the show’s creators have vehemently denied. So when news came that the cast of Friends have reunited for a TV show which pays tribute to James Burrows (one of the directors of Friends), the internet went into a frenzy like it does so often these days. “The reunion going to happen!” was the collective squeal on my Facebook timeline. A photo of the cast (minus Matthew Perry) together with the cast of The Big Bang Theory released yesterday, creating an even bigger buzz.

I’d like to place on record two things – the “reunion” is of the cast members, not the characters. They’re going to talk about Jim Burrows and it’s more likely to be a somewhat touching yet boring documentary about the man. The second is that I’m very thankful that there is no “reunion”, and that I was not one of those fans who wanted a reunion movie or even an episode because it destroys the perfect ending and the perfect lives that the show, and consequently, the fans imagined for them in the final episode. That is one reason. The other, and perhaps more truthful reason why I don’t want a reunion is because I don’t want to see the cast, now grown up and with grey hair because it isn’t just a reminder of their age, but of mine as well.

One More Time

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

Watching television shows is my way of relaxing, and I have a long list of TV shows to catch up on right now, and yet, on the days when I truly just want to kick back and let some steam out, I almost never reach for a new episode of a show I’m watching, or even a new show. I take my trusty hard disk out and watch reruns of either Friends, Gossip Girl or Sex And The City.

When I watch a rerun, I know exactly where the episode is heading. I know that Phoebe does find her soulmate, and that Chandler and Monica do end up having kids. I know that Blair will finally be with Chuck, and I don’t have to waste time thinking about who Gossip Girl really is. Most importantly, I know that Mr.Big comes back. I suppose reruns are like the visual equivalent of comfort food – they don’t require too much effort to watch, and yes, they are predictable, but deliciously so, and it is this predictability which keeps me coming back.

sex and the city, satc

I had watched each of these shows at a different point in time, and they each represent a different kind of nostalgia for me. Friends, I watched during high school. Gossip Girl was through my CA articleship and study holidays. Sex And The City, I binge watched as I stepped into my twenties, although it was well done and dusted by then. The relationships that I had formed in my head with the show’s characters, as well as the way I had associated myself with them when I’d watched the show initially, was a reflection of my identity, and what was going on with me at that time. In fact, I would decide that I was a particular character from the show, and even went on to match my friends with their show personalities. (Full disclosure – I was convinced that I was a total and complete Rachel from Friends, Blair from Gossip Girl, and Charlotte from Sex And The City).

When I watch a show today, I am so caught up in keeping up with the story line, that I don’t have the time or energy to really delve into a show and go to the extent of forming a relationship with a character. When I watch these reruns however, it’s different, because they take me back to the time I watched them for the first time, and the naiveté of my own youth when I’d thought that it was possible to lead lives similar to the characters I was so enamoured with. When I watch Sex And The City now, for example, I think – Don’t the lot of you have jobs? How do you keep meeting each other? How do you buy a new pair of six hundred dollar shoes every month with a journalist’s, no, columnist’s income?

Although the shows I have grown up with and loved are dubious in many ways, the primary storyline, and it’s characters have never stopped being charming to me. Every time I question a certain plot line’s logic, or a character’s choices, or even understand a joke that I previously didn’t (this happens all the time) it is actually a sign of how I’ve changed and grown, after all, the show hasn’t.There was an article in The Scientific American a couple of years ago on the same topic, and how reruns “spark personal growth”. They had ended the article with a quote by the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, a quote, that I thought summed everything that I’ve ever felt about watching a beloved show over and over. “You never cross the same river twice—it’s not the same river, and it’s not the same you”

{Friends is presently running on Romedy NOW}

It’s All Good

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

When the TV phenomenon Friends came to an end, I was devastated, and I missed it terribly. It was this devastation coupled with the free time that one gets while waiting for exam results that led me to watching Joey, the Friends spin-off that picked the life of Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) up from where Friends left off. I was quite excited for the show, given that Joey was my favourite character in Friends, but hardly a few episodes in, I found myself wishing that I had just stuck to watching reruns.

A spin-off more or less ruins the original show for me. There is something so unimaginative and bland about them, and watching a spin off when there’s plenty of fresh content on television otherwise, feels like a criminal waste of time. Naturally, when Better Call Saul, the spin off to Breaking Bad was announced, I had neither had expectations from it (despite the fact that it was going to be directed by Vince Gilligan himself), nor any intention to watch it. Then, one very dull evening, I gave in to Better Call Saul.

better call saul, vince gilligan

The show’s undercurrent is the same as Breaking Bad’s – good men in a bad world. In Breaking Bad, Walter White, a chemistry teacher who gets cancer, turns to drugs to support his family. We saw him make his way through it all, not knowing exactly how things would turn out in the end. In Better Call Saul, however, there is no suspense because it is a prequel, and the story of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a small time defence attorney, ended up becoming the despicable and widely hated lawyer from Breaking Bad.

Jimmy McGill, a one time scam artist, is now a struggling defence attorney who works out of a makeshift office housed in an Asian salon. He defends a variety of criminals, from drunk drivers to men who commit armed robberies to students who decapitate a head off a cadaver in the biology lab because they thought it was fun. After one particularly trying day, he goes back to his scamming roots to procure a client, only to get caught in the middle of a vicious drug circle ruled by a brutal overlord. Walter White and Jimmy McGill are both men who were pushed to the corner by circumstance, men who had no choice, but the difference between them is that Jimmy is a natural fraud who has to try really, really hard to be good.

Unlike Breaking Bad, whose slow, tedious first season nearly made me give up on the show, Better Call Saul is interesting right from the start. You want to know Jimmy better, you want to know why his brother walks around wearing a blanket made of aluminium foil, and you want to know what happened between him and his ex-girlfriend who he still has a soft spot for. The characters in Better Call Saul are also very oddball, and very original. In many ways, it’s unfair to call Better Call Saul a spin off to Breaking Bad – I would call it a companion show because although there is some reminiscence to Breaking Bad here and there, it stands on its own. Vince Gilligan hasn’t just taken a hit show and spawn something new, he’s also made sure that it wouldn’t be overshadowed by its predecessor.

There are ten episodes in the first season, where each episode is about forty five minutes long. Should you watch it? If you are already a fan of Breaking Bad, then it’s easy – you will thoroughly enjoy Better Call Saul. If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, I would recommend Better Call Saul anyway. It’s interesting, it’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s unlike anything else on television right now.

{Better Call Saul is presently being telecast on Colors Infinity}