“The One With The Evil Orthodontist” (season one, episode 20; originally aired 4/6/1995)/“The One With The Fake Monica” (season one, episode 21; originally aired 4/27/1995)
Joe: I guess when I got into my list of loathsome season one side characters, I never mentioned Barry, huh? I really do not have very much use for Barry on a good day. He’s so obviously a Bad Choice for Rachel that there’s nothing to do but check your watch until the plot mechanics have been run through. But I really have no patience for Barry in an episode that undoes a lot of good things about Rachel’s character. In the pilot, after all, she’s running away from her wedding. Not because she found out her fiancé cheated, and not because she even thought he was all that bad of a guy. She ran away because it wasn’t what she wanted, and the bulk of season one, at least as far as Rachel has been concerned, has been about her discovering what it is she does want. She wants to be able to support herself, she wants to have love on her terms. To that end, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to watch her backslide into Barry (uh, so to speak); it would make sense that Rachel would turn her head back towards her old life once or twice, especially in the early going. But the revelation that Barry cheated on Rachel with Mindy (just like he’s now cheating on Mindy with Rachel) re-positions Barry as the bad guy and turns Rachel’s episode one walk-out into the fleeing of a victim.
That kind of false victimization can be found, albeit waaaaay more lightheartedly, in Joey’s subplot with the telescope woman. The cold-open gag where they spot a Peeping Tom (or Tom-ette, as it turns out) from across the street, only to quickly remind us all that they’re constantly doing the same thing to Ugly Naked Guy, is a fairly obvious joke, but a decent one. I couldn’t believe they tried to stretch that out into an actual subplot once they had already established that the Friends were all being big hypocrites about it. (“Buy some curtains” cuts both ways, Monica.) The whole episode features the gang being less than sympathetic, really. Chandler’s histrionics about calling a girl back feel dated but ultimately harmless, until he dumps the girl at the end for rather Seinfeld-ian reasons. I’m not sure if it’s just that “commitment-phobic men are from Mars” jokes have become passé by 2013, but Chandler’s relationship angst feels less relatable than it should be. Or is that just me? Were you more firmly on Chandler (and Rachel’s) side during “Evil Orthodontist”?
Sonia: I like your observation about the telescope subplot—it’s a silly one that just makes everyone look bad in “Evil Orthodontist.” But I have to disagree about your take on Rachel’s arc in season one. Like you, I don’t find Barry or Mindy terribly compelling characters, but their return this close to the end of season one serves to showcase how much Rachel has changed over the course of the last year. As everyone looks on in bemused horror, Rachel gets involved with Barry again, only to discover just how much of a slimy cad he is. Rachel feels guilty for betraying Mindy’s trust—and then angry when she discovers Mindy and Barry had a fling well before Rachel left him at the altar. It’s a solid journey of revisiting an ex-lover, featuring sex in a dentist’s chair (which, gross) and Rachel’s realization at the end that she made the right choice. She’s not Mindy, who only wants to be Mrs. Barry—Rachel wants a lot more, so she doesn’t need to be angry or resentful of these people any longer. I think that does fit into Rachel’s arc of growth—one step back, two steps forward.
In addition to the main plot, what I really liked about “Evil Orthodontist” is how it let Rachel’s story sit in the middle of the many little stories the Friends are experiencing. Past episodes have certainly played with this, but somehow this episode stood out to me as one that does a great job of evoking the quintessential atmosphere of Friends. It’s the kind of Sunday-afternoon feeling of wasting time with friends on the couch, as people come in and out with their personal dramas to bring to the group. So in “Evil Orthodontist,” Rachel and Chandler are both grappling with dating issues—and everyone else is just there, not involved, but offering their (unasked-for) opinions.
Phoebe’s whole character seems to exist mostly to be the familial, cheerful force in Friends. In “Evil Orthodontist,” neither Joey, Ross, nor Phoebe is doing much of interest, and they cut up the bigger narrative with interludes about crossword puzzles and enthusiasm about lesbians. In “Fake Monica,” pretty much everyone’s caught up in either Marcel’s departure or Fake Monica, but even when Phoebe’s in the subplot, she’s mostly just sunny and cheerful. On one hand, I’d love to see more great Phoebe stories, but on the other—it reinforces the sense of caring about the group, not just their antics, when much like anyone’s friends or family on the couch, it’s merely the fact that Phoebe shows up with everyone else that makes her so integral to the group.
Joe: Phoebe was so performative in these two episodes! I’m not sure whether I preferred her shaking Monica moment (“This is madness, I tell you, madness!”) or her dancing, but I like the idea that Lisa Kudrow was like “No Phoebe story? Okay. Gotta amuse myself somehow.”
Anyway, for as much as I didn’t care for “Evil Orthidontist,” I was all about “Fake Monica.” Despite a stray mention of her mother, I think this was one of the few times that we got to deal with Monica’s neurotic self-image issues without her family being a catalyst. We should probably get it out of the way up top that Monica not canceling her credit card as soon as she realized it was stolen is very possibly more than suspension-of-disbelief can bear, but I think it’s worth it, as Monica sees what her thief has been doing with Monica’s money and decides that she’s not living her life as adventurously as this anonymous crook. It’s very sitcom-y, for lack of a better word, when Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe track down the fake Monica (at a tap-dance class) and end up befriending her because she’s such a confident free-spirit (most con-artists are).
Maybe my favorite aspect of the story of “Monica” and Monana (it’s a Pennsylvania Dutch name) is that Monica ends up changing only a little bit. She doesn’t really object when Fake Monica tells her that, deep down, she’s just not that adventurous a person. She’s not. It takes all kinds. If everybody was the kind of frighteningly self-confident, heedless smart-talker that Fake Monica is, we’d end up with ... okay, the Millennials, but bear with me. I like that Monica ends up taking that one tap class, poorly, and that’s about the extent of her rebellion. Baby steps. Poorly choreographed baby steps.
Sonia: The tap class is the best part of “Fake Monica”—an episode that I was certain you were going to hate. I’m surprised you haven’t ripped into (or celebrated?) the departure of Marcel taking up more than half the episode, all predicated on the plot development that the monkey starts humping things. Add to that Fake Monica, a character that I found extraordinarily not compelling, and you have an episode I don’t really know what to do with, with a total gem in the middle—that tap dance scene.
The episode must have been written around the dance class idea; it’s lively and brilliant in a way that the rest of the episode isn’t. Phoebe and Rachel are relegated to being manifestations of people that Monica can’t be: She’s never going to be a kooky free spirit (as represented by Phoebe calmly dancing to her own beat), but she’s not going to have a natural ability to charm and impress, either (which is Rachel astoundingly having all the steps to the dance down in a few short minutes).
I think the reason that you and I like Monica so much is because in many ways her concerns are the most like those of most people. There’s only one popular-girl-prom-queen in each high school, but there are tens or hundreds of insecure, somewhat marginalized awkward kids. Seeing Monica return to that former self and then struggle to break out of it is rewarding. I didn’t feel like I needed all the stuff around it to make it happen—if Fake Monica had never showed up, it would still be a great episode about Monica. And that scene where she’s drunk! Sublime.
Joe: Perhaps inevitably, this was my favorite of the Marcel storylines. Partly because for once reality intervened and someone finally told Ross that it was irresponsible to keep such a creature as a pet. Partly because David Schwimmer does a very good job walking the line between Funny Ross The Sad-Sack and Sympathetic Ross With Real Feelings. Mostly, though, it’s that last scene at the airport, where the show has the guts to turn a slam-dunk sentimental moment into something more realistic and ambivalent. Marcel starts humping Ross’s leg and immediately the schmaltz is undercut, the reasons why Marcel has to go are underlined, and Ross is left feeling rather flattened. He didn’t even get a proper goodbye! On a show (and in a genre) that values neat-and-tidy so much, I have a lot of respect for a sugar-free ending like this.
- “This is so unfair. She got everything I want, and she doesn’t have my mother.”
- I spent a lot of these two episodes thinking about how Monica and Rachel are sort of supposed to be best friends but don’t really act that way much of time. In these two episodes they exhibit more of that best-friend/roommate codependency, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Were you? [SS]
- I think they’ve fairly realistically portrayed two women who, despite their shared past, are still more roommates than best friends in the early going. [JR]
- Chandler, to Monica: “Hell is filled with people like you.” Your future spouse, ladies and gentlemen! [SS]
- The “Joseph Stalin” subplot is one I have always loved and can never remember which episode contains it, so I was thrilled to see it this week. The look of barely-restrained glee on Chandler’s face when he realizes he just fell ass-backwards into prime prank territory is truly something. [JR]
- People Of Color On Friends Watch: 1, the server who brings Joey “Joseph Stalin” Tribbiani his drink. [SS]
- Hey, it’s Jennifer Grey as Mindy! Four whole years before It’s Like, You Know... would launch her into superstardom! [JR]
- Popes into a Volkswagen? [SS]
- “Oh, it’s so late for ‘shall we.’”