It’s possible that somewhere in the connected world there are 236 individuals who count a different one of the 236 episodes of Friends as their all-time favorite installment of the 10-season sitcom.
It’s decidedly more possible that out of those 236 episodes aired on NBC throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s, far more than 236 individuals count their favorite from a pool effectively reduced to a small handful of far-and-away superior TV treasures.
A lifetime of Friends fandom has anecdotally taught me that every Friends fan has their favorite episode, but they also have an episode which they objectively know to be “the best” of the series — one that’s so structurally sound, so infectiously quotable, so pop-culturally well-remembered that it could, at any moment, change places with one of the other top four as the most accurate representation of what the show could achieve overall in its heyday.
Bring France Home
Fans generally tend to agree on the top five, if not the exact supreme; the next best 20, however, are always rife for debate. What you’ll find here, to mark the show’s 25th anniversary, is my best consideration of the most effective, effusive, entertaining episodes of Friends, the ones where everything clicked and moments were made that still stand out after a lifetime of watching and rewatching the series long before its streaming-era availability all but gave my apartment its own laugh track.
There’s no way you’ll be satisfied with what made the list and what got left in the shed with Gunther, but trust that no reckless lack of care has been put into the thinking here. Celebrity guest stars are not a golden ticket; problematic episodes are acknowledged if not penalized; signature scenes demand a pull of focus, but not without sturdy supporting story lines elsewhere elevating the episode to the topmost tier.
Anyway: Enjoy, argue, debate, disagree, prod me with a poking device, unagi me, baby! But celebrate Friends, whether in these 25 episodes or the #26-50 list you’ve already started, for at least these few gems of sharp writing, comic timing, and mastery of that specific ‘90s slice of sitcom-audience merriment.
25. The One With the Blackout (Season 1, Episode 7)
Most fans remember this early episode primarily for its scenes of Matthew Perry‘s Chandler in an ATM vestibule with model Jill Goodacre — a name that places this episode in the ‘90s almost as instantaneously as Chandler’s vest. But “Blackout” is in many ways a precursor to what Friends could do, and not just in terms of utilizing the principal cast (minus Chandler) in one bubble setting. The episode is credited with helping to popularize (though not invent) the term “friend zone,” arguably marking the first impact the show had on the pop culture lexicon long before any of its other catchphrases entered the zeitgeist. Its candlelit confessions of sexual histories continued to set the first-season tone for the show’s frank maturity and helped lay down a strong foundation for Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) central romance. But arguably the most enduring contribution of “Blackout” is how its Chandler story line earmarked the show’s ability to allow any of its cast to be the leading man or woman of their own episode. For a supporting player like Chandler (who was not originally intended to be a series regular) to embark on a solo adventure in such an early episode — and one that still stands out as a structural departure even 200 episodes later — was for Friends to rely on its audience to trust that all six principal characters were capable of leading this comedy charge, that their quirks and quests would not just be part of a greater whole but compelling enough to resonate on their own individual, sometimes relatable merit. (Not that any of us have ever gotten stuck in an ATM vestibule with forgotten celebrities from the ‘90s, but still.)
One line can often make an entire episode of Friends, and Rachel’s season-finale realization of Ross’s feelings creates arguably the series’ first signature moment. Crystallized by a crystal duck, the grand reveal itself is more of a showcase, if anything, for Perry’s skill in flabbergast, but then Aniston takes the reins to complete Rachel’s season 1 transformation from inexperienced Manhattan princess to fearless rom-com heroine, chasing Ross to the airport and, though ultimately missing her opportunity, providing a juicy finale moment to cling to when the episode’s final twist recklessly jolts the Ross-Rachel rollercoaster forward. Look closer, though, and “Rachel Finds Out” bears a lesser-lauded subplot in which Joey (Matt LeBlanc) must stay celibate, which actually accomplishes something Friends would become fairly well-loved for throughout its 10 seasons: Fundamental joke set-ups that allowed for endless one-up dog-piles of cheeky sexual innuendo, with actors and writers both going gleefully wild in their delivery of good-fun zingers. Plus, in this episode specifically, when Monica (Courteney Cox) recommends Joey refocus his sexual drive on “being there for her,” we get one of those early-‘90s third-wave-feminist risqué-for-network moments that counter-balances the earnestness of Rachel’s story line to show early Friends at its most potent blend of sweetness and spice.
23. The One With Chandler in a Box (S4, E8)
Long before Chandler is remanded to contrition in a crate, we willfully boarded the sympathy train for his pursuit of Joey’s actress girlfriend Kathy (played by Paget Brewster, who deserves to be better remembered in the guest star gallery for warmly navigating such a pivotal hitch in the rarely-challenged Joey-Chandler bond). But this Thanksgiving episode caps that arc with a necessary reorientation on Joey and the depths of his broken heart — the pieces of which were not cracked by his one-time romance Kathy so much as obliterated by his longtime companion Chandler. It’s not some grenade of gay praxis to suggest that Joey’s fraternal love for Chandler powers him through this whole series: Joey consistently shows the value he places on Chandler’s opinion and support, and “Chandler in a Box” does a heavy lift in imploring audiences to remember that the boys’ relationship is a cornerstone of the series — they are THE friends of Friends! — and unlike their mostly comedic clash when Joey moved out in season 2, their schism here in season 4 threatens their whole emotional tether (not unlike Ross and Rachel’s dispute in “Morning After”). So although Joey’s way of reconciliation may be insipidly stupid, for he and Chandler to almost split and ultimately find peace is among the series’ more tragic machinations, and this episode deserves recognition for getting them back where they belonged without sacrificing the gravity of what drove them apart.
22. The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding: Part 2 (S7, E24)
An excellent case of the sum being greater than its parts, Monica and Chandler’s big day doesn’t exactly work on its individual levels — ignore Joey trying to get out of shooting his war movie, Rachel trying to stall Monica when Chandler goes missing, and the entire trainwreck of “Part 1” that renders Chandler’s drag-queen father a cruel constant punchline (one of the show’s least defensible comedy relics, but you knew that already). But it’s all about those final few minutes, an endlessly gratifying consecration of the great Friends romantic experiment that is Monica and Chandler — the seven-season slow-burn that never stopped feeling like both an unexpected surprise and the constant rock the show needed. Rachel’s game-changing pregnancy reveal and Joey’s earnest officiating added color to the nuptials, but the special aura around this episode came from how it made good on seven years of audience loyalty by sneaking us onto the altar to clue us in on those whispers and revelations of the inner circle that so often humanize the grandiosity of a performative ceremony like this. Essentially, seven seasons led us to all but forgetting about the people in the pews or the very marriage itself — the circumstances around the affair sired an intimacy shared only by you, the wedding party, and a dozen million more viewers at home.
21. The One With Ross’s Grant (S10, E6)
The excellent “Princess Consuela” and “Joey Speaks French” are oft-cited contenders for Friends’ Last Great Normal Episode before season 10’s somber final string began (which is its own beast to contend with), but “Ross’s Grant” is an earlier entry that I propose emphatically cuts through the solemnity of the show’s farewell year with several dizzily fun story lines — Joey’s Japanese lipstick commercial, Rachel and Monica’s lose-lose struggle with art horrors Gladys and Glynnis — that proved there were still silly, lighthearted stories to unearth even as the shadow of the show’s sign-off loomed large.
20. The One With the Pediatrician (S9, E3)
Just three episodes after the birth of Rachel’s baby, the show seemed to find its confidence in charting the course of how Emma would throw a wrench into Friends’ established equilibrium, and that manifested not just in terms of how Ross and Rachel’s brand of manic would clash with the banality of baby-raising. Though fans loathe their separation, splitting up Chandler and Monica for his solo stint in Tulsa and her job at Javu was a move that eventually led to a well-written and wonderfully gratifying resolution in its reinforcement of their commitment to each other and reconciliation of where their joint lives are headed. Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) also gets a clear path-setter here in the double-date disaster that results in the arrival of Paul Rudd’s Mike — which is still, for my money, the show’s single best and most organic introduction of a character destined to fit into its seasoned, ceaselessly chaotic, idiosyncratic ensemble.
19. The One With the Football (S3, E9)
Despite the pure insanity that is Monica leaving her oven on unattended in a New York City apartment, this season 3 Thanksgiving centerpiece is one of those crisp autumn episodes that exhibits Manhattan at its coziest. Exemplary use is made of Ross and Monica’s sibling history to anchor a frenzied football game that propels the entire group into a sort of rambunctiousness they’d often enjoy before growing up in later seasons. There’s a sort of exceptional tangibility to Ross and Monica’s rivalry itself, something that makes itself known both physically on the field and silently in the unresolved tensions between the siblings (“Monica and I… aren’t supposed to play football”).
18. The One With the Apothecary Table (S6, E11)
A distaste for consumerism (and one markedly different from her PBS ire) aroused this dutiful bout of refreshing character service for Phoebe at the midpoint of season 6. As five previous seasons showed, it’s much easier to do wrong by Phoebe than to do right by her, but her dance of morals over Pottery Barn felt true to both her cause and her comedy without relying on lazy jokes about psychics or vegetarianism. (Plus, the episode’s twist is also classic Phoebe, a brilliant exerciser of karmic loopholes.) Elsewhere, “Apothecary Table” also delights with its sly upending of the social status quo we grew accustomed to, when Joey’s former albatross Janine shocks everyone by expressing her distaste for our well-oiled product: Monica and Chandler.
17. The One With the Routine (S6, E10)
There’s nothing more or less in “The Routine” than good-natured innocuousness — three tight subplots following Joey’s quest for a kiss, the Gellers’ quest for attention, and everyone else’s quest for Christmas presents. The highlight, of course, is Ross and Monica’s dance routine itself, one of the more brilliant utilizations of Friends’ specialty for presenting curiously curated fragments of characters’ pasts to add to the mythos of who we’re spending time with in the present. Ross and Monica’s shared love of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve feels as instantly lived-in as their football rivalry, but rather than leaning into the antagonism of their relationship as so many episodes often (and not for lack of reason) do, “The Routine” celebrates the underlying kookiness of their brother-sister dynamic, letting them shine with a certain rare ebullience for the Schwimmer and Cox partnership.
16. The One on the Last Night (S6, E6)
On a show that can often skew toward the unrealistic, this is an episode all about facing reality (despite Ross’s C-plot about babysitting a dummy of Ben — one of his more inane story lines). On the eve of Chandler moving in with Monica, he and Joey and she and Rachel must contend with the reality of saying goodbye to their era of living together; the episode’s tentative dance around the latent sadness of what should be a happy move secretly delivers a gut-punch when you realize that you, too, didn’t expect this departure to be nearly as sad as it is. What works particularly well is the hyperfocus on Monica and Rachel, the polar opposite cohabitants they’ve always been, now accidentally spurred by Phoebe to pull on the loose threads around each other’s edges. In doing so, they let off some of the steam they’ve been housing over the fundamental change in their lives — a clever way to get to a bittersweet realization that cements “The Last Night” as one of Friends’ more universal episodes in its exploration of the ways we mask sadness by lashing out at the very people we’re saddest to be losing.
15. The One With the Morning After (S3, E16)
There’s no world in which “Morning After” should be anyone’s all-time favorite Friends episode, yet it’s an important one to highlight for the way in which it proved the show, for all its carnal-comic cheekiness, could spike formidable emotion into what could just be a rom-com rehash. Before it became a zeitgeist punch line, “We were on a break” had at least some ignominious resonance to it when it dropped like a bombshell in Ross and Rachel’s savage fight (and both Schwimmer and Aniston rose to the episode’s demand for an uncharacteristically dramatic flex without sacrificing any of the multi-cam comic timing that would have been the first thing eschewed here by less adept actors). An eavesdropping Joey, Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe stacked like the Scooby gang against the bedroom door remains an indelible image from the series and a more macroscopic banner of something Friends did well, in its own prototypical way, to compound all of its drama with a certain complementary ridiculousness. It’s no punchline picnic, but “Morning After” felt immersive and voyeuristic and not just because Ross and Rachel’s was a fight in which you had skin, stakes, a horse, and a favorite. In the same way episodes like “Embryos” or “Everybody Finds Out” offered that feeling of reward for fans who felt a long-term familiarity with the characters, the fight in “Morning After” is the bizarro version of that inclusivity, a harrowing little bout of voyeurism that, love it or hate it, flung you far closer into the epicenter of the show’s passion than perhaps you ever expected yourself to be.
14. The One With Unagi (S6, E17)
Parse it out and “Unagi” is, joke for joke, one of Friends’ strongest all-around scripts, with substantial offerings for each actor and no wasted time in between: Joey’s attempt to swindle a twins study showcased him as the rare idea man, for once; Monica and Chandler falling on their own sword of homemade Valentine’s gifts bore an all-timer Janice cameo; and Ross’s efforts to undermine Rachel and Phoebe’s self-defense skills turned out to be an incredibly satisfying way to watch Ross get his comeuppance, because even if the escalating scare tactics of “Unagi” aren’t quite on the level of the prank war in “Everybody Finds Out,” any episode that goes to such lengths to acknowledge and respond to Ross’ generally more annoying tendencies is, in the long run, a very special source of pleasure.
13. The One Where Rosita Dies (S7, E13)
Another exemplary script pulls its strength from subtle sweetness in one of the darkest episodes the show has ever done. Death is lampooned in Joey’s living room, with Chandler and Rachel endearingly going haywire to honor Joey’s love for his fallen chair Rosita (before he succumbs to his own bubbling selfishness). Death marks the end of an era in Jack Geller’s garage, where Monica’s childhood is destroyed by the same hand of God that confirms her long-held belief that she’s the least-loved Geller sibling (resulting in a chilling if ultimately cathartic ending). But the prospect of death is most directly explored in Phoebe’s telemarketing temp job, when she takes it upon herself to stop a suicidal office worker from ending his life. It’s the kind of bizarre story line choice that oral histories are made of, one that feels so extremely out of place for the series yet miraculously worked in the hands of Kudrow and an excellently unhinged Jason Alexander, who skillfully handled a story line that still feels as darkly comic as it does inexplicable for NBC’s happy comedy about people living above a coffee shop.
12. The One Where They All Turn Thirty (S7, E14)
Perfect as the group’s lives may be — unremitting sprees of dating, spacious apartments, jobs that let them drink lattes all day long — the Friends are not immune to the anguishing neuroses that comes with the big 3-0. This cleverly curated batch of flashbacks sifts through the manifestations of a midlife crisis with the group’s extreme takes on bucket lists (Phoebe), impulse buys (Ross), drunken breakdowns (Monica), and the very-real weight of not meeting the deadlines you set for yourself in your younger years (Rachel). This is all fairly timeless stuff, but there’s an argument to be made that “They All Turn Thirty” marks the rare situation where Friends was, in a sense, sort of prescient about the kind of dramatically-heightened crisis of hope that’s actually setting in for the millennial malaise generation who are currently bingeing Friends as they turn 30 in a social, digital, the-future-is-literally-on-fire age. As I may or may not have just recently reached this milestone and may or may not have watched the episode to mark it, the group’s comic distress may or may not be the most relatable dilemma they’ve ever approached.
11. The One With Rachel’s Phone Number (S9, E9)
Loyalty is the key word at play in this criminally underrated season 9 gem, which explores the ways in which the group’s fierce and often incubated fidelity can be cracked open by outside forces. Ross’ loyalty to Phoebe fuels his intent to welcome Phoebe’s new boyfriend into their lives — one of the kinder gestures he’s initiated, if upended quickly by his decision to keep Rachel for himself when she gives out her phone number. Rachel’s own line of self-interrogation during her first girls’ night out calls her allegiance to Ross into question, too, roughly setting up the serrated shape the last season and a half of Ross-and-Rachel takes. All the while, the real engagement of devotion comes from Joey, who acts on his suspicion that Monica is cheating on Chandler and messily confronts his dual loyalties to husband and wife. Ultimately, that plotline proves to be a fascinating study of third-wheeling and of allocating different spaces of room in your life for the people who need it.
10. The One With Rachel’s Other Sister (S9, E8)
As far as Friends guest stars go, you could derive an entire best-of list strictly from episodes where a celebrity goes absolutely bonkers in 22 blustery minutes — so it’s a testament to Christina Applegate that her perfectly horrible character creation Amy Green, who somehow didn’t even exist in Friends lore until season 9, would still likely top that list. As we enter the Top 10 portion in this ranking, every script must be expectedly taut with a trio of strong stories working on every level — but “Rachel’s Other Sister” stands out by introducing a wonderful way to pop Rachel’s brand-new maternal bubble that hyper-matured by virtue of motherhood in just a matter of episodes. Bringing in Applegate’s unfiltered yet unflinching Amy to challenge the sudden new normal without being discourteous to who Amy is — and who Rachel used to be — highlights just how far Rachel has come since leaving Long Island and how guiltily good it feels to watch Applegate wax awful (in a way that Reese Witherspoon’s better-natured Jill didn’t) and win an Emmy for it.
9. The One Where Rachel Has a Baby: Parts 1 and 2 (S8, E23/24)
“Main Character Gives Birth” is, by definition, bound to be a special episode of television, but Rachel’s pregnant two-parter finale has always felt like an achievement even in that super-specific genre of serial TV. Part 1 milks the comedy in the misery of it all — hospital ennui, semi-private room horror stories, that reluctant obligation to suddenly think about the bigger picture — allowing Part 2 to ease its way into the sincerity we needed from such a momentous occasion in the show’s timeline. What neither part ever does, though, is cloy or preach, instead pulling power from the characters’ very dance around the sudden big questions to make a point about how things simply proceed even before there are answers. And whether audiences eventually liked or hated that answers those questions begot, Aniston’s performance in “Rachel Has a Baby” anchors everything with a full spectrum of emotion that triumphantly led to her first and only Emmy win for playing Rachel, a victory she deserved for no better episode.
8. The One With the Prom Video (S2, E14)
Well before an old home movie finally leads Rachel into Ross’s arms, this season 2 episode abounds with particularly robust jokes and mini morsels of plot: Chandler’s horror over Joey’s friendship bracelet, Monica’s unnerving job interview with the food fetish, a cameo from G.O.A.T. guest stars Jack and Judy Geller (Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles), and an iconic line from Phoebe as she explains to Ross that he and Rach are endgame because, as it were, “she’s your lobster.” Ultimately, it’s a long time coming for fans when Rachel changes from telling Ross she’s not his to save to embracing him precisely because he tried to save her (which sounds a little more problematic when you put it that way, but at the time it was quite romantic, really). But of course, the episode’s very best part all these years later remains one off-camera: The woman in the audience gasping just one millisecond before Rachel kisses Ross and seals the couple into TV history.
7. The One With the Rumor (S8, E9)
Purists of the ‘90s could point to folks like Julia Roberts, the boys from ER (George Clooney and Noah Wyle), or any number of other Friends guest-stars as indicators of the greater pop zeitgeist during which the show aired. Yet it’s Brad Pitt’s episode, at the height of tabloid fame, that feels like the biggest encapsulation of how Friends existed outside of its own Must-See TV universe. It’s impossible not to heap a huge scoop of the episode’s mischief onto the rebellious decision to have Pitt play Aniston’s mortal enemy Will, jesting against their headline romance in a way that only brought you closer to the It Couple of the ‘90s. Of course, through the lens of the 2020s, many parts of “Rumor” get thorny for a lot of reasons — Brad and Jen’s divorce, Ross and Will’s club of incels, and our greater consciousness of the blatant gender and body prejudices at play throughout — but this episode wasn’t made today and cannot answer to the contemporary criticism that characterizes murky comedy of eras past. For better or worse, I choose to celebrate this episode not in blindness to its faults but in study of its existence as a specific time capsule of the ‘90s, its good and its bad, and specifically of what a ‘90s multi-cam sitcom could do to create a moment and become bigger than itself.
6. The One With All the Cheesecakes (S7, E11)
Rachel and Chandler: A most underrated pair? They very well may be, as there’s something that always felt unique and exciting about their chemistry throughout this great story line involving cheesecake theft (a plot that, strangely, has next to nothing to do with either of their established character traits, but Aniston and Perry both knock it out of the park with unexpected flourishes of physical comedy). Yet “Cheesecakes” also contains one of the show’s most moving episodes, using Phoebe and Joey to make a touching point (in lieu of a comic one, as is more typical for them) as they fight over the rules of canceling plans with friends. “Boyfriends and girlfriends are gonna come and go, but this is for life,” Phoebe yells after middle-naming (a wonderfully adhesive phrase even all these years later) Joey. But the emotional wellspring goes even deeper when Hank Azaria’s David leaves Phoebe heartbroken and Joey arrives with the kind of instant forgiveness that marks a real companion. The episode’s one fault is something that heirs to Friends became far more guilty of: Purporting cutesy rules like Joey’s sex-cancel decree to be universally known among all single-personhood. But the subversion of expectations to make Rachel and Chandler the clowns and Joey and Phoebe the erudite nevertheless leaves “Cheesecakes” with a glorious aftertaste.
5. The One Where Ross Got High (S6, E9)
Even if it’s not the most overtly Thanksgiving-y of the Friends Thanksgiving canon, “Ross Got High” is the inconceivably successful juggling act that somehow finds a way to give all six characters a worthy mountain to climb culminating in what’s probably the most rewatchable 30 seconds the show has ever produced. If “Football” drudged up the sibling fissures Monica and Ross have resolved (or at least repressed), “Ross Got High” comes roaring in with a fresh batch of Geller family disclosures that call upon the entire cast to play a screaming match of badminton with their meticulously timed one-liners. Christina Pickles ushers the episode out with a bang before handing it off to Perry for the extraordinarily plotted final line, wrapping up one of the show’s messiest Thanksgiving melees with one of its best belly-laughs.
4. The One With the Embryos (S4, E12)
What’s there to say? “Embryos” is probably the most aspirational episode of the entire show, the epitome of the kind of wish-you-had-it camaraderie that manages to delight more than depress in its total impossibility of occurring in any real human being’s life. It starts off innocently yet remarkably enough — the guess-Rachel’s-groceries game alone might have been remembered as a classic — but when the betting stakes get higher and the rapid-fire reveals begin to scorch in their specificity, the episode takes on an unprecedented level of Friends-friend FOMO. Guest towel count, TV Guide subscriptions, imaginary space cowboys — the joys of “Embryos” come completely from the kind of deep-cut factoids you’ll probably never know about your own group of friends, inane baubles that put the trivia in trivial but somehow still spark a raucous celebration of these characters and the calibrated levels of companionship that have gotten them this far. Topping it all off is the cozy hug of Phoebe’s pregnancy announcement, a feel-good moment that momentarily halts the group’s post-game chaos and reminds us that beneath the surface, there’s an invariably deeper connection at hand that goes well beyond pet peeves and apartments… be they foolishly gambled away or not.
3. The One With the Videotape (S8, E4)
Friends’ comedy rewards those paying close attention throughout the series, but the beauty of “Videotape” is in the immediacy and efficacy of its callbacks self-contained in this episode alone; it’s arguably the series’ consummate deployment of the kind of standalone sitcom writing that flourishes with a tight scope and clean, meaningful punches within those parameters. A story about backpacking across Europe, Joey’s alter ego Ken Adams, and Chandler and Monica’s honeymoon pals Greg and Jenny all provide the fodder for an incredibly packed script that jacks up each punchline for a second hit and manages to fill in the most interesting blanks of season 7’s timeline at the same time. If anything, “Videotape” is more shocking in its clarity of Ross and Rachel’s surprise pregnancy than in the premiere’s reveal that Ross is the father, and by also upending the expectation that it was Ross initiating this pivotal night, “Videotape” lit the fuse on what would be the final phase of Ross and Rachel’s relationship as it kicked off the endlessly surprising Era of Emma.
2. The One Where No One’s Ready (S3, 32)
Should aliens descend on Earth and request one episode of Popular ’90s Sitcom Friends to view before deciding whether to destroy us, “No One’s Ready” is the masterpiece that will save our souls and secure sitcom comedy as a sweet delight of our new intergalactic overlords. In many ways it marks the gold standard for Friends in its use of the cast, the apartment, and no distractions — it’s often described as the show’s answer to Seinfeld, in that it’s the show’s ultimate episode about nothing, unspooling everything and maneuvering it all back together over the course of one rainy night in Monica’s apartment. It’s a sitcom bottle episode that lives and breathes only by the strength of its writing and performances, which in turn provided some of the show’s best-loved quotes in phrases like “I’m breezy” and “drink the fat” and the capitalization of the word BE in reference to wearing any more clothes. Ross at his most anxious, Chandler and Joey their most fraternally juvenile, Monica her most obsessive, Phoebe her most optimistic, Rachel her most powerful — everyone’s on their own quest, basking inside of their own relatable bouts of narcissism, dancing splendidly through their own narrative that somehow involves no one else and everyone else at the exact same time.
1. The One Where Everybody Finds Out (S5, E14)
Boiled down, the best Friends episodes are about the dissemination of information, sometimes delivered so rapid-fire as to net out a sort of overwhelming velocity that effectually antes up each reveal (“Ross Got High,” “Embryos”). But “Everybody Finds Out” is the rare Friends episode that takes its time with its discovery, mining every morsel of comedy out of the ludicrous situation between Chandler and Phoebe and creating a sumptuous slow-burn examination of power and persistence. It’s Friends’ best treatise on secrets and gossip, sported with a rascally wink that’s downright delectable to watch. If “No One’s Ready” is the best standalone entry for new viewers, “Everybody Finds Out” is the perfect long-con payoff for show loyalists, a delirious social experiment that plays what-if in real-life with mischief, not maliciousness, as its guiding force. And yet there’s no lack of actual stakes amid the charming scheming on each side (both of which count Joey, marking a low-key great episode for him, too, as a reluctant omniscient). Obviously it’s Perry and Kudrow who really steal this half-hour, and the rarity of their pair-up is partly what makes this episode so significant, that it’s precisely how underutilized the two are together that they invariably make certain magic when finally allowed to team up. But while other shows could have ham-handed the game-changing permanence of Monica and Chandler, writer-producer Alexa Junge’s Emmy-nominated, all-time-best episode handles a big moment with a disarmingly novel and potentially reckless approach: Let’s slightly upend the status quo of this group by first completely obliterating it. And as everybody did find out, it worked.
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