|Friends - The Complete Third Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 01 April 2003|
By its third season, “Friends” was already well on its way to establishing itself as one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, anchoring NBC’s ratings bonanza known as “Must See TV Thursdays.” On a weeknight that featured fellow ratings powerhouses “Seinfeld” and “E.R.,” NBC was riding high as tens of millions tuned in to the network. The 25 episodes that make up the third season of “Friends” are a blast back to the year 1996 that will have fans of the show reminiscing at one of the most turbulent yet hilarious eras in the history of the show.
Season Three begins with the still blossoming relationship between Ross and Rachel and a terribly distraught Monica, who has just broken up with Richard, played by Magnum P.I himself, Tom Selleck. To look back at friends before the writers had exhausted nearly every dating/marriage scenario short of a torrid love affair between siblings Ross and Monica, the show had an air of unpredictability and strange sexual tension. Of course, it’s no mystery to fans of the show that by the end of Season Three, Ross and Rachel were no longer an item, and their breakup, which the writers had a field day with over a stretch of several episodes, gave birth to the infamous concept of being “on a break.” While on this “break,” Ross finds himself waking up one morning having slept with a stranger that he met at a bar in the episode appropriately titled “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break.” The hijinks ensue in typical "Friends" style, as Ross awkwardly tries to come to grips with the fact that he has cheated on Rachel by rationalizing the situation due to the fact that they had decided to take a break from each other. This is one of the three episodes that "Friends" executive producers Marta Kauffman, Kevin S. Bright and David Crane discuss in detail via an optional voiceover commentary track.
The most interesting commentary track comes during the episode titled “The One With the Football” where the show’s production designer joins the discussion to talk about the Thanksgiving episode where the cast plays a game of football in the park. To the casual observer, it seems a simple task to shoot a faux football game on a soundstage, but hearing the level of detail and planning that went into this segment is a great lesson for aspiring directors, set designers, cinematographers and anyone else interested in television production. It’s not as if they are describing how the bullet scenes in “The Matrix” were filmed, but it’s a neat little encapsulation of the mechanics of an aspect of television production.
The third season of “Friends” is chock full of guest appearances by already big names such as Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Teri Garr, and Jon Favreau and, at the time, lesser-known performers including as Giovanni Ribisi, David Arquette and Ben Stiller. Arquette, who later married Courtney Cox, plays the part of a confused man who stalks Phoebe’s twin sister, but eventually ends up stalking Phoebe by accident. Little did we know that it was Cox that the real Arquette was interested in.
"Swingers" star Favreau plays a computer software millionaire who falls in love with Monica. Being rich and bored with his retirement, Favreau's character decides to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championships, and is beaten to a pulp in the ring, adding to the suffering that Monica seems to undergo when it comes to relationships through the entire season. At one point, she becomes so convinced that she’ll never find the right man that she goes to a sperm bank to shop for potential fathers for her hypothetical baby. She soon learns that one of the donor’s profiles she brought home to evaluate is that of none other than her good friend Joey.
Running gags such as the ugly naked guy next door and “drinking the fat” are alive and well in Season Three. Much as with "Seinfeld," the writers of "Friends" are able to take a seemingly mundane, everyday phrase or occurrence and turn it into a hilarious comedy bit. Chandler’s butt-slapping boss and Ross’ fantasy about Princess Leia in the gold bikini make for more than your average, run-of-the-mill sitcom laughs.
Aside from the almost annoyingly catchy “I’ll be There For You” theme song that begins each show, your speaker system won’t get much of a workout from this four-disc set. The box literally lists the sound as being “remastered in Dolby Digital 5.0.” Where is .1 you ask? Good question. There is not much low-frequency information in the dialogue or the small musical bumpers that begin and end scenes from time to time. Even with the system cranked up to volumes that would be better for watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, the subwoofer didn’t move much air. A little tweaking on the sub's crossover brought it to life a little, but in the end, the rest of my speakers were able to handle what "Friends" was dishing out sonically.
The picture quality of the discs is quite good, better than I remember it being on TV when watching the show originally. Of course, in 1996, I was watching the show on analog cable on a small TV in my college apartment, so to see the show now through a high-quality Kenwood DVD player and receiver brings new life to the show. Anyone who liked the show so much that they taped it on VHS tapes will truly appreciate having all of the episodes and extras in a package that is basically the same size as one video cassette.
Speaking of extras, the Friends discs have some extras but like Seasons One and Two, they aren’t much to write home about. The tour of Joey and Chandler’s bachelor pad lets us in on a few inside jokes and tidbits about the show, but it is a little clunky to navigate and isn’t overly satisfying. What is sorely missing from all three seasons of "Friends" on DVD is commentary from any of the actors. Perhaps now that a majority of the actors on the show have become bona fide A-list celebrities and movie stars, it is difficult to get them into a recording studio to do commentary tracks. The producers give us very interesting anecdotes about the shows, but the commentary would benefit immeasurably from the extra insight that would come from at least several of the actors weighing in with their thoughts and opinions on the show that turned them into the successes that they are today.
The cadence of the DVD set is very brisk and the shows seem to fly by sans commercial breaks. Chances are, you are not buying this set unless you already know that you are a big fan of the show. Even with the commercials removed, it’s a big investment of your time to watch an entire season of a TV show. However, you’ll be glad to know that “Friends” holds up quite well over time and the third season is one of the best in the history of the series. If you’ve got a DVD player and a few extra hours to spare, you could have a good time catching up with some old “Friends.”