Overall, FRIENDS is one of the more consistent sitcoms, especially in light of recent television. The Big Bang Theory steadily and heavily declined over the course of its run, both in character development and writing. Even later seasons of The Office are not the same as the first (though that is mostly due to Steve Carrell’s departure). With FRIENDS; however, all of its seasons are relatively equal. Pick a random season and it’s going to have some great episodes, no doubt.
I must say that FRIENDS is, of course, not without its faults. In my previous post, mostly about Ross (and my disdain for him), I noted his strong lack of character development was a major blunder in regards to the strength of the last season, season 10. Most of the other characters develop reasonably and realistically though its run. Rachel becomes more independent and career-driven. Phoebe and Chandler realize their respective committed relationships are very important to them and they need to act accordingly in order to keep them. Monica works steadily to improve her career and social skills (or learn to accept her lack of them with Chandler’s help). Ross, of course, suffers zero development which is unfortunate enough, but even more tragically, Joey had quite a few storylines where he begins to develop, yet he almost immediately regresses.
The biggest example of this is that he falls in love with Rachel. Previously, Joey is a playboy who loves women but can’t seem to stop his serial dating. In the very first season (Episode 13: The One with the Boobies), Joey learns that his father has been cheating on his mother and worries that even if he gets married one day that he’ll be like his father and fall into this unfulfilling lifestyle forever.
By falling in love with Rachel, especially when she’s pregnant, we see that Joey is capable of truly substantial love. He proves it to himself too. Then in season nine, specifically Episode 4: The One with the Sharks, Phoebe brings up feeling unfulfilled by not sustaining long-term relationships and asks Joey if he feels the same way. He replies, “No, I love my life!” And hits on a girl at the coffee counter.
For someone who just realized what real love feels like, he certainly forgets it quickly. Now, he might be using it as a defense mechanism because he doesn’t want to be hurt again, but it’s certainly not written like that, nor do I think it was a subliminal message or intention on the writers’ behalf. Joey just simply forgets his emotional depth and goes right back to his old ways.
Also, why is Phoebe all of a sudden concerned with getting “serious” and getting married? This is a mostly traditional value and in little to no way could Phoebe ever be described as traditional… not from her job to her life to her hobbies to her very personality. Joey, on the other hand, comes from a large and traditional Italian Catholic family. He proposes to both Rachel and Phoebe when he thinks they’re pregnant because 1) he doesn’t believe pregnant women should be single and 2) because he truly wants to help support them. He also thinks his sister Dina should get married when she gets pregnant and it takes a lot of convincing for him to change his mind.
In fact, Joey shows familial instincts from the very first season. He gets separated from his friends during Ben Geller’s birth and helps Lydia (played by Leah Remini) give birth instead. He even comes back with balloons for her and her baby but Lydia’s significant other has returned. Joey leaves but seems satisfied at overhearing Lydia’s subtle praise for him.
So, I continue to find it very odd that Phoebe is suddenly the one that wants to change the habits in her love life. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mike and her wedding was amazing, but between her and Joey, Joey should have been the one that had a wake-up call in the final few seasons. His love for Rachel would have been the perfect catalyst for this and it would have brought forth all the subtle hints that he had been displaying the whole series.
Now, thinking about it, what was the reason for taking this from Joey? Well, it’s simply probably because a developed Joey would be less funny. Would a developed Joey holler, “Joey doesn’t share food!”?
Well to be honest, maybe. FRIENDS, like many other sitcoms, doesn’t pride itself on mature characters. Joey could still develop in his emotional/relational maturity and retain his other immaturities. Chandler, though he marries and becomes a responsible father, retains his humor and still makes sometimes very harsh jokes at the expense of the ones he loves the most.
So Joey’s development could have simply been cut because his previous antics were funnier. However, I think he was just forgotten. We hardly see his family after season three (and we don’t see his parents after season one). Isn’t it odd that he has a huge family that he has a good relationship with and can still only go to Monica’s for Thanksgiving?
Joey’s career also remains stagnant. He spends most of the ten years going from job to job and from one small acting role to another. I like that in season two he loses his job on Days of Our Lives. It’s a good lesson for him and it lands him back at Chandler’s. However, their biggest solution for him career-wise was to get re-hired by Days of Our Lives again instead of another show… it could have easily been another show, or another type of show. It’s the same weird stagnant-regression seen in every other aspect of his life. I don’t know, I just feel like he was an afterthought during the entire second-half of the series. I feel like their solution was to later give him his own TV show (Joey) to make up for it, but it was so not good. Plus, there was no reason it should have gotten to that point. He could have easily gotten all of the development he needed within the series just like everyone else did.
But that didn’t happen. Every time Joey naturally started developing (as any character will do), they pulled him back and they pulled him back so badly that he became this bumbling dummy that couldn’t even repeat simple French. Season-One-Joey would roast the hell out of Season-Ten-Joey. Season-One-Joey cooked, helped Ross with his turbulent relationships, had a three-year relationship with Angela Delveccio, was a little academically dumb but common-sense smart (and was good at Poker and good at reading people and other social situations), and was capable of being serious for longer than five seconds.
What we ended up getting: Phoebe was given the desire to get serious in her relationships, instead of Joey. Subsequently, she dates Mike, which becomes a heavy plot point in many episodes. Between that, Ross and Rachel’s tribulations of raising Emma together, and Chandler and Monica adopting twins, Joey falls into the background.
Eventually, Rachel has an employer change. Ross gets tenure. Chandler moves to Tulsa part time and then moves back and changes careers. Monica gets a job at a new restaurant. Phoebe and Mike get married. Ross and Rachel fall back in love. Monica and Chandler start their new life in the suburbs. And Joey…well he gets a room in Chandler and Monica’s new house.