Television

The Friends Episode to Watch Before the Reunion

The one where we picked an episode you didn’t expect.

Two brown-haired men (one in many layered dress shirts, the other in a black and gray tuxedo) and one blonde women in a yellow dress stand next to each other. There are blue kitchen shelves behind them, as well as hanging pots and pans.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Warner Bros. Television.

With 10 seasons’ worth to choose from, only a few Friends episodes can get the spotlight in HBO Max’s upcoming special Friends: The Reunion. “The One Where No One’s Ready,” the series’ first bottle episode from Season 3, is one of them, as the producers explain how using only one location was intended to save the network money and Matt LeBlanc recounts an on-set accident that occurred during filming. David Beckham even names it his favorite episode. It’s funny—for all that the reunion tries to break up its hour and 45 minute runtime with surprise guests and James Corden quizzing the cast, the best parts are easily the scenes where the six lead actors are alone together, reminiscing and goofing around and teasing each other—in short, acting like friends. That’s the fun of “The One Where No One’s Ready,” too.

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“The One Where No One’s Ready” is a funny place to start watching Friends from, since it’s not at all a typical episode of the show. Set almost entirely in real time in a single location—“like a play,” as co-creator David Crane says in The Reunion—the episode follows the six leads as they get ready for a fancy event for the museum where Ross works. That means many of the classic Friends elements are missing: They don’t go to Central Perk, there are no mega-famous ’90s guest stars onscreen, and Joey doesn’t ask any pretty ladies how they doin’. Ross and Rachel are already an item, so you don’t have to wonder if they will or won’t get together (only if they will or won’t have to go to couple’s counseling). It isn’t even Thanksgiving.

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And yet, in a lot of ways, “The One Where No One’s Ready” shows how little any of those Friends touchstones even matter. The actors are at the top of their game, as, over the course of 22 minutes, Ross frets about getting everyone dressed and out the door on time, growing more and more flustered while the group gets sidetracked—especially Rachel, who can’t decide what to wear. Chandler and Joey are sucked into an escalating prank war over who gets to sit in a particular chair. Monica hears a message from her ex on her answering machine and can’t stop obsessing over whether it’s from pre- or post-breakup. Even Phoebe, who doesn’t get a whole lot to do here, at least gets to be a little Phoebe-ish when the guys accidentally muss her dress. (Lisa Kudrow, meanwhile, shows that she hasn’t missed a step during the reunion, with a table read so funny that everyone else breaks.) The magic of Friends is the chemistry of the cast—even when they’re bickering.

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Having all of the leads in one place made “The One Where No One’s Ready” a great choice for Jay-Z’s ”Moonlight” music video from 2017, in which Black actors recreate parts of the episode shot for shot—a commentary on, among other things, the show’s all-white cast. (It also critiques Friends’ success compared to predominantly Black-starring Living Single, which came first and had the same premise but didn’t achieve the same tabloid-cover fame.) Plenty has been said already about Friends’ flaws, but that’s another reason why “The One Where No One’s Ready” is a good warts-and-all starter episode: Everyone is being a little bit annoying! Phoebe can be an oddball, Joey can be an airhead, Rachel can be a brat, Monica can be a control freak, Chandler can get hung up on little things that don’t matter, and oof, Ross can be a jerk. Together, though, they make it out the door on time—and that’s the staying power of Friends in a nutshell.

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