As with all fledgeling TV programs, Friends entered the entertainment arena with no guarantee of success. Its hook, however, caught fast and went deep. For ten years it was a “must watch” for many millions of viewers.
The simple plot reflected the lives, laughs, and loves of six young working men and women living in New York City, heartwarming and funny, flavored with overtones of uncertainty and immaturity.
In exceptional fashion, the six actors stayed together the entire time, each playing their roles so faithfully that when the series ended, separating was hard to do. It had been a program of fanciful fiction, yet in acting out their parts, they not only had become friends in a make-believe world but also in the real world.
Better yet, after the series ended, none of them went off the rails to become a rundown has-been. To the contrary, each carved out a successful life of their own. The unevenness of those successes proves how well they were able to unhook themselves from ten years of make-believe.
In an ironic twist, reruns of Friends have taken on a believability of their own. They’re even more poignant and meaningful in a world that’s become much more divided, cynical, and untrusting. It’s not a stretch to say that some of the qualities expressed on the program are reflected in today’s generations.
Friends, however, never burdened itself with any generational labels, so there was nothing to live up to or to live down. Although the thread woven through the series smacked of innocence, it was strong and endearing. The actors played their parts so well that everyone watching could relate to the situations in which they, in real life, were experiencing.
Each of the six had problems with their social and working lives, all of which seemed solvable. More important, those individual difficulties became the property of all six. As a result, each outcome was highly seasoned by a kind of unmistakable group action that left the person’s accountability and individuality intact, thoughts and opinions originating from a sense of caring and cooperation serving all purposes.
Yes, it was only a TV program meant to entertain the masses. That the mission was highly successful is evidenced by its unwavering and impressive staying power throughout the entire ten years. Arguably, the psychological cement that bonded viewers to those actors on the screen was a sense of hope, longing, and even believing that six people could actually live such lives. That “what if” became as much of a subconscious dynamic as it was a nagging admission of impossibility.
What if each person could somehow throw off the shackles of selfishness and greed so as to act as a reservoir of inspiring ideas and hopes that could be tapped at will for the benefit of others?
What if there were no thoughts of superiority, regardless of source, but rather of an engaging status that could serve as the foundation for individual achievement?
And what if all of this could occur not during a special event or single happening stifled by advance programming, but rather in constant fashion, a giving and taking that never stops, addressing universal concerns as they occur in real time to real people?
Could the principles that supported that group of six on TV be used in similar fashion with a much larger group? Could the power of one be meaningfully multiplied many times over?
Although critics and cynics might say that for several reasons this would lead us down the wrong path, Friends used simple yet highly effective logic to suggest otherwise.
Maybe all of us need to remember that, even if it was acted out on the TV screen by six beautiful people.