Ross Gellar (played by David Schwimmer): “You know, you probably didn't know this, but back in high school, I had a major crush on you.”
Rachel Greene (played by Jennifer Aniston): "I knew.”
Ross: “You did. Oh... I always figured you just thought I was Monica's geeky older brother.”
Rachel: “I did.”—Friends, Season 1, Episode 1, “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate,” teleplay by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, directed by James Burrows, original air date September 22, 1994
With six main characters, Friends—which premiered on NBC on this day 20 years ago—not only had multiple opportunities for plot complications and character exploration, but also, to an extent, insurance if one of the actors made such outrageous demands that he or she needed to be written out of the show. And, as the urban sitcom began, the only member of the sextet with significant public recognition was Courtenay Cox (courtesy of her turn a few years before as Michael J. Fox’s girlfriend on Family Ties—as well, of course, as the wide-eyed, ecstatic fan drawn out of the audience “spontaneously” for Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” video).
Still, the relationship between Ross and Rachel became the central relationship of the show. You can see Ross’ nerdiness—more to the point, his neediness—here, as well as Rachel’s flightiness. (Do a Google search for “flighty” in relation to the show and, more often than not, it’s Phoebe’s twin, Ursula, who gets that adjective—but really, does she necessarily earn it more than the woman who shows up on Monica’s doorstep still dressed as a runaway bride?)
Earlier this year, Entertainment Weekly included Ross and Rachel among 32 “Best 'Will They/Won't They?' TV Couples.” Friends creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman certainly showed unbelievable ingenuity in keeping viewers interested in the relationship and Schwimmer and Aniston challenged by their roles. The same could not be said for Moonlighting, which lost much of its creative fizz after David and Maddie slept together—or, to a lesser extent, Cheers (where Shelley Long’s departure after five years led a number of the behind-the-scenes staffers at the time to hate her for it.)
I have written before about this series (see this post about its well-done finale), but others have written far more often—with a hangdog obsessiveness that would do Ross proud, as a matter of fact. There’s even an entire blog about the comedy, “Friends Confessions,” billed as “a blog where you can share anonymous (or not) opinions about the great tv show, which we all love.”