As one of the longest-running and most successful American sitcoms in television history, David Crane and Marta Kauffman's Friends (1994-2004) amassed a huge following during its ten-season run. Revolving around a group of six friends in New York City, the series never broke a great deal of ground in the heavily-tread genre; instead, it simply persevered with sharp writing, entertaining stories and memorable moments. Fans of Friends grew to love the characters as they waded through the confusing late twenties / early thirties stage of life, from the earliest glimpses of real independence to the reality of settling down with a family (or staying single, whatever). Through weddings, births, new jobs, holidays and plenty of running gags, the polished formula and popular momentum made Friends an easy sitcom to get comfortable with.
The series has been released on DVD a number of times already, from the popular multi-disc season sets to the slimmed-down Best of Friends collections and even a few themed releases ("The One With All the Weddings", etc.). Loyal owners of each and every season set could even purchase a deluxe wooden box to house their prized possessions, but only if they had plenty of shelf space available. Friends: The Complete Series is simply the same gift wrapped in more compact packaging, so any fans fretting about a double-dip shouldn't worry: this one's strictly aimed at those who haven't bought many of the seasons yet (and rabid collectors with $200 to spare, of course).
Though the organization of the series is somewhat odd at first glance, the included booklet (tucked inside the box) indexes every last bit of included content...so don't lose it. It includes the complete list of episode names, numbers, credits and descriptions; this is of major importance, since the discs themselves only list the numbers. The actual discs include the same content as the original releases---from the menu designs to the bonus features---though they sport all-new artwork. All 10 seasons are divided among six hardbound "books" (which hold roughly 7 discs apiece), featuring photos of each of the main characters. So while it might take a minute to find out what disc "The One With Joey's New Brain" is on (Disc 27!), those who favor chronological marathons shouldn't notice much of a difference.
From "The Pilot" to "The Last One", this gargantuan release is the most economical way to get all 236 episodes in one handy package. For additional help navigating the maze, I've assembled a complete index of this collection's content, organized book-by-book and disc-by-disc. All discs with additional extras have been marked with a star (*), though the actual bonus features will be covered in more detail later on.
WARNING: Many, many spoilers are ahead, as if it weren't painfully obvious.
This first book takes us from the pilot episode to three-quarters of the way through Season Two. Most fans of the series are more than familiar with the earlier days of Friends; they naturally show their age, placing this show squarely in the early 1990s. Though it would take several more seasons for Friends to get completely comfortable in its own skin, there are several standout episodes along the way, including the first of many two-part episodes, the first of many Thanksgiving celebrations and the first romance between two of the main characters. Also of note is the post-Super Bowl episode, which remains the most-watched episode of Friends (though its season-long ratings were more consistent in later years). Even with a few stumbles along the way, it's easy to see here that Friends got off to a great start, paving the way for even more consistent future seasons.
Of course, what sitcom would be complete without the occasional guest appearance? During its ten-year lifespan, Friends featured a lineup of familiar (and soon-to-be familiar) faces that rivaled The Simpsons for pure name value. Guest stars for this batch of episodes include Elliott Gould, Hank Azaria, Morgan Fairchild, Jay Leno, John Lovitz, Helen Hunt, George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Jennifer Grey, Chrissie Hynde, Harry Shearer, Jonathan Silverman, Steve Zahn, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael McKean, Mrs. Roper, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dan Castellaneta, Chris Isaak and more. Whew!
Book One Episode Listing
Disc One - SEASON ONE BEGINS - Pilot, "The One With the Sonogram at the End", "The One With the Thumb", "The One With George Stephanopoulos, "The One With the East German Laundry Detergent", "The One With the Butt"
Disc Two - "The One With the Blackout", "The One Where Nana Dies Twice", "The One Where Underdog Gets Away", "The One With the Monkey", "The One With Mrs. Bing", "The One With the Dozen Lasagnas"
Disc Three - "The One With the Boobies", "The One With the Candy Hearts", "The One With the Stoned Guy", "The One With the Two Parts" (Parts 1 & 2), "The One With All the Poker"
Disc Four* - "The One Where the Monkey Gets Away", "The One With the Evil Orthodontist", "The One With the Fake Monica", "The One With the Ick Factor", "The One With the Birth", "The One Where Rachel Finds Out"
Disc Five - SEASON TWO BEGINS - "The One With Ross' New Girlfriend", "The One With the Breast Milk", "The One Where Heckles Dies", "The One With Phoebe's Husband", "The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant", "The One With the Baby on the Bus"
Disc Six - "The One Where Ross Finds Out", "The One With the List", "The One With Phoebe's Dad", "The One With Russ", "The One With the Lesbian Wedding", "The One After the Superbowl" (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Seven - "The One With the Prom Video", "The One Where Ross and Rachel...You Know", "The One Where Joey Moves Out", "The One Where Eddie Moves In", "The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies", "The One Where Eddie Won't Go"
The second book closes out Season Two, runs through Season Three and begins the fourth year. Along the way, we're treated to a handful of episodes featuring Tom Selleck, Chandler dealing with his frequent Janice relationship, Phoebe's haunted dollhouse, the infamous "Smelly Cat" commercial, the Thanksgiving football showdown and the continued saga of Ross and Rachel's relationship. It's a fairly solid group of episodes, all things considered; Friends seemed to refine its formula and cast chemistry gradually, which would soon come to fruition during its most popular years.
This time around, Friends doesn't seem to rely on guest stars as much, though several participants return as their respective characters over the next few years. Guest stars for this batch of episodes include Tom Selleck, Adam Goldberg, Charlie Sheen David Arquette, Isabella Rosselini, Sherilyn Fenn, Jon Favreau, Ben Stiller, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Teri Garr, Penn Gillette, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and more.
Book Two Episode Listing
Disc Eight* - "The One Where Old Yeller Dies", "The One With the Bullies", "The One With Two Parties", "The One With the Chicken Pox", "The One With Barry & Mindy's Wedding"
Disc Nine - SEASON THREE BEGINS - "The One With the Princess Leia Fantasy", "The One Where No One's Ready", "The One With the Jam", "The One With the Metaphorical Tunnel", "The One With Frank, Jr.", "The One With the Flashback", "The One With the Race Car Bed"
Disc Ten - "The One With the Giant Poking Device", "The One With the Football", "The One Where Rachel Quits", "The One Where Chandler Can't Remember Which Sister", "The One With All the Jealousy", "The One Where Monica and Richard Are Friends"
Disc Eleven - "The One With Phoebe's Ex-Partner", "The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break", "The One the Morning After", "The One Without the Ski Trip", "The One With the Hypnosis Tape", "The One With the Tiny T-Shirt"
Disc Twelve* - "The One With the Dollhouse", "The One With a Chick and a Duck", "The One With the Screamer", "The One With Ross' Thing", "The One With the Ultimate Fighting Champion", "The One At the Beach"
Disc Thirteen - SEASON FOUR BEGINS – "The One With the Jellyfish", "The One With the Cat", "The One With the Cuffs", "The One With the Ballroom Dancing", "The One With Joey's New Girlfriend", "The One With the Dirty Girl"
The third book picks up Season Four partway through and continues to the end of Season Five. It's easy to see that Friends has really hit its stride by this point, featuring some of the series' best moments overall. Along the way, Monica and Chandler's relationship begins to blossom, Ross gets married (twice, sort of), Rachel starts another job, Joey chooses a meatball sub over his friends, we get another classic Thanksgiving episode, Ross loses his prized turkey sandwich and the series passes the 100th episode mark. It's quite possibly the best run of the series (closely tied with the Season 6-7 era, most of which is found in the next book), making it easy to see why Friends did so well during its "mid-life crisis".
There seems to be even less reliance on guest appearances this time around, though Michael Rapaport's supporting role as a police officer is worth looking out for. Other guest stars for this batch of episodes include Charlton Heston, Fergie (the original), Olivia Williams, Hugh Laurie, George Newbern, Soleil Moon Frye, Joanna Gleason and more.
Book Three Episode Listing
Disc Fourteen - "The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line", "The One With Chandler in a Box", "The One Where They're Going to Party!", "The One With the Girl from Poughkeepsie", "The One With Phoebe's Uterus", "The One With the Embryos"
Disc Fifteen - "The One With Rachel's Crush", "The One With Joey's Dirty Day", "The One With All the Rugby", "The One With the Fake Party", "The One With the Free Porn", "The One With Rachel's New Dress"
Disc Sixteen* - "The One With All the Haste", "The One With All the Wedding Dresses", "The One With the Invitation", "The One With the Worst Best Man Ever", "The One With Ross' Wedding" (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Seventeen - SEASON FIVE BEGINS - "The One After Ross Says Rachel", "The One With All The Kissing", "The One With the Triplets" (AKA "The One Hundredth", "The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS", "The One With the Kips", "The One With the Yeti", "The One Where Ross Moves In"
Disc Eighteen - "The One With All the Thanksgivings", "The One With Ross' Sandwich", "The One With the Inappropriate Sister", "The One With All the Resolutions", "The One With Chandler's Work Laugh", "The One With Joey's Bag"
Disc Nineteen - "The One Where Everybody Finds Out", "The One With the Girl Who Hits Joey", "The One With the Cop", "The One With Rachel's Inadvertent Kiss", "The One Where Rachel Smokes", "The One Where Ross Can't Flirt", "The One With the Ride-Along"
Disc Twenty* - "The One With the Ball", "The One With Joey's Big Break", "The One in Vegas" (Parts 1 & 2)
The fourth book starts strong and stays strong, kicking off with the Season 6 premiere and taking us through the bulk of Season 7. Along the way, Monica and Chandler's romance reaches a boiling point, Ross and Rachel drift slightly apart (annulment will do that to a couple), Joey hooks up with a dancer, we see "what could have been" during a classic two-part episode, Ross and Monica dance on Dick Clark's New Years' Eve special and Rachel finally turns 30 (which prompts a few amusing memories). Though Phoebe and Ross are slightly pushed to the background here, the rest of the main characters carry the weight nicely. As most sitcoms typically fizzle out after a few years, it's great to see that Friends wasn't just a late bloomer; already passing the 150th episode mark, this seven-disc run is home to plenty of great moments and milestones.
Guest stars for this batch of episodes include Ron Glass, Elle MacPherson, Reese Witherspoon, Bruce Willis, Kristin Davis, Eddie Cahill, Jason Alexander, Susan Sarandon, Gabrielle Union and more.
Book Four Episode Listing
Disc Twenty-One - SEASON SIX BEGINS - "The One After Vegas", "The One Where Ross Hugs Rachel", "The One With Ross' Denial", "The One Where Joey Loses His Insurance", "The One With Joey's Porsche", "The One On the Last Night"
Disc Twenty-Two - "The One Where Phoebe Runs", "The One With Ross' Teeth", "The One Where Ross Got High", "The One With the Routine", "The One With the Apothecary Table", "The One With the Joke"
Disc Twenty-Three - "The One With Rachel's Sister", "The One Where Chandler Can't Cry", "The One That Could Have Been" (Parts 1 & 2), "The One With Unagi", "The One Where Ross Dates a Student", "The One With Joey's Fridge"
Disc Twenty-Four* - "The One With Mac & C.H.E.E.S.E.", "The One Where Ross Meets Elizabeth's Dad", "The One Where Paul's the Man", "The One With the Ring", "The One With the Proposal" (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Twenty-Five - SEASON SEVEN BEGINS - "The One With Monica's Thunder", "The One With Rachel's Book", "The One With Phoebe's Cookies", "The One With Rachel's Assistant", "The One With the Engagement Picture", "The One With the Nap Partners"
Disc Twenty-Six - "The One With Ross' Library Book", "The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs", "The One With All the Candy", "The One With the Holiday Armadillo", "The One With All the Cheesecakes", "The One Where They're Up All Night"
Disc Twenty-Seven - "The One Where Rosita Dies", "The One Where They All Turn Thirty", "The One With Joey's New Brain", "The One With the Truth About London", "The One With the Cheap Wedding Dress", "The One With Joey's Award"
The penultimate fifth book shows Friends entering its later years, running from the end of Season 7 all the way through the first half of Season 9. As the personal relationships between the characters have changed much over the years, this batch of episodes is much more rewarding for those who stuck with Friends from the very beginning. Along the way, we see a nice mix of stand-alone episodes, Chandler and Monica finally tie the knot, Joey hooks up with Rachel, Monica joins a cooking class, Rachel has a baby, no one proposes and Chandler shows a unique interest in shark documentaries. There are plenty of great moments here, but the consistent flow and energy from the last two seasons doesn't shine quite as brightly now; perhaps its due to the plateau in Monica and Chandler's relationship or the odd pairing of Joey and Rachel, but it seems as if the writers were occasionally grasping at straws during this seven-disc run. Even so, a potent amount of classic moments are still on board here, enough so that longtime fans of Friends shouldn't mind putting up with a few average episodes.
Guest stars for this batch of episodes include Denise Richards, Winona Ryder, Kathleen Turner, Alexis Arquette, Gary Oldman (sweet!), Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Alec Baldwin, Paul Rudd, Freddie Prinze Jr., Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, Dermot Mulroney and more.
Book Five Episode Listing
Disc Twenty-Eight* - "The One With Ross and Monica's Cousin", "The One With Rachel's Big Kiss", "The One With the Vows", "The One With Chandler's Dad", "The One With Monica and Chandler's Wedding (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Twenty-Nine - SEASON EIGHT BEGINS - "The One After 'I Do'", "The One With the Red Sweater", "The One Where Rachel Tells...", "The One With the Videotape", "The One With Rachel's Date", "The One With the Halloween Party"
Disc Thirty - "The One With the Stain", "The One With the Stripper", "The One With the Rumor", "The One With Monica's Boots", "The One With Ross' Step Forward", "The One Where Joey Dates Rachel"
Disc Thirty-One - "The One Where Chandler Takes a Bath", "The One With the Secret Closet", "The One With the Birthing Video", "The One Where Joey Tells Rachel", "The One With the Tea Leaves", "The One in Massapequa"
Disc Thirty-Two* - "The One With Joey's Interview", "The One With the Baby Shower", "The One With the Cooking Class", "The One Where Rachel is Late", "The One Where Rachel Has a Baby" (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Thirty-Three - SEASON NINE BEGINS - "The One Where No One Proposes", "The One Where Emma Cries", "The One With the Pediatrician", "The One With the Sharks", "The One With Phoebe's Birthday Dinner", "The One With the Male Nanny"
Disc Thirty-Four - "The One With Ross' Inappropriate Song", "The One With Rachel's Other Sister", "The One With Rachel's Phone Number", "The One With Christmas in Tulsa", "The One Where Rachel Goes Back to Work", "The One With Phoebe's Rats"
The sixth and final book brings the series to a close, finishing out the remainder of Season 9 and all of Season 10. Though most critics felt that the series should've gone out on top a few seasons back---especially as the new trend of reality TV was being shoved down our throats---this final run of episodes is still home to plenty of great moments and fond farewells. Along the way, Joey and Ross take turns pining for Rachel, Phoebe and Mike get hitched, Monica and Chandler get good news from the adoption agency, Gunther reveals his true feelings for a certain someone, Ross and Rachel reach a boiling point and the gang finally turns in their apartment keys. It's a relatively strong ending for the series---though some fans didn't care for the conclusion, much like the final episode of Seinfeld---and one that ties up as many loose ends as possible. All things considered, those who made it this far should be happy that the series ended on its own terms.
Guest stars for this batch of episodes include Jeff Goldblum, Aisha Tyler, John Stamos, Alex Borstein, Jennifer Coolidge, Greg Kinnear, Anna Faris, Danny DiVito, Donny Osmond, Ellen Pompeo, Dakota Fanning, Jane Lynch, John Rubinstein and more.
Book Six Episode Listing
Disc Thirty-Five - "The One Where Monica Sings", "The One With the Blind Dates", "The One With the Mugging", "The One With the Boob Job", "The One With the Memorial Service", "The One With the Lottery"
Disc Thirty-Six* - "The One With Rachel's Dream", "The One With the Soap Opera Party", "The One With the Fertility Test", "The One With the Donor", "The One in Barbados" (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Thirty-Seven - SEASON TEN BEGINS - "The One After Joey and Rachel Kiss", "The One Where Ross is Fine", "The One With Ross' Tan", "The One With the Cake", "The One Where Rachel's Sister Baby-Sits", "The One With Ross' Grant"
Disc Thirty-Eight - "The One With the Home Study", "The One With the Late Thanksgiving", "The One With the Birth Mother", "The One Where Chandler Gets Caught", "The One Where the Stripper Cries", "The One With Phoebe's Wedding"
Disc Thirty-Nine - "The One Where Joey Speaks French", "The One With Princess Consuela", "The One Where Estelle Dies", "The One With Rachel's Going Away Party", "The Last One" (Parts 1 & 2)
Disc Forty* - Additional Bonus Features
Presented (again) on DVD by Warner Bros., this massive 40-disc set doesn't add anything new in the technical department, though it's no big surprise. The show's A/V quality has always been a bit shaky---most notably during the first few seasons, of course---and the bulk of the bonus material is still a bit on the fluffy side. Either way, the slightly modified but familiar presentation is worth combing through a second time for those willing to throw down $200 for this well-stuffed collection. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Video & Audio Quality
As a simple repackaging job, it's no surprise to learn that this collection's technical presentation remains the same as past releases. On par with most TV-on-DVD sets in its class, Friends: The Complete Series looks a bit iffy at first and improves over time. The original 1.33:1 aspect ratio has been preserved, skin tones and other colors look natural and black levels are usually solid. Earlier episodes obviously aren't as sharp and clear (additionally, there's a fair amount of color bleeding and digital noise), but it's much harder to complain from Season 6 onward. Friends may aim fairly low in the visual department, but this DVD presentation shouldn't hamper your enjoyment one bit.
The audio is a similar story, as these front-heavy Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround mixes offer clear dialogue and music paired with good front channel separation. The toe-tapping theme song by The Rembrandts and the alt-rock scene transitions sound especially crisp and clear, while no music changes appear to have been made due to rights issues. Rear channel activity is limited to the occasional music cues and studio audience laughter, so don't expect anything spectacular and you'll be fine. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are included for the episodes only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menus appear to be the same as the original release, though a portion of the earlier ones aren't presented in anamorphic widescreen (above left). Overall, the basic color-coded layouts feature smooth navigation, though the advertisement of additional extras on other discs obviously doesn't match up with the new DVD numbers. Each episode is presented without chapter stops, while no apparent layer changes were detected during playback.
Deserving of its own paragraph is the excellent, compact packaging job that may slightly confuse those weaned on the stand-alone season sets. As mentioned earlier, this 40-disc set is housed in a series of six hardbound "books" (roughly 7 discs apiece) that clearly state the episode numbers included inside. In turn, the books are housed snugly inside a hinged red outer box, while an oversized booklet/episode index is tucked away in the back. The deceptively small size of this collection makes it an obvious space saver, though the odd division of the 10 seasons might take some getting used to. For a closer look at the packaging design, a few photos have been linked below.
Index booklet, outer box and all 6 "books" | Interior of the "books" | Box interior and open booklet
As originally seen on the original season sets, each and every extra has returned on this collection. First up is a series of Audio Commentaries (typically featured on season premieres, finales, and other key episodes) by creators and producers Kevin Bright, David Crane and Marta Kauffman, adding up to roughly three per season. For the most part, these three participants---who are often recorded separately and edited together---do a good job of providing background information and interesting trivia, though the addition of more participants would've been preferable. It's odd that none of the cast members recorded a single track at any point; especially David Schwimmer, who even directed a handful of episodes along the way. Still, it's especially interesting to hear the creators' thoughts during the pilot episode and series finale, which serve as fitting bookends to their popular production.
Also here is a gaggle of fluffy featurettes and other minor extras, including "Friends of Friends" (guest star lists, interviews and appropriate clips, appearing during the final disc of most seasons), various Trivia Quizzes and Previews for the upcoming seasons---though in this case, it's not needed. Also of minor interest are various Interactive Maps for key Friends locations, featuring notes about the props and set designs; as well as several Highlight Clips for the six main characters and a few Foreign Language Clips. Season Five's closing disc features a pair of moderately interesting extras, including "The One That Goes Behind the Scenes" (42 minutes, above left) and "Friends: On Location in London" (2 minutes, above right); the former gives a decent overview of the show's production (including the writing process, rehearsal, audience taping and more), while the latter gives us a glimpse of the cast in action overseas.
Later season-ending discs include a few Gag Reels that are certainly worth a look and a few throw-away Interactive Games. Also included on the final disc is a promotional Music Video entitled "Joey, Joey" (below right) and an interesting retrospective featurette, "Friends Final Thoughts" (25 minutes, below left). This behind-the-scenes piece features comments from prominent cast and crew members, from the early casting process to each participant's thoughts about the final episode. It's a fitting end to the series, but the lack of meatier bonus material earns the collection lower marks in the extras department. Owners of the multi-disc season sets should already be familiar with this lineup, but those unfamiliar with the series' DVD presentation may feel slightly underwhelmed. It's not a bad spread on its own terms, but it's obviously very light in proportion to the total episode count.
All bonus features are presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio; like the actual episodes, they increase in technical quality as the series progresses. Unfortunately, none of these extras include optional subtitles or Closed Captioning support.
It's certainly not tailor-made for those who own all ten seasons already, but Friends: The Complete Series is still a decent release worth looking into. Though the organization of the discs may take some getting used to, the themed packaging and compact presentation ensures that this mammoth release won't hog shelf space. It's too bad that the series couldn't have scored an A/V overhaul, as the visuals for the first few seasons certainly show their age; additionally, a few retrospective bonus features would've really sweetened the pot. On the other hand, such minor improvements may have incurred the wrath of broke Friends loyalists the world over...and if there's one thing you don't want on your hands, it's angry Friends loyalists. All things considered, fans who understand this release's merits---compact presentation and a reasonable price---shouldn't have a problem making a decision. For those who haven't already bought the bulk of the series on DVD, this 40-disc monster comes easily Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: Individual Friends Season Sets (most written by Mike Long)
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.