In my last post I compared The Big Bang Theory to Friends in terms of success and plot drive. This got me thinking and, as a result, watched a few episodes of Friends from different seasons. I noticed a few interesting changes over the years, and it is these I will be discussing today.

One thing I noticed watching some early episodes from season 1 straight after seeing a clutch of them from season 8 onwards is that you can see in the early ones that they are not quite tight enough on the editing. Scenes finish rather abruptly, music connecting them is intrusive and there are side characters that are seen for one episode and then disappear.

Having said that, it was a pleasure to watch the characters without the baggage that they accumulate. No Rachel and Ross ‘on a break’ moments, no marriage talk between Chandler and Monica, no babies – this is a group of people still taking their first steps into the real world.

The comparative innocence of them all is refreshing, in particular Phoebe. One of my least favourite developments as the later season’s progress is her transition from someone who is happy despite her life experiences to someone who becomes increasingly hard bitten. This is despite the decade we see her as her in comparative comfort to where she has been in the past. Also, she becomes increasingly normal, her quirks increasingly coming across as selfish or sexual impulses rather than someone who enjoys being a square peg in a round hole.

Weirdly, I find many of the other characters get writ smaller as well as the show progresses. Every joke involving Ross focuses on his divorces, Monica just becomes an obsessive, Joey increasingly dumb. Layers seem to actually get removed rather than added. Perhaps as their lives get ‘figured out’ better, there is less need to go to the bad dates/crummy jobs focus of the early seasons.

The one exception to this is Rachel. She starts out a princess trying to find her way in the world. Then she essentially gets reduced to just being Ross’s girlfriend or the complicating factor in his future relationships. Then suddenly, she gets jokes. She becomes a success, personally and professionally. Season 5 onwards sees her increasingly independent and empowered. Where the others lose parts of themselves, she gains them.

The above rant may make you think I hate the later seasons. Not true. I laugh as much at them as I do the earlier ones. Season 8 is one of the best, with barely a duff episode. But I still miss the people we meet at the beginning of season 1. Yes, I’m happy everything turned out amazing for them, but maybe it was good when it wasn’t going well for them. Still, we need to let people change. Perhaps that is the lesson at the heart of the show. You can lose layers, so long as you keep the ones that matter.