In September 1994, Friends first premiered on NBC and became not only a hit but possibly the most popular show on television. The six members of the core cast were instantly thrust into stardom as the program went on to define a generation of viewers from the mid-90’s to the early aughts. But it’s staying power may be its most formidable achievement. Years after its finale aired, Friends found a second life on Netflix. The show introduced itself to the streaming generation quickly became equally, if not more, beloved. According to Hollywood Reporter, Friends is the second most streamed show of all time, behind universally equally cherished The Office. What is it about the show that’s produced such longevity? Whatever the secret sauce may be, Shoshana Stopek believes it’s appeal and utility extend well beyond the screen. The author of Friendsgiving: The Official Guide to Hosting, Roasting, and Celebrating with Friends recently spoke with WellWell what makes the show great and how it can help elevate our Thanksgiving experience.
Despite being off the air for over sixteen years, Friends remains one of the most watched and beloved shows. What is it about the show that makes it so rewatchable? Why do you think people so often return to it?
To me, the themes in Friends are timeless. I’m probably going to age myself here, but when Friends first aired, I was in college. I watched it and identified with it then and I still identify with it now. I actually got to go to a live taping when I was in film school. And I’ll never forget, after the taping, the main cast stood on stage in front of the audience and hugged each other. I thought to myself, wow, this is a show about friendship and they’re all friends themselves. I can tell you, as someone who has worked in entertainment in Los Angeles for a long time, you don’t see that every day. So there is authenticity to the actors and they brought that to their performances. I think the show also appeals to a wide age range and wherever you are in life, there’s something really comforting about the bond that the gang has and how they’re always there for each other.
The first Friends Thanksgiving episode from season one sees the group deviating from the norm and spending the holiday with each other rather than their families. This leads to the realization that they prefer spending the day with friends over relatives. What’re the advantages to a Thanksgiving with friends?
I think the advantage to a Thanksgiving with friends is the chance to do things a little differently than you maybe otherwise would. You can come up with new traditions, whether that means potluck style, non-fancy dinnerware, games, a Friends theme, if you know what I mean, it’s your chance to do it your own way. To be honest, Thanksgiving has always been sacred family time for me where I fly from LA back to my hometown in New Jersey and spend it with my parents and extended family. But due to the pandemic, I won’t be able to do that this year. So instead, I’m hosting a very small, safe Friendsgiving with friends, who I have quarantined with, instead. I think hosting Friendsgiving is a lovely way to celebrate the holiday.
Obviously, a lot of the recipes in the book are inspired by Monica due to her job and passion as a chef. When you were putting the book together was there any character that you were surprised influenced so many of the other dishes?
You know, it’s funny, I was surprised that I ended up with a few dishes inspired by Joey – the cheeseboard warm-up, meatball sub, homemade pizza, and brownies. We all know Joey loves food and “Joey doesn’t share”, but I wasn’t expecting him to inspire any recipes. When I re-watched “The One With the Ride Along”, I decided I had to make the best meatball sub to pay homage to this episode. Joey and Gary, Phoebe’s boyfriend at the time, have this whole conversation about what’s in the most amazing meatball sub. Marinara sauce, meatballs, melted cheese, it’s a really funny back and forth, and then Gary says, “Yeah you can’t eat that in my car.” It’s genius.
Now that I think about it, the other character who surprised me was Phoebe. Phoebe cracks a lot of one-liners about being a vegetarian. Well, I have this very unique recipe for an eggplant appetizer that was passed down to me by my aunt. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and I was really excited when I realized I could tie it in to the episode “Five Steaks and an Eggplant.” This is the episode where Monica gets fired for accepting kickback steaks but when she brings home the food she says, “Why, it’s dinner for six – five steaks and an eggplant for Phoebe.” I thought of it as a rogue eggplant amidst all those steaks, so I named the recipe Phoebe’s Rogue Eggplant Appetizer.
Friendsgiving also lists several tips and strategies on hosting, what can we learn from a character like Monica on how to successfully manage a Thanksgiving dinner party and entertain guests?
Monica is definitely the quintessential host. She’s so organized. I like to think of myself as organized, but Monica takes it to a whole other level. When I was writing the book, she helped me to think about what goes into hosting and entertaining and it all starts with organization. That’s why I included a Checklist and Friendsgiving Planning Timeline. Honestly, keeping lists is what keeps you from getting too stressed out when you’re planning. But you have to find a balance and not actually be bossy like Monica, like when she’s telling her guests to make sure they put their pen caps back on so the pens don’t dry out. A bossy host in reality is no fun. So that inspired me to write the section “How to Host Like a Boss…Without Being Bossy.”
Beyond recipes, Friendsgiving features numerous activities related to the series like Pin the Tail on Ugly Naked Guy and Unagi Pictionary. How does the inclusion of humorous games impact the traditional dynamic of Thanksgiving and other conventional holidays?
I think games are just great in general for bringing people together. The games in Friendsgiving add another level of fun to what might be seen as a more conventional holiday. There are a range of types of activities too, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. You can play more traditional games like the ones you mentioned, Pin the Tail on Ugly Naked Guy and Unagi Pictionary. Or you can get a little crazier with A Friends Drinking Game and Fossil Dig. One of my favorites is A Friendsgiving Word Story where everyone goes around in a circle and adds a word to make a story, but the twist is that you start off with a word from the show like “Transponster” or “Smelly” or “Princess Consuela Banana Hammock.” Or again, you can be a little more traditional and start with a Thanksgiving word like “Turkey.”
Friendsgiving includes a fantastic drinking game – how does the show provide ample opportunities for rules given its vast array of characters and reoccurring bits?
Like you said, there are so many great recurring bits and characters, the show just lends itself to great games like these. The drinking games, by the way, can be played with any beverage so it can work for all. There are two “drinking” games in the book: A Friends Drinking Game and Drink With Friends from A to Z. A Friends Drinking Game has all the character bits, like Monica drinks each time she says “I know” or Ross drinks each time he talks about dinosaurs or Joey drinks each time he mentions Dr. Drake Ramoray. I thought it was awesome that the characters stayed true to themselves over ten seasons and that’s why this game works so well. Cue up an episode and it’s very likely you’ll hear Rachel calling someone “honey” or Phoebe singing, and you can bet Chandler will definitely be saying something sarcastic.
How is the series a perfect companion for Thanksgiving and the greater holiday season?
Friends is definitely the perfect companion for the holidays because there are holiday-themed episodes in every season. Each one is unique but they share common themes about friendship, thankfulness, forgiveness and treasuring memories. There’s always humor and we also see the characters grow, just like we do.
What other holidays do you think could benefit from being given the Friends treatment? What would it entail?
I think Halloween, Christmas, Chanukah, New Year’s, and Easter all could benefit from being given the Friends treatment. For example, in Friendsgiving, you see the gang dressed up for different holidays – Ross as the Holiday Armadillo and Chandler as Santa Claus. Monica even makes Chandler dress up as a pink bunny during one Halloween episode, which is reminiscent of the Easter Bunny. You really can’t go wrong with any holiday for Friends.
About Shoshana Stopek
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