For the 20- and 30-somethings of my generation, Friends Thanksgiving episodes are an annual holiday rite of passage. But now that we’ve moved from Pumpkin Spice Season to Red Cup Season, don’t sleep on the Christmas and New Year’s episodes, y’all; New York at the holidays is straight-up magic (even the fictional New York where gainfully-employed people somehow have the time to spend hours and hours on weekday afternoons sitting around coffee shop couches), and there is some quality content on this list. We’ll be counting down the 11 holiday episodes from worst to best!
The One With Christmas In Tulsa
Friends leaned heavily on clip shows to squeeze a few extra episodes out of recycled “greatest hits” content (I’m particularly fond of Joey’s Soap Opera Digest interview as the framing device for a recap of all his most ridiculous moments, from the Freud musical to that infomercial for the milk spout), and I suppose a Christmas clip show was inevitable, but this one is a real disappointment. Its A-story is thin at best, and at worst, a lot more depressing than funny – especially for those of us who have ever been trapped at work while everyone you love is off having holiday fun without you.
I was never down with the whole Chandler-moves-to-Oklahoma subplot; this is an ensemble comedy and it suffers when the ensemble is split up for too long; there’s something genuinely dismal about the idea of Monica and Chandler being apart for the holidays (though Chandler decides to quit his job and move back and somehow, through the magic of sitcom airlines, gets home in time for Christmas anyway).
The episode’s brief glimmer of light comes from a largely-wasted Selma Blair, playing an amusingly snarky Tulsa colleague of Chandler’s. Jealous of the insurance company downstairs who are throwing a big awesome party, she steals their ham in a file box and nonchalantly dumps it in the middle of the conference table. Monica’s jealousy that Chandler – who finally relents and sends the rest of the staff home – is working alone with a hot female coworker is irritating, but it’s doubly irritating that the show decides to follow through on it and have her come onto Chandler, despite knowing he’s married. Friends is surprisingly, in many ways, more feminist than I remembered it, and often swerves to avoid sexist tropes that pit women against other women; so Monica’s malicious jealousy is disappointing (like she would ever say “Wendy is a fat girl name”), and Wendy never rises above the level of Convenient Stereotype. The whole thing is a pile of tired, sexist tropes and a waste of a terrific guest actress. It does prompt a “Monica and Chandler Greatest Hits” montage, which then prompts Chandler to decide to quit his job and move back to New York, kickstarting the crucial “Chandler’s Career Shift” arc, but GOD, AT WHAT COST
The storyline’s one truly great joke – painfully familiar for many of us who have worked in office jobs – is the envelopes which everyone thinks contain Christmas bonuses but ACTUALLY contain letters stating that a donation has been made in their name to the New York City Ballet. Too real, Friends. Too real.