Since its mid-aughts finale, we've been on an unofficial break with Friends. But now, in honor of HBO Max's highly-anticipated Friends reunion—which is bringing together the beloved sixsome on that iconic orange couch for the first time in 17 years—Marie Claire is celebrating, criticizing, and obsessing over the show that was always there for us.
Ah, Friends. Could it BE anymore impactful? The hit show from the 90s has never fully loosened its grip on the culture, and since it started streaming on Netflix, a whole new generation has become hooked. Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey have stuck to us like glue (or like Ross's leather pants) and we're not complaining.
Despite the show's initial mixed reviews, the series went on to become a phenomenon, launching the careers of its six stars, and changing the way people dressed, styled their hair, and even spoke (How you doin'?). But over the course of 10 years, some seasons were better than others. Which is worth watching again and again? As Friends obsessives, we've taken on the challenge of ranking the seasons from worst to best—a tough job but we'd bet our apartment we got them right. Don't agree? It's okay, we'll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour.
Season Nine is terrible. It was originally intended to be the series' last, but eventually the cast agreed to return for a shortened tenth season. And you can tell that this season was meant to be its final one by the plot points that are put in place, like Chandler moving to Tulsa, and I'm glad they didn't go out on that note. In Season Nine, you can tell the writers were like, "Well, what do we do next? We had a wedding, we had a baby! We can't get Ross and Rachel back together quite yet, but you know what, let's write an episode where Joey can't remember if he's slept with a woman or not." Not to mention the Joey & Rachel storyline (Why, God, Why?) and the introduction of Charlie, too. In comparison to the stellar eighth season, this one's a drag. But the worst part? The episodes are suitable, but nothing great or standout, especially in comparison to some of the earlier seasons. The only bright lights are the introduction of Paul Rudd's Mike as a romantic partner for Phoebe, and Christina Applegate as Rachel's sister.
Best Episodes: "The One with Rachel’s Other Sister," "The One with the Memorial Service"
Worst Episode: "The One in Barbados"
Friends' first season is tenuous at best. There's nothing truly bad about the first season, it's just not as strong as later ones, and other sitcoms had much more impactful premier seasons, like Cheers. The first season is kind of stumbling around, trying to find its footing. There are clear standout moments—Chandler getting trapped in the ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre, to name one—but other things are far too Sitcom 101 to be revolutionary. I'll never understand why Ross had a monkey.
Best Episodes: "The One with the Blackout," "The One with the Boobies," "The One Where Rachel Finds Out"
Worst Episodes: "The One with Two Parts," "The One With the Monkey"
Season ten gets kind of a bad rap for basically turning every single character's personality up to 11, but it's saved by the show's final episode. Poignant and moving, while still maintaining the series' comedic tone, it's one of the best finales of a sitcom ever. In a savvy turn they ended the Joey and Rachel pairing within the first three episodes, and focused instead on Phoebe and Mike's relationship, with the pair marrying in the season's 12th episode. It does have some great, memorable moments, like "JOEY DOESN'T SHARE FOOD," but it's just...fine. She got off the plane, which is the only ending true fans would have been okay with.
Best Episodes:"The One with Princess Consuela," "The Last One," "The One with Ross's Tan"
Worst Episodes: "The One with the Cake," "The One With Ross' Grant"
The early stages of Ross and Rachel's relationship frame the entirety of Friends' second season, and that made for some amazing, funny television. From their first kiss at Central Perk to the heel-face-turn of Ross messing it all up in "The One with the List," it was good to see the writers lean in hard on what worked from the first season. They're still finding their footing in the second season, and certain things ("Fat Monica") haven't aged very well, but this season is full of discovery, both for the fans of the show and the ones creating it.
Best Episodes: "The One with the Prom Video," "The One Where Ross Finds Out"
Worst Episode: "The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant"
There are certain parts of Friends that haven't aged well, and the show's seventh season is chock-full of them. This is Courteney Cox's best season, performance-wise, and it should be: It's a showcase for her and Monica as a character, because Monica Geller planning a wedding is exactly as hilarious as you'd imagine, and the season's best episodes surround that very topic (see: "The One with Monica's Thunder," "The One with All the Candy"). But this is also the season in which Kathleen Turner is cast as Chandler's dad (a bit transphobic), Rachel starts sleeping with her young assistant, and where Ross tries to sleep with his cousin. Holiday armadillos be damned, this season hasn't withstood the test of time.
Best Episodes: "The One with Monica's Thunder," "The One Where They All Turn Thirty," "The One with All the Cheesecakes"
Worst Episodes: "The One with Chandler's Dad" "The One Where Chandler Doesn't Like Dogs" "The One With Rachel's Assistant"
Season six is a mixed bag. While we get some of the best performances out of the cast, and some of the most iconic moments—this is the season of "UNAGI"—it also feels like a filler season, just serving up episodes until Chandler and Monica can get engaged. David Schwimmer gives his best performances as Ross this season, especially in "The One Where Ross Got High" (one of the best episodes ever made) and "The One with the Routine," but the overuse of guest stars and the blatant product placement hold it back. It's pretty much saved by the extremely emotional and heartfelt season finale, when Chandler and Monica get engaged. We're not crying, you're crying.
Best Episodes: "The One with the Proposal," "The One with the Routine," “The One That Could Have Been,” "The One Where Ross Got High"
Worst Episodes: "The One with the Apothecary Table," "The One with Joey's Fridge" "The One with Mac and C.H.E.E.S.E."
Season three's impact can be summarized in one line: "WE WERE ON A BREAK." This season had so many poignant moments—the 'bottle episode' (shot on one set and taking place in real time) titled "The One Where No One's Ready," Ross and Rachel's breakup (again), the introduction of Phoebe's brother Frank Jr. It's pretty stellar, but at its weakest, it's very weak. A wasted use of Christine Taylor, a weird plot involving Monica's boyfriend Pete...we could do without. But who can forget the time Chandler and Joey fight over the essence of the chair, or the episode with the barbershop quartet?
Best Episodes: "The One Where No One's Ready," "The One with the Morning After" "The One with the Football"
Worst Episodes: "The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion," "The One with all the Jealousy"
With most shows, baby plot lines are a way to fill time, a sign the writers have no idea what to do next. But not in this case: This time, the series was boosted exponentially by Rachel's pregnancy, with Jennifer Aniston, who won the Best Actress in a Comedy Emmy for this season, delivering some of her career-best work. Rachel's struggle with her impending motherhood was so relatable and likable enough to revitalize the series and give new depth to characters the audience felt they already knew. Season eight is the only time Friends won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series, and it's well deserved, with its magic coming from the fact that the group as a unit is so strong. The best moments involve all six of them, like the group trying to figure out who is the father of Rachel's baby. We can even forgive the season for laying the groundwork for the future Joey/Rachel pairing, blargh.
Best Episodes: “The One with the Rumor” by a landslide, no question. Plus, "The One with the Red Sweater" and "The One with the Video Tape"
Worst Episode: "The One with Joey's Interview"
It was hard to choose between Season Four and Season Five for the top slot, but the fourth season's runner-up placement is simply because five had 24 solid, series-defining episodes, and season four had 22. In all seriousness, this season contains some of the best episodes the show ever had, and the focus shifting away from Ross and Rachel and towards Chandler and his heartbreaking situation with Kathy contribute to its superlativeness. On the other hand, Emily's character development is virtually nonexistent, which makes it hard not to feel like she solely existed to be a foil for Ross and Rachel's relationship. There's a good reason Lisa Kudrow won the Best Actress Emmy for this season—her performance in "The One with Ross' Wedding." Her attempts to get someone on the phone to alert the crew about Rachel are must-watch. Oh, and that season finale twist? One of the most genius moments in American sitcom history.
Best Episodes: "The One with the Embryos," "The One with All the Wedding Dresses," "The One with Chandler in a Box"
Worst Episode: "The One with the Cat"
Oh, season five. Where to even begin describing what is literal comedic perfection? You can @ me, because I will die on the "Season Five Is The Best Season" hill. It's the season that moved the series from "good show" to one of the best sitcoms in television history. This is the season that gave the world "PIVOT!," Ross and Rachel's friendship outside of romance, the tentpole relationship for the series in Chandler and Monica, and Phoebe birthing her brother's babies (loved writing that sentence). "The One with All the Thanksgivings" is simply an all-around perfect episode of television. We're done with Emily as a character (sorry, Helen Barksdale) and the season finale sets up multiple arcs that go on to change the entire series as we knew it. It's actually the best.
Best Episodes: Almost all of them. Literally. Don't make me choose. But if I have to choose, it's probably "The One Where Everybody Finds Out," a truly classic episode of this series. (Also, "The One with All the Kissing" and "The One in Vegas, Part II." Sorry we can't choose!)
Worst Episode: "The One With Joey's Bag." Sorry.
Amanda Mitchell is a writer and podcaster with bylines at Marie Claire, OprahMag, Allure, Byrdie, Stylecaster, Bon Appetit, and more. Her work exists at the apex of beauty, pop culture, and absurdity. A human Funfetti cake, she watches too much television, and her favorite season is awards season. You can read more of her work at amandaelizabethmitchell.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lochnessmanda.
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