My husband and I are very slowly making our way through the Friends DVDs. He’s never seen them before. I have. Neither of these facts are relevant. Because last night, we watched Season 3, Episode 2: The One Where No One’s Ready.
Tonight I watched the commentary for it and found out this episode was originally written because of budget constraints. It takes place almost exclusively in Monica and Rachel’s apartment (just 30 seconds at the end are elsewhere), and it’s the only Friends episode to take place in real time. Twenty-two minutes of a show, twenty-two minutes of their lives.
When I got to the end of watching it last night, with my writer’s brain on, I told my husband, “This is absolute genius.” The Unofficial Guide to Friends calls it forgettable, but it is considered the third most popular episode with fans. (source) As a fan, and not a writer of the guide, I side with the public. (Look at the reviews here, for instance) And I think the script is written beautifully.
In this episode, there are four different story lines, although Phoebe’s is minor and I’m going to ignore it for the rest of this post. Five of the six characters have perfect goal/motivation/conflicts set up, and the writing intertwines the three main plots and the five different motivations perfectly.
Let’s start with Ross and Rachel.
Ross is the driving force in this episode, and therefore the protagonist, albeit one that isn’t always likable. His GMCs are very clear.
Goal: Get to the dinner on time.
Motivation: “Look, our table is down in front, okay, my boss is gonna be there, everyone will see if we arrive after it starts.” (source)
Conflict: Literally everyone else. Except Phoebe at first. Joey and Chandler are too busy having their own fight to get dressed, Monica’s in the middle of an emotional breakdown because she’s not over Richard and she thinks he might have left a message, and Rachel wants to look good for Ross, to the detriment of not getting ready at all.
Goal: Find the best outfit to wear to the dinner.
Motivation: “Well, honey. I’m just trying to look nice for your big night.” (source)
Conflict: She can’t find the perfect outfit, the right shoes for the perfect dress, etc. As Ross’s conflict escalates, he ends up in direct conflict with her, wanting her to wear literally anything (a towel and a Halloween costume are both mentioned) as long as she gets ready (and thus fulfills Ross’s goal).
Next up, we have the story that follows Monica.
Goal: Find out if Richard called her.
Motivation: She’s still in love with him.
Conflict: Herself. She’s scared to call him, does anyway, leaves a message, is scared that is wrong, and hacks into his answering machine to listen to the message she leaves. Things get worse from there. (and also very telling of the 1990s setting.)
That leaves the funniest and most nonsensical conflict of the episode: Joey and Chandler.
Goal: At first, to get his seat back.
Motivation: “The big deal is I was sitting there last, so, that’s my seat.”
Conflict: Joey is in his seat.
Goal: To keep the seat he was in, and pay Chandler back for stealing his underwear (which is Chandler’s solution to his conflict).
Motivation: “How is this your seat? … you left.”
Conflict: Chandler stole Joey’s underwear (he had gone commando before that) as retribution for Joey stealing Chandler’s chair. Now he needs underwear back so he thinks of retribution for that.
The best part of the show is how everything intertwines. On the commentary, the executive producers talk about how hard it was, weaving four different stories (including Phoebe’s) into the dialogue. But it works perfectly. Take this part:
ROSS: Yeah, see Mon, listen, listen. When Carol and I broke up, I went through the same thing. And you know what I did?
ROSS: I…..got…..dressed. Really, really quickly. Okay, okay. [Rachel starts to follow Monica into her room, but Ross stops her and sends her back to her room.] There we go, there we go.
CHANDLER: You know what, okay, fine. Don’t get up, you just sit right there. I just hope, you don’t mind, you know, my hand right here. [holds his hand a couple of inches in front of Joey’s face] Op, not touching, can’t get mad! Not touching can’t get mad! Not touching can’t get mad!
[Joey flings some dip onto Phoebe’s dress]
PHOEBE: Ah! Oh my God! You r-r-rotten boys!
CHANDLER and JOEY: Sorry Phoebe.
JOEY: I’m so sorry.
And just like that. Seven lines of dialogue that touch on every single plot line in the episode. As I head off for another writing sprint, let me ask you two things:
- How have you done with combining plots in your writing?
- What have you learned from watching television?