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The charming, clever sitcom that it once was
I must admit I discovered the likes of Friends in 1996 through popular demand, even though I rarely accredit recommendations to my independent choices. The very first episode I watched was presumably a rerun, one where Monica found a piece of former boyfriend Richard's hair in the sink and launches into a retrospective, whiny speech about her post-break-up yearning. One of the earliest things I became aware of was that the cast had an admirable chemistry not exceptional, but one of the better groupings today.
Since that first episode, I've watched as much as I could in attempt to absorb the witty humour that the show seemed to be correlated with, and to my fortune, I detected it. The most obvious amusement one can behold from the show are the lines used most often, but the true genius behind the series is its collaboration of inside jokes in each episode, ones you could only comprehend if you are familiar with the character's backgrounds and their personalities and quirks. These are not jokes that you would normally laugh out loud at - that is saved for the surface of the humour and righteously so but instead ones that you would smile at in some mirth but more so in recognition. The enlightenment you feel when you can distinguish them is what makes the show so unique. One such is example is Gunther. Only when you know that he is secretively in love with Rachel do you appreciate his small, but worthy and constant appearances. He consistently drops so many hints of his concealed insecurity that you treasure the irony of how completely oblivious the six are to his crush on Rachel.
This is definitely one of the funniest sitcoms out there. It is not brilliant; rarely can a sitcom be righteously given such a title as it meant to light-hearted, comically entertaining and never picked apart meticulously so that the basis of its supposed philosophical depth can be uprooted.
The general ideas and scenarios are nothing abnormal, at least during the first two seasons, but the inventive, hilarious script is apparently all that holds the show together, which is a fair concept. Not until I began watching reruns with renewed interest about a year ago did I start to truly take notice of these wonderfully appealing characters. Naturally Chandler has always seemed skillfully witty, but the rest now stand out as well. Joey's stupidity and lack of understanding of sarcasm is simply hilarious and can be attributed to much of the humour he provides. I love it when Chandler makes fun of him and he doesn't realize it. How can anybody not like Phoebe? She seems to me the most likeable character with her simple, delightful remarks, hair-brained assumptions and sweet disposition. Monica's neuroticism is always funny, but many of her supposedly amusing lines aren't particularly clever, revolving around sarcasm so extreme that it's not smart-alecky like Chandler's. Rachel's character isn't especially as complex as it once was, but it's passable. It was only recently that I've noticed how comically talented David Schwimmer truly is he portrays the geeky, irritating perfectionist Ross with immaculate precision. A character of such standards need not have so many little charming quirks, but nearly every one of his facial expressions and accentuated lines ends up being irresistibly funny.
My only complaint is a rather immense one. The show has taken too many rapidly decreasing downfalls mingled with occasional uprisings ever since perhaps the third or fourth season. I never liked the British lady Ross ended up marrying and later divorcing, and I don't think anybody else did, as we were only filled with sympathy for Rachel and thus ended up disliking the character. Chandler and Monica are a dreadful couple, they have absolutely no romantic chemistry. Why can't the writers see this? Ross and Rachel were so cute together that putting them back together again, for real, seems like the logical thing to be done. The trip to Las Vegas spanning over the last episodes of the fifth seasons and the beginnings of the sixth was a terrible one and provided very few laughs. The middle of the sixth season picked up again, what with Phoebe dating the police officer, but with the disappearance of Phoebe's guitar, the ugly naked guy, and its overall fast-paced straightforwardness, only the nightly reruns before the fifth season are worth watching.
3rd Rock from the Sun (1996)
Lively, original, and intriguing sitcom!
My remorse at not discovering this wonderful comedy before its syndication origins last fall cannot be matched. I didn't even find the show as enjoyable at first as I do now until a time later still, when I unearthed the roots of the plot and actually comprehended the inside jokes. I find this a phenomenal, unique show, a refreshing touch amidst an enormous accumulation of 'single-people-in-the-city' comedies (although some of these are worthy amongst themselves). I love the ingenious concept of providing insights of human culture, civilization, and particularly behavior in such a comical, hilarious method. Bizarre components of humanity I would never have noticed are cleverly pointed out in this terrific series!
The entire cast does an outstanding acting job, each performer portraying their character as vividly and illustriously as possible. From the moment I was introduced to Dick, Tommy, Sally, and Harry, I fell in love with them - each one is so comical and likeable, their separate characteristics distinctly shown, yet their vulnerability blends them in so closely.
John Lithgow does a brilliant depiction of the hopelessly gullible and seriously self-centered Dick Solomon. His emphatic, articulate voice and precise comic timing are simply excellent. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as my favourite character, the charming Tommy, is just as equally talented. The notion of having the oldest, wisest alien reduced to a teenager is hilarious. His intelligence, quirks, and constant snappy wisecracks are marvelous.
Kristen Johnston as Sally is an absolute scream. Though not as conceited as Dick, she is very advantageous of her outrageously attractive self, and boisterously so. Mini-skirts look terrible on a tall, leggy person, but Sally doesn't seem to think so! Finally there's oddball Harry (French Stewart), who contributes more than is necessary to his share of 'stupid humour' on the show, but his part is very cunningly scripted and acted, making him flat-out hilarious rather than just stupid and senseless. His nearly-closed eyes, those incompatible, goofy patterned clothes (furry jacket!), and that voice, oh, classic.
The amusing supporting characters are nothing to sneeze at either. Deadpan Jane Curtin as the neurotic Mary, Simbi Khali as Nina, with her humorous keen remarks, the deliciously funny Elmarie Wendel as the eccentric, lustful old lady Dubcek (`Italian gentleman. very nice.'), and Wayne Knight as Officer Don, he cracks me up with his chubby figure and inability to yield to Sally's charms! The assortment of dim-witted students in Dick's physics class are great too: idiots Pitman, Bug, and especially Leon, and the chatty Caryn, are always funny.
Interestingly enough, 3rd Rock has featured a collection of very impressive guest stars over the years - Kathy Bates, William Shatner, Michael Hasselhoff, John Cleese (don't miss his episodes!), and many colourful others.
The script is sincerely superb, each episode providing fresh new laughs, renewing old ones and an intriguing scenario. In a way it is less a modernistic sitcom-type show than a comic book put to life. It's the subtle, clever jokes that make me believe this. Meanwhile, 3rd Rock is chock-full of various jokes and gags ranging from clever satire, dirty humour, sarcasm and wit, and other forms of amusement that don't need classification.
Kudos to everyone involved in this fabulous, hilarious production, and let's hope for many more glorious seasons!