On Tuesday October 1st, fans of the hit US sitcom Friends were invited to a free talk held in Minghella Studios by Dr Simone Knox, an Associate Professor in Film & Television at the University. This free talk coincided with the release of her book Friends: A Reading of the Sitcom, through Palgrave Macmillan on 7 October.
The talk entitled Friends at 25: Why a sitcom from the 1990s still matters was an opportunity for people to hear more about both the cultural significance and importance of the show. The book Friends: A Reading of the Sitcom, which Dr Knox co-authored with Kai Hanno Schwind, an expert in television comedy and production studies at the Kristiana University College in Oslo, features exclusive interviews with show creator Marta Kauffman, executive producer Kevin S. Bright, director James Burrows and production designer John Shaffner.
In an interview for the book, show creator Marta Kauffman describes how the character of Ross was written with David Schwimmer in mind, and that the character, along with the rest of the cast, was developed throughout the series to play to the actors’ strengths.
Dr Knox says: “Schwimmer’s performance frequently draws on slapstick, which has often been regarded as one of the more basic forms of humour, but this does not explain its widespread appeal.
“This dismissal, by audiences, critics or scholars, neglects to explore and assess the challenges and intricacies of a successful physical comedic performance, and the particular skills and craft involved, which are prevalent in a number of scenes in Friends, especially those involving Schwimmer.”
The book, believed to be the first of its kind, examines cast performance, use of set design, character diversity and representation and also endeavours to answer the question of why a 25-year-old sitcom is still able to capture the huge audiences that it remains to do to this day.
The book also reveals how David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Ross can be placed as one of the greatest comedic performances of our time.
Dr Knox explains: “Out of the entire cast, Schwimmer, who has a background in the Chicago theatre scene, was perhaps most aware of the full range of performance opportunities and challenges presented by multi-camera filming before going into production and, more significantly, how to engage with them in front of a live audience.
“This is particularly visible in Ross’s many slapstick moments in which Schwimmer’s strength of physicality, vocal delivery and comic timing are used particularly well.”
She also says: “The beauty of this cast, and Schwimmer in particular, is they make it look so easy. Their reactions to one another, their awareness of the multi-camera production, and the way that they actually offered each other feedback on their performances in order to improve, all add to the uniqueness of the show.
Dr Knox concludes: “Its cultural impact has been significant, launching catchphrases, influencing the English language; [the series] inspired a hairstyle, and became a cultural touchstone within the broader media landscape.
“Clearly, Friends has achieved a longevity for its fans that far outstrips its ten seasons, and is indisputably one of the most significant programmes in the history of television and media culture.”
“Friends’ intimate bond with viewers certainly shows no signs of dying off. A towering presence in television culture for a quarter of a century (and counting), we hope that this book will help to give Friends the central place it warrants in television scholarship.”