Friends: “I’ll be there for you!”
Yeah, right. Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Ross and Joey: where did you go? We’ve known where to find you: in SitCom World, you’ve been at Central Perk; in the Real World of on-demand television, you’ve been on Netflix. Now that we’re in the ‘20s, you’re still locked-in-time in your West Village apartments, but the contract with Netflix has gone away, and it’ll be July before Warner Brothers provides solace to the Friend-less with their new streaming service…
They were virtual unknowns in 1994, when NBC took a shot at creating a weekly installment aimed at Baby Busters who couldn’t relate to the more-typical family settings that had been the Boomer basis for real-life revelry. They paid them $22,500/episode for their individual contributions; by Season 10, the individual rate had climbed to $1 million/episode. By then, the on-screen picture of struggling singles in New York City was tough to reconcile with their real-life fame and fortune in Hollywood.
Where can you go to find Friends? If you subscribe to cable or satellite television, that’s not a dilemma worth your worry: it seems that the 10 seasons/236 episodes are still offered in a daily dose to the bingers whose relationship with the cast is deeper and more transparent than with any flesh-and-blood acquaintances in their own, real world.
Howard Schultz launched Starbucks a decade before the Friends’ debut; when NBC introduced the gang to America, there were 425 coffee houses with green umbrellas. By the time the series ended, there were 8,569 Starbucks within walking distance. Schultz’ social theory was to create the “Third Place” – between home and work – offering an experience that went beyond the coffee-in-paper-cup. Having Friends – whose lives revolved around the orange couch that is now an iconic relic of an era – as the onscreen ambassadors for a chain offering a venue for relationships to be found and fostered was a marketplace masterstroke.
New generations have now come onstage; the Millennials have taken their place behind the Busters, and things have changed. Though Starbucks now boasts over 15,000 outlets in 50 states, the people inside aren’t talking. Everyone’s glued to a screen… and they aren’t watching Friends. Social media is a platform as fictional as the Warner Brothers studio in Burbank. Eye contact, handshakes and hugs are disappearing as tweets and texts become the script for the shrill interchanges of the modern era. No one is singing “I’ll be there for you…” these days.
Families are fractured; employment has returned to saturation; the Two Places aren’t working the Third Place isn’t cutting it. Scratching the itch that can only be assuaged through meaningful relationships creates a frustration that runs deep. The epidemic of loneliness won’t be solved with 5G…
God knows that every person needs people; leaders and loners, winners and losers, extroverts and introverts: there are no exceptions. Tom Hanks couldn’t survive alone on a desert island without a soccer ball – named Wilson – with whom he could establish a pseudo-bond: to be alone is to be dead with a heartbeat. Where can one find the friends that are necessary for life?
Someone is praying for you to have those relationships: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-24).
The appeal of the Christian faith? Eternal life in Heaven, with God. Until then, an amazing provision: the real Third Place is the local church, where we can be “one,” like the Father and Son…