In which it's the one where they stop being there for us.

To be printed 04/03/10.


In a world as rapidly evolving as ours, you can’t underestimate the importance of the constant factors; those small, unchanging details that provide reliable comfort simply by always being the same. Well aware that I’m sounding like the “it has to be Heinz” advert, I’d like to invite you to consider the comforting constants in your own life. Maybe it’s being given the same 5-pack of grey marl M&S dress socks every single Christmas. Maybe it was a nice packet of Werther’s Originals, before they cocked them up with all this chocolate fandango. 

For me, dear readers, it was Friends. Not real friends, of course – they’re a persistent source of irregularity and chaos, what with their actually living lives and not being fictional and everything – but the TV ones. There’s something infinitely reassuring in knowing that at any time, day or night, you can turn on the TV and find Friends somewhere.

It long ago stopped being a programme to have an opinion on, like or dislike, etc, and instead became a sort of trusty sideboard in the furniture of modern living. They’re like everyone’s friendly, unfeasibly glossy relatives. They’ll be there for us, when the rain starts to fall. Up to now.

Yes, Channel 4 has announced that from autumn next year it will stop broadcasting the show. What? WHAT? After having the New York sixsome on constant rotation since the series ended in 2004, the channel will be handing the rights to Friends over to Comedy Central. Which, I feel I ought to make clear now before any papers are signed, I don’t have. 

Of all the foolish decisions made by TV execs in the past year (“Let’s put Amanda Holden in a circus and see if she’s funny…”), this has to be the most brainless. So I will now pay tribute to 16 years of relentless Central Perking with my list of Reasons Friends Should be on Forever:

It changed the vernacular of a nation. “Nubbin”, “mississippily”, “Gunther”. All words we didn’t know before Friends took over our screens – and isn’t our vocabulary richer for them?

It is the yardstick for all viewing. Friends acts as a filter, dredging out all the substandard televisual content we might otherwise watch, by way of simple comparison. “ ‘My Dog Ate My Tumour: a compelling look at one woman’s battle with illness and canine devotion’… or would I rather just watch Friends?” Likewise all new comedy offerings can be tested by simply asking, “yeah, but does it beat watching Ross getting that spray tan? DOES IT?”

It does brilliant work drumming up trade for coffee shops. Not since the 18th century has coffee-drinking been such an important cultural activity. We might liken the scene in Central Perk to that of the Restoration coffee houses frequented by Samuel Pepys and the like, except that instead of searing political discourse, they had conversations about smelly cats and breasts. And William Hazlitt didn’t drink his lattes out of such big cups. 

It is a wondrous demonstration of human ageing. One of the best ways to enjoy Friends, I find, is to watch a really early episode followed by a really late episode, and use it as a spot-the-difference game. How thin is Monica? How chubby is Chandler? Is Rachel’s hair at peak long-and-straightness or is it in that woeful bob? (NB – Joey will always look exactly the same. Don’t bother with him.)

So, I have 18 months to find myself a new televisual comfort blanket before the Friends dance in that fountain one last time. That, or just save up to get Comedy Central.