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Premiering initially in 1994 as part of NBC’s ‘Must See TV’ prime-time line-up, Friends had a strong following from the beginning. A likeable ensemble cast and a catchy theme song helped six actors go from no-name to household names almost instantly. Being aired on the same night as such television icons as Seinfeld and ER, Friends benefited from a huge viewing audience and eventually added to it as well. Up to season eight, the show earned thirty three Emmy nominations, with three wins.

Season eight of Friends takes place in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States (notably in New York City where the show takes place). The show did not make it a point to mention their connection to the event, but instead acted as a nice distraction from the real world. At this point in the Friends time line Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Monica (Courtney Cox Arquette) are now married, which acts as the foundation to many personal storylines that take place throughout this season. The personal stakes are high for the entire cast of characters (with the arguable exception of Phoebe) and as a result of this the stories are as good as they’ve ever been.

Friends: Season 8
Season eight picks up right where season seven left off, as Joey (Matt LeBlanc) arrived just in time to conduct Chandler and Monica’s wedding ceremony. The cliff-hanger from last season was Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) realizing that she was pregnant and with the season premier taking place at the wedding the question on everyone’s mind was of course, who is the father? A few episodes into the season it is revealed that one night of passion with former boyfriend Ross (David Schwimmer) resulted in Rachel’s pregnancy, of course making him the father. Of all the character’s in this season that undergo change, Joey’s character grows more so than any other. Portrayed almost exclusively in previous seasons as a womanizer, Joey now takes on a heroic role serving as Rachel’s emotional headrest for the majority of the season. He is consistently portrayed as a caring individual, and LeBlanc hands down gives his best performances of the series in this season.

This season of Friends was very good at accentuating strong points of the main story. For example, the banter between newlyweds Monica and Chandler is extremely effective and entertaining as their relationship grows, learning more about each other. One instance that stands out is when they are sorting out their CDs in which Chandler tells neat-freak Monica that none of the albums are in the correct case; it’s later revealed that Chandler owns not one, but two copies of the Annie soundtrack. Also, Ross’ insistence of always trying to do the right thing only to have it blow up in his face is another element that works beautifully in this season. A perfect example of this is when he attempts to tell his girlfriend Mona that he is fathering a child from his ex-girlfriend. The scene goes into high gear when Rachel’s father shows up to confront Ross about the situation.

My complaints for the season are two-fold: for one I felt that the episodes were too reliant on sexual content, when it wasn’t necessary to do so. Call me old fashioned but I feel the cleverest comedy doesn’t need to rely on raunchy elements, but more clever ways of getting the point across. I’m not one to spit at low brow comedy by any means, but I felt that sexual terms were used too often just to get a cheap laugh. My second complaint stems from the feeling that this season feels very similar to a soap opera. We start with a woman pregnant who won’t reveal the father, only to have the father revealed who also has a girlfriend. Then his best friend falls in love the mother of his child. I even recall the promotion ads for the shows (which are notably absent from the set) feeling much too close to a soap opera as opposed to a sitcom. That said, there were some fantastic episodes on this season, some of which can even be considered as some of the series’ best:

Friends: Season 8
Three episodes particularly shine for me in the season of Friends, the first of which being The One with the Halloween Party. Perhaps the reason why I like this episode so much contradicts my previous low brow comment (it involves a comment made by Monica during an arm wrestling match), but it’s still hysterical to see the costumes that the character’s wear: Ross as “Spudnic”, Chandler as a bunny, and Joey dressing as Chandler. The One with the Rumour features guest star Brad Pitt (Aniston’s real life husband) as a bitter high school classmate of Monica, Rachel, and Ross who joins our crew for Thanksgiving dinner. This episode is a perfect example of the show’s effective use of rising intensity in terms of comedy. The gags build throughout the episode to result in a big payoff towards the end. One of the funniest moments of this episode reveals that Ross slept with a librarian from his school while he was a student there.

The best episode of the season, and one of the all time best, is without question The One with the Videotape. When our friends are discussing what happened the night Ross and Rachel’s baby was conceived there is a discrepancy between the parents to-be as to who came on to who. After an argument and a hysterical flashback to Joey teaching Ross his techniques on how to pick up women, Ross announces that he inadvertently taped the whole interaction. Of course everyone is curious, and the tape is exhibited to the group to answer the question at hand. Again, this is a perfect example of rising comedic intensity throughout the episode which pays off in the end. I know this episode is another sexual content show, but the real theme behind it of pick-up lines is where the comedy lies.

Having been nominated for eleven Emmy Awards for their eighth season, Friends arguably grew out of the shadows of NBC’s other giant sitcoms by finally winning the award for best comedy series. This season featured very personal storylines for the characters whom we have grown to love over the years, upping the emotional stakes considerably. However, I feel that the sitcom felt more like a soap opera this season because of those aforementioned reasons. Although Aniston did a great job as Rachel Green this time around, I do have trouble figuring out how it was any different than her other performances in the previous seven seasons. If anyone deserved an award for their work this season, I would have given one to either Matt LeBlanc or David Schimmer. LeBlanc played a character in a situation that was very relatable (not being the friend of a single pregnant woman, but crushing on a good friend) and also had to turn his character around 180 degrees in the process. Schwimmer was just always at the centre of all the big laughs in the series, and his work was seriously overlooked over the entire series duration.

Friends: Season 8
Presented in the traditional 1:33:1 aspect ratio for a sitcom, season eight of Friends is a very average looking video transfer. The picture is consistently soft from episode to episode with noise being a common issue as well. These aren’t issues that are distracting enough to really deter from the show itself, but it’s very disappointing that shows which were filmed fifteen years ago look as good as this show which was shot three years ago. One other issue I noticed is that there is a scratch on the print on one of the episodes (I believe it’s The One with the Baby Shower); this isn’t a knock on the transfer, but just a heads up on a damaged negative. Other than the mentioned problems the transfer is generally okay. The colours are generally vivid, and I didn’t notice any haloing from edge enhancement. Again, it’s just disappointing that the transfer for such a recent show looks very average.

The audio, presented exclusively in Dolby Digital 5.0, is again an average effort. The channels are used fairly well (considering it’s a sitcom) with the sound ringing clear consistently throughout the episodes. The laugh tracks, while they clearly are not synthesized, just don’t sound natural on the track. It doesn’t drown out the actor’s dialogue but the audience laughter is simply given too much preference on the audio channels. Also, the catchy Rembrandts theme song “I’ll Be There For You” sound very unbalanced; the instrumentals come off more prevalent than the lyrics. While this isn’t a huge deal, it’s just something that shouldn’t have gotten through the quality control stage like that. The only time the song sounds right is during the audio commentary tracks (which the participants remain silent through the opening credits). Like the video, the sound quality is not poor by any means on season eight of Friends. It is just disappointing that it’s not better considering its age.

Friends: Season 8
The extras on this set of Friends are dismal at best. On three episodes we are given a group audio commentary from Friends executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. One interesting note from this extra is that up until December of 2001 they did not know whether or not season eight would be the show’s last season, and therefore had to produce the show around that fact. It’s easy to see that once the contract for the next season was set the storyline became a bit more daring around January where Joey began to have romantic feelings towards Rachel; they openly admit that when the season started, they had no intentions of that particular story taking place. Other than that bit of information, the commentaries are extremely dull and disappointed. It’s very discouraging that there are no cast commentaries on the set, and also that the commentaries that we do have are only on three episodes out of twenty three.

The gag reel for season eight isn’t anything special either. Clocking in at roughly five minutes of footage, the only highlight is Rachel and Ross hiding on the set from Joey after a retake is attempted. It’s basically just the six of them laughing at each other, with nothing incredibly entertaining going on. This is something that casual viewers of the show won’t care for, but loyal watchers will probably enjoy. In my opinion this gag reel doesn’t come close to touching the ones from the Seinfeld seasons. A little game show feature of the show Joey was auditioning for (Bamboozled) and it plays exactly as it did in the show. I wouldn’t say this is even worth looking at, as it gets annoying pretty quick.

Rounding out the rest of the extras are a couple promotional items: one is a look at the season nine release of Friends, hosted by Gunther (regular Friends character played by James Michael Tyler). The other short feature looks at recurring characters on the show in addition to guest stars, such as Ross’ season eight girlfriend Mona (Bonnie Sommerville) and Phoebe’s stalker (played by David Arquette). None of these are anything special and only take up empty space on the fourth disc of the set.

Friends: Season 8
Considering that these episodes only aired a few years ago and comparing this DVD release to other ones made by Warner Bros. this year, I am considerably let down by this set. No chapter breaks in the episodes is a very primitive artefact that found its way onto this release. The video quality is surprisingly average considering its age, and the extras are few and far between. The quality of the show itself is pretty good, but the effort in this set is lacking. With the season being priced fairly moderately it is still a must have for die-hard fans of the show. For the casual viewer, I would only buy the set if I really liked the episodes it contains: do not look for anything more than that, period.