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Six friends, two rooms, and ten years. Who’d have thought that this pop culture phenomenon would sprout so many loyal fans and encapsulate a worldwide audience of tens of millions? Back in 1994, I never would have thought I’d be here, a decade on, sobbing into my sweater’s cuffs as the final images of these six friends walk away, never to return. But it happened. This is the tenth and final season of one of the crème de la crème’s of television. Kleenex at the ready folks.

Series
Friends has always been semi-serial based. Arcs have interwoven themselves throughout every year, but it is easy to see just how important they were during season ten, the year that wrapped everything up. During the later years, I’d say from maybe season eight onwards, the show became more dependant on these mini-arcs. More so than in the early days when it seemed every episode was a one-hit-wonder. This extra writing power that came later on only strengthened the show, made it feel more into tune with its premise. Season ten was the perfect opportunity to really lay down the gauntlet and give us all something to remember the show by.

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The often labelled cliché that some associate with Friends, such as the common mythos that people only ever tune in to see who’s sleeping with who, is only a matter of opinion however. Yes, a great amount of ‘bedding’ can be found peppered throughout the series, but that is far and away what this show is not. For those in love with it, like me, the show stands for more than what its detractors label it. It isn’t simple a sex-themed show, it’s a ripe labour of love from the writers and producers and even the actors themselves. It stands for exactly what the title of the show is in itself. It is about, well…friendship and the trials and tribulations that come with it. No other show on the air, past or present reflects this euphoric ambiance as well as Friends does. That feeling was there at the start and it sure as hell was there at the end.

Right at the end of season nine, something happened that many had not just wanted to happen, but secretly wished for too—Rachel and Joey finally made out. It was a huge relief for those who had wooed Joey on from the start. The pair seemed, at least at first glance, as the perfect match. Hand in hand, everything felt natural once more. Sadly, this romance doesn’t last for very long but the choices the writers made were the right ones, thought it would have been nice for it to last a little longer. Some extreme doses of comical bliss spring out of this last pitch, some of the series’ best since Monica and Chandler got their groove on in merry old London, way back in season four.

As with every other year, season ten produces some out-and-out corker’s that’ll linger in your mind long after you see them. No other episode does this more so than ‘The One Where the Stripper Cries’. Surprisingly this would be my option for best in show this year, not in fact the last episode aptly entitled ‘The Last One’. While the last ever episode was a fantastic way to send out the cast, there is a magic in ‘Stripper’ that really sums up the show in a better, more fitting way. It also ultimately punches out more entertainment and goofy fun in the process. Fans will know it for Danny DeVito’s memorable appearance as the stripper himself. It’s laugh out loud all the way, touching and sheer genius to behold. It’s also the last time we take a trip down memory lane with the younger Friends. Definitely one of the show’s finest.  

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Other greats include the hilarious ‘The One with Ross’s Tan’ where Ross becomes a shade (or two) darker than he had hoped when a trip to the tanning spa goes awry. ‘The One with Ross’s Grant’ offers some seriously painful laughs when Monica and Rachel fight over a hideous painting that Phoebe made years back and of course how can I forget ‘The Last One’. While it is surprisingly lower-key than one might expect, and not as comical as the typical episode, it does indeed send ‘em out in pure, natural style. A fitting season finale (and season) to a damn near perfect show.

I would openly associate one word with this season: bittersweet. With every passing episode you can feel the noose tightening around your collar; you can almost smell it in the air. Alas, when the end finally does come, it will do one of two things. It will either make you cry or it will not. It all depends on your loyalty to the show. As for myself, I openly admit to shedding the occasional tear at the end. Then again, I have spent the last year totally engaged with every season of it on DVD. It has, on more than one occasion, brought me out of depression and made me smile again. It has also quite often cheered me up from the gloomy times and it has always, always ‘been there for me’, so to speak. I love it, it’s one of my favourite television shows of all time and I am proud to say that it went out in style. Gone, but NEVER forgotten.

Video
Nothing other than a sitcom could get away with having a transfer so mundane. While that may be too harsh a statement to make, you cannot deny that the image is far from perfection. Judging by how popular these releases tend to be, it wouldn’t hurt for Warner to clean the print up a tad. That said, things aren’t all dank and depressing, there does happen to be a silver lining on the horizon. Season ten actually does improve on prior releases, if only by a fraction. Grain hasn’t dissipated to any major degree, nor has the edge enhancement issues. To be frank and to slightly contradict my little grunt above, it’s as good as needs be. Or maybe that can be said only because we’ve simply grown used to this quality over the years. Who knows?

Like the previous nine releases, season ten has been given the usual full frame transfer. Colours are pleasantly flushed out and while black levels could have been darker, I have seen worse. In all, this isn’t a bad way to send out the Friends DVD collection after all.

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Audio
While you are not going to expect thunderous bass and heart-stopping surround sound from a simple sitcom, Dolby’s 2.0 soundtrack may just surprise you more than you would think. Firstly let’s get one thing straight: there are no lower frequencies or direction effects here. All you get are the two front speakers operating, which are perfect for pure dialogue driven monologues. In that, this soundtrack succeeds. Dialogue is crystal clear, sharp and almost always alight with energy—what more could you ask for?

Extras
Improving over its predecessors, content-wise, season ten channels through a hearty offering. Firstly you may notice that this boxed set contains one less disc than either of season seven, eight or nine. The reason for that should be plainly obvious. There are fewer episodes this season, most notably the penultimate double clip show that was shown before the finale has been omitted from this DVD release. Unfortunate, as I feel it would have been a nice reminiscent inclusion to the overall set.

The first extra to note is the extended finale. Personally, I never actually saw the ‘Last One’ when it aired so unfortunately I am unable to comment on what exactly has been stretched out over its television counterpart. Still, I trust Warner’s word that it has.

The biggest feature here would have to be the somewhat epic ‘The one that goes behind the scenes’ documentary. Surprising only for its length (forty plus minutes), it rambles on about all the production aspects. Finally, and after what seems like an eternity of waiting we are provided with some truly great material of which fans have been screaming out for. This feature (and more) is exactly what should have been produced for every season, not just this one. Still, it’s great that they are finally offloading them to us.  

‘Friend of Friends’ is a three part treat that lasts for the better part of an hour in total. The first is a featurette with Elliot Gould, Christina Pickles, Maggie Wheeler, Jane Sibbett, the second with Morgan Fairchild, Alexandra Holden, Cole Sprouse, Eddie Cahill, Paget Brewster and lastly the third with Teri Garr, David Arquette, Debra Jo Rupp, Lauren Tom, Bonnie Somerville, and June Gable.

‘Flashback Gag Reel’ is pretty self explanatory and gives you about half an hour of purely narcotic laughs. Another feature long overdue I feel. Finally there is a short feature entitled ‘Friends around the world’ nothing too taxing and the shortest feature on the disc.

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Overall
If you’re a fan, buy it, if not, then you may want to start from the beginning as you’ll fine no joy or pleasure here. Season ten is very much a season for the loyal fans, tying up all the arcs and rounding out the entire series. Was it the series to end on? I would have to declare that it was. In all, Friends was a once-a-generation event, much as Cheers (another classic sitcom) was in my parents’ era. An absolute must for anyone who appreciates the fine art that is comedy and indeed for the television format.

The DVD box set is a delight to say the least. While the image transfer could have been better, it isn’t without merit. Likewise, the Dolby soundtrack is more than apt for the source material and may even pleasantly surprise the avid listener. The extra features are where the real meaty goodness can be found however. Disc five is simply jam packed with everything you will have no doubt been longing for during the previous nine seasons of releases. I know I have echoed this thought throughout the whole review but as a sign-off line I have to say it again: Warner and the writing staff have sent this series out with style, both with the show, the image, and sound and importantly for DVD, the features.


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