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Eight full years after initially debuting, Friends was rolling along, seemingly as popular as ever. Over the last few years, it appeared as though each season would be its last, only to have the group of six agree to return for another run. Season nine, while not its most creative, does offer up some very good laughs and storylines. Warner Brothers has recently released the penultimate season on DVD.

Friends: The Complete Ninth Season
Series
If you don't know the story behind Friends yet, I would have to ask, "Where have you been for the last decade?" Friends is the sitcom involving six twenty-something (although now thirty-something) individuals, and the trials and tribulations they go through on a daily basis. Once they were care-free young adults, but over the course of the last few years, the group has grown up and matured to face new adventures (except for Joey-who seemingly will never grow up).

Season eight ended with Rachel giving birth to Emma, who was fathered by Ross.  As Joey was in Rachel's room, he accidentally knocked a wedding ring out of Ross' jacket. As he went to pick it up, he turned to Rachel, who mistook the actions for a wedding proposal. Rachel said, "Yes." Will Joey tell Rachel the truth? What will Ross do when he finds out? Will Joey truly marry Rachel? These were the mysteries that viewers were left to ponder over the season of summer reruns.

The two major plot points that dominate the first half of the season are the birth of Rachel's daughter Emma and Chandler being transferred to Tulsa, Oklahoma by his company. Come to find out that during a staff meeting in which Chandler fell asleep, he apparently agreed to oversee the Tulsa branch of his employer. That means he only gets to see his wife Monica from Thursday night though Monday morning. This situation offers up some interesting ideas but really only seems to be utilized twice for any sort of story points, both of which are dealt with rather quickly. In the end, the writers quickly abandon this story arc (as Chandler abandons his job), and he returns to New York City. In regards to Emma, the writers do a good job of keeping her as a major story point throughout. Rachel's reactions to not being able to get her to stop crying, Rachel's first attempt to go out after Emma's birth, and Emma's first real ‘human’ responses are all played out in hilarious fashion.

Friends: The Complete Ninth Season
The other members of the sextet get their moments, too. Phoebe has finally found herself in a serious relationship, with Mike Hannigan (played by Paul Rudd). In one episode where she goes to a dinner party, Lisa Kudrow gives an outstanding comedic performance trying to impress Mike's parents. This relationship will ebb and flow through the remaining episodes, and provide some truly funny moments.

For the second half of the season, the introduction of Charley (Aisha Tyler), a colleague of Ross' will provide much of the impetus for the relationship storylines. Although Ross is attracted to her, she is attracted to Joey. Meanwhile, Rachel finds that she still can't get Joey out of her mind either, but she is still to determine where her relationship with Ross stands. In the final extra-length episode of the season, the group travels to Barbados for a Palaeontologist’s Convention. All of the main storylines-Phoebe and Mike, Ross and Rachel, Ross and Charley, Joey and Charley, Joey and Rachel, and Chandler and Monica come to a head and we are left with some interesting pairings and scenes with which to muse over until the final season is released sometime later this year.

There is not much that can be said about the actors which hasn't already been documented somewhere over the course of the last decade. Suffice it to say, this ensemble has grown incredibly comfortable around one another, and their obvious affinity for each other is readily apparent. Joey does seem to have been somewhat ‘dumbed down’ (even more so than usual), but this is part of his attraction and it does provide for some very funny moments. Chandler is still his wise-cracking self, while Ross is once again given most of the physical comedy. Phoebe is of course in her own world, and Monica's obsessive-compulsion is played out several times throughout the season. Finally, as mentioned, Rachel finds herself a new mother, and starts to show how different parental paranoia can be when compared to all her other paranoia.

Friends: The Complete Ninth Season
As usual, there are a whole host of guest stars this season. Look for Freddie Prinze, Jr. (in a great bit as a male nanny). Selma Blair, John Stamos, Dermot Mulroney, and Christina Applegate (as Rachel's sister) all stop by for some of the fun. In addition, Hank Azaria returns from Minsk as Phoebe's one-time romantic interest David. One of the joys of the series is the way that guest stars don't steal the spotlight from the regulars. They help to enhance the overall product without becoming the main attraction.

Video
As with all of the previous season, there is a 1:33:1 full frame presentation here. What we have is a decent enough presentation, with the series shot on film as opposed to video tape (most series whether they are dramas or comedy are not shot on film). There is little to no dust or film grain noticeable, and all of the colours throughout come across extremely vibrant and bright. My one slight disappointment was with the beginning of the final episode. During the double-length feature, the first fifteen or so minutes appear to be somewhat blurry, not as crisp and clear as the remaining episodes on the disc. Other than that, this is a good presentation all around.

Audio
Being consistent, the set sports an English Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround soundtrack, and, as with the other sets, it suits the material just fine. The music is powerful but not overwhelming, all of the dialogue is clear and distinct, and there is no hissing or other audio anomalies to speak of. A solid job on the audio sound of the house, as always, in this second to last season set.

Friends: The Complete Ninth Season
Extras
Have I used the word ‘consistent’ enough? The producers of this set are consistent in what they include in the way of supplemental material, and only vary slightly from season to season. The character of Gunther is aboard once more to tell us what to expect in the tenth, and final, season DVD set. Also, there is the requisite gag reel included in the extras. Consisting of a lot of goofs and bloopers, there are some pretty funny bits to be found here (make sure you check out what Joey has under his bathrobe as he flashes the rest of the cast).

Another extra is the inclusion of the musical group Flaming Lips video ‘Phoebe Battles the Pink Robots’. Too short to really be too interesting, it does have some novelty value to it. A trivia game also is included. In it, you are asked a series of questions related to different season nine episodes, and as you get ones right, you are then told which of the ‘Friends’ you know best. The questions are asked in a random order, so it is possible to go through the game two or three times and not have the questions repeated. In addition, after some of the questions, there are very short video clips which replay the scene referred to in the question.

New to this set is a short twenty minute featurette regarding the look of Friends. The Costume Designer, Make-up artist, and hair stylists of the series are interviewed and relate how they developed the distinctive clothing and make-up palettes for each individual character. Although this is often overlooked in the overall enjoyment of the work, when one takes the time to describe exactly how it is developed (and how it is linked to the character’s behaviour and back story), it is somewhat interesting.

The final supplemental material is the commentaries by the executive producers on three of the episodes. The trio of Kevin S. Bright, David Crane and Marta Kaufman do a fine job of relating much of what their thinking was during the ninth season, such as the debate that went on behind the scenes about whether Phoebe should get together with her old boyfriend David or the new guy Mike. In the end, it was felt that Mike ‘humanized’ Phoebe and the decision was made to go with him. In addition, during the final episode it was revealed that they felt as though season ending shows either needed a ‘life changing event’ or the sextet needed to travel. Since there was no event, the group was send packing to Barbados. As everything was filmed on a sound stage, the producers describe the difficulty they had with having the constant rain, and getting the volume of the rain correct so as not to drown out the dialogue of the actors. As commentaries go, this group is very informative.

Friends: The Complete Ninth Season
Overall
There have been few recent shows which have enjoyed the ratings success of Friends. Although it went through a creative drought in some of its middle seasons, by the end of its run it seemed to have found its niche. It certainly will not go down as one of the most innovative or ground breaking series of it's time, but NBC could not have asked for a better show to anchor it's coveted Thursday night slot for a decade. As part of ‘Must See TV’, Friends provided a great launching pad for several more successful shows which aired after it. With only one more season left to be delivered on DVD, once again, this Friends set is ‘The One You'll Want to Own’.


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