It’s been six years, but they’ll always be my Jewish ‘Friends’by amanda pazornik
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It’s been a little more than six years since NBC’s “Friends” placed their keys to Monica’s rent-controlled apartment on the counter and closed its periwinkle door for the last time.
But you wouldn’t know that if you studied my television-watching habits. In addition to catching the Emmy Award–winning comedy in syndication, I easily could have “Friends” on all the time. And I do.
“Friends” means so much to me because it was the first television show I watched diligently from start to finish. It’s safe to say that I have been in denial since the show’s finale.
Back when “Friends” was on the air, from 1994 to 2004, I always knew the show’s co-creators, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, were Jewish. But I never gave much thought to how their identities influenced my favorite half hour of television.
Apparently, Crane didn’t either.
“When we were creating the show, we were not thinking about Jewish characters,” he explained. “In the initial character breakdowns, we never mentioned religion. We wanted funny, caring and real characters with stories you invest in. But a lot of it has to do with the actors you cast.”
I recently chatted with Crane, 53, by phone from his home in Montecito, Calif. He and his partner, Jeffrey Klarik, who co-produced NBC’s “Mad About You,” are awaiting the January debut of their latest show, “Episodes,” on Showtime.
It just so happens to star Matt LeBlanc (struggling actor Joey Tribbiani on “Friends”) playing, well, Matt LeBlanc (or the fictitious character version).
But when it comes to the “Friends,” Crane said he couldn’t single out a character as his “favorite.” He says there were times when he loved each of the six New Yorkers, whose plot lines developed in a room where “I was Jewish, Marta was Jewish and probably a third to half of the writing staff was Jewish.”
“Day in and day out, people were telling stories from their lives,” Crane said. “Ross emerged out of a room where a lot of the people had a Jewish background. So his Jewish plotline was probably informed by that.”
Ross Geller, the geeky yet lovable paleontologist played by David Schwimmer, is perhaps the character with the most developed religious identity. It’s assumed that Ross and Monica Geller’s oft-inappropriate father, Jack Geller (Elliot Gould) is Jewish. His wife, Judy (Christine Pickles), is not.
Ross also takes an active role in wanting to teach his son about Chanukah, as revealed in the episode “The One With the Holiday Armadillo.”
In season seven, we learn that Ross once rapped at Monica’s bat mitzvah, as he squeaks out the party anthem “Celebration” on the bagpipe to play Monica and Chandler’s wedding,
Even daddy’s girl-turned-mom Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) had some Jewish ties. She refers to her grandma, Ida Green, as “my bubbe” and also wears a necklace with a Jewish star in one episode.
“In our minds I guess she was Jewish,” Crane said. “You can’t create a character with the name ‘Rachel Green’ and not from the get-go make some character choices.”
Crane said he felt like he “won the lottery” with the casting of the six friends. “To get the right cast, the right director and the right group of writers, it’s that lightning in a bottle idea. There’s so much out of your control, right down to the time slot.”
“Friends” premiered on NBC’s coveted Thursday 8:30 p.m. spot, nestled into the “Must See TV” lineup with sitcoms like “Seinfeld,” “Will & Grace” and “Frasier.” It garnered 63 Emmy nominations during its 10-year run.
“It was an amazing experience and a ridiculous amount of fun,” Crane said. “It was really satisfying work for me. And we were laughing all the time.”
At the end of our conversation, Crane admitted that I would beat him at the show’s “Scene It?” game, after I rattled off the previous examples and many others from memory.
Given the hours I’ve logged watching “Friends,” I would have to agree.
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