TV In the first episode of the last series of Friends which began on Channel 4 tonight, the producers appeared to have been using some kind of powers to channel Steven Moffat telents to write something which felt utterly like an episode of the British version of Coupling. All of the motifs where present and correct -- the misunderstandings, the running between rooms, the high concept POV shots and a total lack of scruples when it comes to making their characters appear just awful. It also seemed much, much cruder. Deliciously so.

Whenever someone who doesn't know anything wants to put down American comedy they always make some snide remark about Friends because it has all those beautiful people and how could that be funny. Those morons misunderstand how television works. The reason Friends has been on television for ten years isn't because we all fancy the leads (well that helps) it's because time and again and consistently the scripts have been barnstormingly funny. Shorter lived sitcoms almost always lack something and usually it's a misunderstanding that good actors and good characters do not equal good comedy. You need to give them something funny and surprising to do. The audience simply won't tolerate anything else (unless they watch Everyone Loves Raymond which has finally turned up in the ex-RISE spot on morning Channel 4 and continues to baffle everyone with its blandness).

As always here it's the details which delight. Such as the moment Ross decides to go tell Joey about falling into the arms of ex-girlfriend Charlie and says he as wait moment; as he starts to mutter grandma we realise that little Ross is on duty and needs to be called back to the mess hall. Or Rachel's exclamation that Charlie is 'Really working her way through the group ...' and the moments afterwards when it dawns on her that she's one to talk. Pheobe's boyfriend Mike completely failing with the dirty talk and her sudden rush of takecharginess. Even Chandler and Monica, in their second string mode Get to have fun with shells and hair -- the latter having finally completed her decent into the former's mindset -- in fact he seems to have matured as she's drifted downwards -- this is not the same Monica who was the mature city girl of the pilot.

So how does it fight off claims from some quarters that it's become tired, that all the permutations have been worked through and it should have left town five years ago. That what realism the show had (for a sitcom) has gone awol because of the perpetuation of a situation (would these six people still be living in exactly this proximity after ten years). But to some extent this is quietly being work to the shows advantage. In a rather revealing moment, Rachel reminded us that it's six years since she and Ross dated (I was just leaving college then). They know how long the dynamic has been going and to some extent it feels as though Rachel and Joey are getting together because they realise that they've done nearly everything else. Monica and Chandler got together so why shouldn't they? It's precisely because of the shared memory in amongst the characters and the audience that this episode works so well. I just hope that precisely because the writers know this is the final year they'll throw everything in the air and see were it falls. Without the need to keep anything back for future seasons anything could and should happen.

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