There was a strange outpouring of... something a couple of weeks ago when, after 17 million years of double bills, E4 finally stopped showing Friends. You'd think fans would have committed every single episode to memory by now and watch them back in their mind's eye player (and lord knows they probably have) but they joined Facebook groups in their droves to keep the show on TV. Thanks to Comedy Central, there will be someone to tell them life was going to be this way, as it started showing them last week. When the nuclear holocaust comes, there will still be post-apocalyptic beings watching Phoebe singing Smelly Cat on the charred remains of a TV.
I just about remember when Friends started in 1993, stepping in to Cheers' dainty Friday night Channel 4 shoes. It didn't just take the baton, it ran through the finishing line, out the stadium exit and has kept running since, not stopping for water, traffic or Christmas holidays. The New York sextet became wildly popular, even moreso than the barflies of Boston. If you were to sum up the nineties in three phrases, they'd be "I did not have sexual relations with that woman", "Tell me what you want, what you really really want" and "We were on a break".
It's mighty impressive that a show with a cast initially better known for being Bruce Springsteen fans,Canadian youth tennis aces or not being Roz Doyle in Frasier would not only survive for eleven seasons but become the omnipresent muzak in the elevator of our lives. But it's even more impressive when you consider one often overlooked fact about Friends: it's not that great.
For all its popularity, there are loads and loads of comedy shows that are wittier, warmer and better drawn than Friends. It's one of the few sitcoms I've watched where I don't identify with any of the characters in any meaningful way. Chandler is fine and all, but the rest of them speak to me as much as two siblings in the middle of a will dispute. It's a clever move from Comedy Central to bring such money-in-the-bank to their watermark, but E4's current new comedy strategy is much better. For the record E4's current flavour of the daily schedule, How I Met Your Mother, is a comprehensively better attempt at the Friends template.
E4 have realised to their credit that all things must pass, even with massive hits. With any luck, Fox will realise this too when dealing with The Simpsons.
If anything, Fox should have iced The Simpsons about a decade ago, as it was around that time that it started haemorrhaging the funny at alarming speed. Once that went, all relevance and influence went with it. It's not even that The Simpsons is bad so much as that it's non-descript, aimless and pointless. Now whenever you see a classic episode, like when Homer goes working for Hank Scorpio or becomes a monorail driver, you feel a real tinge of sadness because as it currently stands, watching The Simpsons is like seeing the one-time best footballer in the world playing Saturday league and getting paid in bottles of Lucozade.
By a cruel irony, The Simpsons' current predicament is probably best summed up by a Grandpa Simpson quote: "I used to be with it, then they changed what "it" was, now what I'm with isn't "it", and what is "it" seems weird and scary to me". A lot of people who have grown up with The Simpsons are probably budding or established comedy writers now themselves, probably in no small part because of the show. But rather than being the example they once were, now they're just getting in the way. As for Friends, maybe I'd feel more receptive to it if it were slightly less exposed than Adam and Eve on laundry day. Like the old country song goes, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?"