As if news that Party of Five debuted 20 years ago this month doesn't make you feel old enough, Friends is this week hitting the same milestone. And as Willa Paskin writes for Slate, the anniversary is being "greeted with untempered enthusiasm, even for this era of rampant Internet-based nostalgia." That has Paskin asking—and answering—the question of why. As she writes, "it did more than any show to excise the teachable moment from sitcoms for grown-ups." It was sweet, it was fluffy, and it was ... a rare thing. In the 10 years since Rachel, Chandler, et al have left us, it's become apparent that making a "straightforwardly pleasant sitcom, one that 20 million people want to watch and discuss," is actually incredibly difficult.
Today's comedies take one of two routes: They make specificity king (Paskin cites Girls and Louie) in the hope of reeling in a small but fervent audience or they go "unbearably broad" in a bid to reel in, well, everyone. But the attempts to do the latter are largely tainted by a "light sheen of anxiety," writes Paskin. "They have to do everything they can, right away, to find an audience." Friends, in contrast, "casually [assumes] it has a claim on your attention even when it has made an entire episode about Ross’s misguided leather pants." At the end of the day, we watch TV for pleasure, and 20 years on, Friends does that "reliably, effortlessly." Click for Paskin's full column.