Could you imagine the 1990s without “Friends?” What would the rest of our lives be like on this Earth (and maybe beyond) without the hit hangout show perpetually streaming on Netflix, if you’re in Canada, or HBO Max in the U.S.
Its popularity spans generations, nations and political persuasions. It also spawned a general genre of sitcoms in America of wayward twentysomethings turning into haphazard thirtysomethings: “How I Met your Mother,” “New Girl” and “Happy Endings” to name a few.
Even though “Friends” left Netflix in the U.S. earlier this year, it remains one of the most popular shows internationally, where Netflix continues to grow. Last February it was finally made official, a “Friends” reunion was ordered by HBO Max and since then, the world has been eagerly awaiting the return of their favourite co-dependent coffee drinkers. Yet, like so many things in 2020, the COVID curse has indefinitely delayed the release of the highly anticipated reunion special.
So how do you keep that friend zone fresh during the pandemic? There are plenty of other friends around the world that are worth spending some time with. Here are three that, once you start, you won’t give up on.
How to Survive Being Single/ Como Sobrevivir Soltero (2020, Amazon Prime)
This Spanish-language sitcom set in Mexico City is the latest entry on this friends’ list. Created by brothers Emiliano and Sebastian Zurita, and starring the latter, it dives head first into the deep end of swipe-right love’s rocky waters. As in the first episode of “Friends,” the inciting incident that sets everything in motion is a breakup. After Sebastian, an actor trapped in the shadow of a role he played years ago, gets his heart broken in a very public and humiliating way — we’re talking the stuff TMZ dreams are made of — his group of friends are there to lift him out of his funk and guide him through life as a single again. As in “Friends,” the ensemble in “Single” do everything together, too, even if it means being there, quite literally, with Sebastian on his first Tinder date. And, in “HIMYM” fashion, each friend has their own take on love, how to get it and what it means. “Single” is definitely playing for laughs as it comments on how treacherous and lonesome love in the modern age can be. Well, that is, without your friends to keep you company.
The Hook-Up Plan / Plan Coeur (2019, Netflix)
Another running theme throughout all great friend sitcoms, and the basis of many inciting incidents, is that friends will do anything for each other, for better or worse. Let’s say your friend hasn’t been able to move on after a breakup, what would you do to break that spell? Would you tell a little lie for their own good? This is the premise of the Paris-set “The Hook-Up Plan.” (They really could have named it, Beautiful People in Beautiful Places, Wearing Levis and Taking Smoke Breaks.) Not unlike a good old Cece and Winston mess-around (“New Girl” fans will know), but with the best of intentions, when a sweet, civil servant named Elsa reaches new lows in her infatuation with her ex, her best friends know it’s time something is done. The most enterprising of the bunch, Charlotte, hatches a plan to once and for all free Elsa from her ex, Max. It’s a secret one involving an irresistible and mysterious man named Jules Dupont. Of course, if her plan were perfect this would hardly be a comedy. Her scheme is almost immediately derailed when Elsa begins to fall for someone who is not quite who she thinks he is. With another engaging ensemble rounding out this French-language series, each with their own set of relationship woes, you will be wishing for a Season 3 or planning a trip to Paris before you know it.
Coupling (2000—2004, Amazon Prime and Hoopla)
Dated as it might be, with its waiting-by-the-landline plot devices and “what to do with your friend’s special video collection upon their death” kind of moral questioning (a “porn buddy” just needs to erase your search history these days), “Coupling” is still the eyebrow-raising and hilarious hangout sitcom it was 20 years ago. Despite its men-are-like-this and women-are-like-that philosophies, this “Friends” look-alike does have its distinctions: there are six friends meeting up nearly every night, albeit not at a coffee shop but at a proper bar (as adults in their 30s in London do), getting a bit tipsy and talking about sex and relationships while finding themselves in awesomely awkward circumstances. Created by Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who,” “Sherlock’’) the BBC comedy is unlike “Friends” in that it is more adult — not in its level of maturity per se, but in how its content would be rated (at least back in the early aughts). Its most winning trait, and where a lot of the humour is born, is its narrative structure.
In most episodes, the story is told from the point of view of one character, as they recall it, drink in hand. The retelling of events unfolds as if we were in the bar with them. And, as in real-life relationship stories, there is more than one version to be told. In 2003, NBC attempted to remake “Coupling” in America, but the results were disastrous for all involved. A New York Times article at the time surmised that it wasn’t because Americans don’t have the constitution for a show so cavalier about sex, rather it’s that Americans are nicer than Brits. The author points out that “rudeness, the ultimate British taboo” is what anchors the original series, losing something in its translation to American audiences as “the catharsis of discourtesy is not as vital to the American psyche.” As for the Canadian psyche, go on and judge for yourself (or not, it’s up to you).