This article contains spoilers for Friends.
Now, any longtime fan of the show wouldn’t hesitate to launch a massive marathon watching of the series, but binge-watching 236 episodes is a hefty commitment, especially for someone who has not yet experienced the joy of following this beloved sitcom.
It’s hard to narrow down a best-of list, and there are certainly a lot of favorites to be had—too many for a first-time Friends watcher. If you’re about to undertake the incredibly difficult feat of convincing someone that Friends is a show worth watching, we went ahead with the painful task of choosing which episodes to show the newbies.
Option 1) Watch one episode per season that sort of explains everything
Consider picking one episode that best encapsulates a certain season’s central theme.
Season 1: “The One With the Blackout” (Episode 7)
Yes, we get to meet everyone in the pilot episode and get a better sense of what they are like in the succeeding episodes, but the whole season is pretty much centered on Ross (David Schwimmer) rediscovering his longtime crush Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) and trying to let her know he’s into her. The blackout episode adequately shows not only this theme but also a peek into what each of the Friends gang is like: Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) singing kooky lyrics, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) giving girl advice, Chandler (Matthew Perry) being awkward with the ladies, Monica (Courtney Cox) playing hostess to everyone, and Rachel bringing home a hot guy. There’s also a bonus scene of Chandler and Joey talking on the phone in gibberish.
Season 2: “The One With Phoebe’s Husband” (Episode 4)
This is the season where Rachel finds out about Ross’s feelings and they eventually get together, but it takes a while for them to make it happen; Ross even dates someone else in the process. This episode is a fun one to watch though because it reveals a bit more about everyone and it fits this season’s “revealed secrets” theme.
Season 3: “The One at the Beach” (Episode 25)
This season is pretty tricky because it takes on a more serialized format and various story arcs are developed simultaneously, so a central theme isn’t as clear. It also has the episode that every Rachel-Ross worshipper loves to skip (the one where they take a break) so there may be fewer favorites, but the last episode of the season is pretty hilarious. Everyone joins Phoebe on a trip to the beach to find out more about her parents from their friend (who’s also named Phoebe). The girl Ross dates (Christine Taylor) post-Rachel follows them. There’s a bunch of hilarious scenes, but this one is the highlight:
Season 4: “The One With the Embryos” (Episode 12)
At this point, Ross and Rachel have tried and failed to work things out, and everyone in the gang is just trying to move on. It’s a pretty sad outcome for the show’s star couple, but this wonderful episode totally makes up for it; most best-of lists name this as one of the greatest episodes of the show, so you can’t go wrong with it. Monica and Rachel make a bet with Joey and Chandler that they knew the guys better than the guys knew the girls, and to settle it Ross creates a quiz competition.
Season 5: “The One With All the Resolutions” (Episode 11)
This is probably one of the best seasons of the show, partly because it’s where Chandler and Monica begin a secret romantic relationship. While it’s easy for hardcore Friends fans to pick numerous favorites from this set, this single episode has a bunch of hilarious moments that’ll crack up even the newbies, and most of them have to do with Ross and Chandler’s New Year resolutions: Ross does one new thing a day (he wears leather pants at one point) and Chandler attempts to stop making fun of his friends. Both of them are having a hard time.
Season 6: “The One Where Ross Got High” (Episode 9)
In this season, almost everybody goes through the process of moving in together, especially Monica and Chandler. This particular episode takes place on Thanksgiving, after the couple shacks up. Chandler tries to impress Monica’s parents but finds out they hate him because they think he does drugs (Ross once got caught smoking pot in his bedroom and told them it was Chandler). Monica tells them the truth, and more secrets are revealed.
Season 7: “The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding, Parts 1 and 2” (Episodes 23 and 24)
This season is all about Monica and Chandler preparing to get married, so of course the best episodes to watch would be the ones featuring the big event. There are many great scenes that make this two-episode arc a must-see (Chandler gets the “big brother talk” from Ross, Joey gets spit on by a famous actor, Chandler’s parents meet again, a positive pregnancy test is found in the trash, Chandler freaks out about marriage), but this is of course the big pay-out:
Season 8: “The One With the Video Tape” (Episode 4)
This season is focused on Rachel being pregnant (and the fact that Joey develops feelings for her, but we’ll skip that because it’s icky). The build-up to the reveal of who the father was is pretty great (it’s Ross, which is why the Joey thing is icky), but this episode is fun because it reveals the answer to who-came-on-to-whom and features what is called “The Europe Story.”
Season 9: “The One With Ross’s Inappropriate Song” (Episode 7)
What makes this a great season is Phoebe’s relationship with Mike (Paul Rudd) and Rachel’s first go at motherhood. This episode hits two birds with one stone because it showcases Phoebe’s first time meeting Mike’s parents and this parenting gem:
Season 10: “The One With Ross’s Tan” (Episode 3)
We all know this is the season where it all ends, so let’s not bum the newbies out by showing them the final two episodes that will obviously make you cry buckets. Instead, show them this one because it puts the whole Rachel-Joey thing to rest and showcases yet another winning moment from Ross, who decides to get a sprayed-on tan.
Option 2) Skim through scenes that showcase your favorite Friend
If picking one single episode from every season is too hard for a Friends fanatic like you—the previous list definitely took a lot of effort!—you can entice someone through specific clips that feature a certain character from the show. Again, there are many to choose from, but here are a few suggestions:
He’s at his best when he’s expressing his geeky self, like in season 4, episode 7: “The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line.”
Also, don’t eat Ross’s sandwich, ever (season 5, episode 9: “The One With Ross’s Sandwich”).
Chandler cannot resist a sarcastic joke (season 5, episode 11: “The One With All the Resolutions”).
His wit and delivery are what make him funny, and his friends agree (season 1, episode 22: “The One With the Ick Factor”).
When he’s not busy eating or getting it on with the ladies, he likes making a fool of Chandler (season 3, episode 2: “The One Where No One’s Ready”).
He also has a knack in making a fool of himself (season 10, episode 11: “The One Where the Stripper Cries”).
Phoebe loves singing, and her songs are amazing, especially those she sings to the kids (season 2, episode 12: “The One After the Superbowl, Part 1”).
She also has the best ideas in the entire world (season 10, episode 14: “The One With Princess Consuela”).
Monica is a busy go-getter, so when she gets sick, she absolutely hates it (season 6, episode 13: “The One With Rachel’s Sister”).
Also, she used to be fat. Any episode that features Fat Monica as a flashback or alternate reality is a win (e.g., season 6, episode 15: “The One That Could Have Been, Part 1”).
Rachel can’t bake (season 6, episode 9: “The One Where Ross Got High”).
But she sure can make the best of any situation (season 5, episode 24: “The One in Vegas, Part 2”).
Another way you can convince someone to watch Friends? All the awesome cameos and guest appearances. Here are some of the best ones:
• Paul Rudd as Mike Hannigan, Phoebe’s date (season 9, episode 3: “The One With the Pediatrician”).
• Bruce Willis as Paul Stevens, Ross’s girlfriend’s dad who dates Rachel (season 6, episode 22: “The One Where Paul’s the Man”).
• Brad Pitt as Will Colbert, Ross’s friend who hated Rachel in high school (season 8, episode 9: “The One With the Rumor”).
• Hugh Laurie as Rachel’s seatmate on the plane (season 4, episode 24: “The One With Ross’s Wedding, Part 2).
• Christina Applegate as Rachel’s sister Amy (season 10, episode 5: “The One Where Rachel’s Sister Baby-sits”).
Option 3: Give ’em extras
In lieu of overwhelming a first-time Friends watcher with a binge-watch session on New Year’s Day, show them these clips (or combine this list with the one from Option 2).
“The One With the Prom Video” (season 2, episode 14)
“The One With the Dirty Girl” (season 4, episode 6)
“The One With Rachel’s Assistant” (season 7, episode 4)
“The One With the Routine” (season 6, episode 10)
Photo via William Warby/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)