It’s been a little over ten years—more than enough time to gather and analyse all the evidence. The verdict?
Ross is the best character on Friends.
Ross’s lead in the race doesn’t diminish the entertainment value of the other central characters, and it doesn’t weaken the laughs they elicit. We get a broad spectrum of comedy’s many forms across an entire decade, a talented cast, and a handful of personalities that all seem, somehow, opposite to one another. Joey is a classic ditz—so dumb he’s (unintentionally) funny. The off-beat laughs, of course, go to Phoebe. Without Chandler’s quick wit and sarcasm, the jokes of the show might only come half a mile a minute. But it’s Ross’s farcical, physical embodiment of his own gags that provides the richest and most memorable moments of the series.
Let’s Play Devil’s Advocate
Ross is easily the most polarising character on Friends, and I suppose the Ross haters are entitled to their wrong opinion. But for the rest of us, all of the “worst” things about Ross are also the best things about him.
Yes, a patronising, self-victimising whiner would be annoying in real life. But, to borrow Phoebe’s argument against naming her baby “Ross,” the things that happen to Ross don’t happen to anyone in reality. When’s the last time you heard of someone who said their ex’s name during their wedding ceremony? Someone who owned a pet monkey? Or who managed to screw up a tanning booth and teeth-whitening situation quite so dramatically? And forget three divorces—Ross also has his part in two unintended pregnancies in just a few scant years. Murphy’s Law might as well change its name in his honour.
As the show’s Butt Monkey—the character at the whipping post of Fate—Ross’s many failures and humiliations are played for laughs. He digs his own grave with every flirting attempt. After a divorce, eviction, and nervous breakdown at the office, Ross complains so much that he irritates Janice. His efforts to win over Elizabeth’s father (played by Bruce Willis) would be textbook examples of cringe comedy if we weren’t already so accustomed to Ross’s aggressively awkward social interactions.
So, really, when we’re talking about Ross’s greatest attributes and his most conspicuous flaws, we’re talking about the same thing—the thing that makes him hilarious. Like the other Friends, we laugh at him for being a momma’s boy, an insufferable know-it-all, and a neurotic mess. We crack up every time he goes to absurd lengths to conceal his mistakes, blaming Chandler for “tricking” him into smoking pot in college and lying to Rachel about annulling their Vegas wedding. He is criminally uncool, and we enjoy seeing him reminded.
Even his tendency towards jealousy takes on a comedic spin:
Mark: Rachel Green’s line, how may I help you?
Ross: Hi, is Rachel there?
Mark: And who may I say is calling?
Ross: This is Ross.
Mark: Ross of…?
Ross: Of Ross and Rachel.
Somehow, Ross’s worst qualities do not prevent him from landing dates with characters played by Jennifer Aniston, Rebecca Romijn, Christine Taylor, Helen Baxendale, Lauren Tom, Alexandra Holden, Aisha Tyler, Bonnie Somerville, and more.
…Which must mean that he’s actually awesome.
Let’s Face the Facts
Pretend you’re playing Phoebe’s “Questions” game, and you have to answer as quickly as possible. Out of Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Monica, and Phoebe, who’s the funniest Friend?
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Many fans of the show would pick Chandler. He is, by his own admission, the character most voluntarily funny. But Chandler traipses through a shallow puddle of comedy; his quick quips and clever observational humour come with more frequency than longevity. All of the classic, most-referenced, laugh-out-loudest moments of the series revolve around Ross. There’s “Pivot!” and “MY sandwich?!,” for starters—and while we’re on the subject, let’s not forget “The Moistmaker.” There’s Unagi, “We were on a break!” and this infamous exchange:
Ross: You know how you come home at the end of the day and throw your jacket on a chair?
Ross: Well, instead of a jacket, it’s a pile of garbage. And instead of a chair, it’s a pile of garbage. And instead of the end of the day, it’s the end of time, and garbage is all that has survived.
It’s Ross who delivers the majority of the show’s most-quoted lines, even ten years later. (His cry “It tastes like feet!” actually became its own trope.) Among 236 episodes of funny, why are his designated gags so memorable?
Simple: Ross lives his jokes.
David Schwimmer’s commitment to physical comedy on Friends is recognisably meticulous, outstripping even Matthew Perry’s. Ross isn’t just a scripted character—he is an exhibition and embodiment of comedy. TV is, after all, a visual medium, and any actor who can up the ante by visibly becoming the joke makes for compelling entertainment. (It’s also why my attempt to do him justice here is necessarily a failure.)
There’s the pair of leather pants Ross should never have removed. The Routine he performs with Monica for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. His “sound”—or the worst music ever to come from a keyboard. As the actual (dorky) manifestation of his woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-Karma comedy, Ross is both the butt and buttress of his every hilarious antic.
Remember the time he slithered under the bed to hide from Bruce Willis with all the dexterity of The Grinch who stole Christmas? How about that moment, in the first-ever flashback episode, when they pan to Ross, sporting an ‘80s afro? Or that little leap of joy when he views Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment in hopes of scoring a sublet?
In my search for one final case in point, I landed on this: Ross’s velociraptor impression. Joey had it right all along—his occupation really is “dinosaurs.”
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Let’s Get Nostalgic
By the end of Friends, not one of the main characters had escaped caricature status. But since Ross’s personality and narrative already bordered on the ridiculous, it’s not quite as noticeable on him. He was always an internal joke—the Friend most mocked within a group of twenty-somethings who had little of their own to brag about. And while we mourn the loss of our most beloved sitcom (it was the end of an era!), we cherish the infinite potential for Friends quotations and allusions.
When we all share the same private joke, we call it a cultural reference. And that’s exactly what Ross has given us, time and time again. Call him whatever else you like—Ross-a-Tron, Red Ross, “Wet Pants” Geller, or Divorce-o—as long as you call him the best Friend.
Featured Image Source: wikipedia.org