cover image Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era

Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era

Saul Austerlitz. Dutton, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4335-2

The sitcom Friends premiered in 1994 to huge success, and 25 years later, according to this entertaining but shallow guide, it remains culturally ubiquitous, with teenagers around the world having “discovered Friends and believed it to be their own.” Austerlitz (Just a Shot Away) begins by explaining how playwrights David Crane and Marta Kauffman crafted an ensemble comedy to recreate the New York social scene they missed after moving to Hollywood. Austerlitz presents many surprising almost-happened stories—such as casting Craig Bierko from The Long Kiss Goodnight as Chandler and comedian Janeane Garofalo as Monica. In straightforward prose, Austerlitz writes of how the cast members bonded, such as in 1996, when David Schwimmer, “the show’s first breakout star,” told the others that “we should all go in together” to equally renegotiate their contracts. The narrative loses momentum, however, once the show gets off the ground, with revealing behind-the-scenes tidbits giving way to baggy analysis in which Austerlitz’s fandom dulls the writing (“Watching a new episode was like coming home”). Austerlitz nods to less celebratory moments, such as Amaani Lyle’s lawsuit claiming the writers’ room was a hostile work environment, but never digs deep. Though packing his narrative with fun details, Austerlitz misses the opportunity to fully explore why the show continues to appeal to new audiences. (Sept.)