Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of Love Week, we’re revisiting our favorite television episodes featuring a marriage proposal.
If you talk about “the one with the proposal” when referring to Friends, you’re probably talking about the episode where Monica proposes to Chandler—after all, that one’s literally called “The One With The Proposal,” thanks to the show’s method of titling. (Still the alpha and omega of methods for naming your show’s episodes.) But that installment’s awfully plotty, with one of the least-loved narrative tactics—a premise based on a simple misunderstanding—driving the whole story. Chandler is running around for a good chunk of the running time, as he scrambles to fix his “not ready to get married” fakeout to Monica. It’s got forward momentum, but a thin selection of good gags, especially in the dramarama third act. The best episode of Friends that includes a proposal doesn’t even take place in the U.S.—and the proposal is rejected.
“The One In Barbados” initially feints into “special episode abroad” territory, as the establishing premise—the whole gang is going to Barbados for Ross’ conference!—is soon revealed to be a standard Friends episode, because all the action takes place indoors. Nothing that happens here couldn’t have taken place in the usual New York location, but even the small adjustment of being in different rooms seems to energize the cast, with jokes big and small both receiving an extra twist of cleverness and smartly underplayed reaction shots. The key story (sorry, Rachel and Joey) involves Phoebe’s paramour David (the always-great Hank Azaria) learning that she ended things with Mike (Paul Rudd) over his unwillingness to get married, and thus deciding, only weeks into their rekindled romance, to pop the question. It’s exactly as surprising as you expect from the biggest sitcom on TV (i.e., not shocking at all) when Mike shows up just before David can propose, and makes his case for why Phoebe should be with him. And the resulting scene is almost note-perfect from everyone involved.
Azaria absolutely nails his role here, as David is both completely exasperated by Mike’s presence but also so thoughtful and considerate that he doesn’t give a second thought to offering up his seat to Mike. (“Well, that’s fair, you’ve had a long trip.”) Paul Rudd does his usual charming, low-key Paul Rudd thing, which is exactly what’s called for; but it’s not until part two that his character really comes alive, challenging Monica at the ping-pong table. (“Oh—um, I’m awesome.”) And Lisa Kudrow gets to do something too often denied flighty weirdo Phoebe, which is a chance to let her pragmatic but still vulnerable heart shine through. She rejects Mike’s proposal, but not because she doesn’t love him. She just wants a future, not a forced commitment to holy matrimony. On a series that occasionally felt a little too forced in its obsession with the rite of marriage (paging Dr. Geller, Dr. Ross Geller), her loving refusal is one of the most honest moments in the series. As is Monica’s immediate push to take credit for it, because what’s a heartfelt moment on Friends without a goofy interjection?
Availability: “The One In Barbados (Part 1)” is available for streaming on Netflix and on DVD.