Ross and Rachel: on again, off again, on a break. But of course they were eventually on. They might have started as the ultimate will-they won’t-they couple, but they were meant to be together, right? That final episode of Friends was always going to be The One where they realised they’d already found The One.
But would Ross and Rachel really have been the perfect couple? Wake up and smell the coffee! If Ross and Rachel had stayed together for-ever-ever, they would have been the absolute worst. She gave up her dream of going to Paris for him, which is Louis Vuitton handbag’s worth of resentment to be carrying around, while Ross’s fixation on her ever since she was a teenage prom queen is actually kinda creepy.
But then, a lot of romantic comedies are pretty creepy if you look – and listen – closely. The language of undying devotion comes worryingly close to crazy stalker talk: we belong together, you’re mine, till death do us part…
It was this that inspired James Fritz’s play Ross and Rachel, a look at what happens to a couple after the happy-ever-after moment. The play was a hit at Edinburgh festival last year, it tours this summer after a run in New York. ‘As much as I love rom-coms – and I really do – the more I thought about it, the more I found a lot of the language problematic,’ says the 28-year-old playwright. ‘And usually it’s about the man owning the woman.’
He also became fascinated with what happens to our favourite couples after the cameras stop rolling, because let’s face it, life isn’t all kisses in the rain and running through airports. ‘Those big grand gestures are such a miniscule part of a relationship, but they’re the things that pop culture tells us are so important,’ Fritz points out.
And Fritz’s play – funny though it is – also offers a pretty bleak assessment of what a couple like Ross and Rachel would be like if they’d stayed together. She seethes with resentment, he’s dangerously possessive; she’s still glamorous, he’s still a big old nerd.
‘These two people are totally ill-suited, but I guess that’s why they’re the famous couple, because they would be awful together,’ says Fritz. ‘But the only ending they could possibly give to Friends – and I would have been livid if they didn’t too! – was to get them back together. I find that fascinating.’
Rom-coms might be as improbable as they are predictable, but we’re stuck on them. We yearn for that happy ending… but is it all just a lie? And do rom-coms give us unreasonable expectations for romance IRL?
‘There is the danger that you throw something away because it isn’t Romeo and Juliet… you can’t live up to that,’ suggest Fritz. ‘We love mythologizing ourselves, I guess, but it sets so many relationships up for failure.’
Even so, the formulaic pull of a good rom-com is hard to resist, and Fritz is as big a fan as any of us; When Harry Met Sally, Notting Hill and Some Like it Hot are some of his faves. With plenty of famous couples to choose from, why go with Ross and Rachel?
‘You couldn’t do Monica and Chandler, because their relationship is actually pretty normal and pretty good. I did think about Harry and Sally or Hugh Grant and his various women of the Nineties… [but] people get what a Ross and Rachel couple is. That pop culture shorthand for an on-again off-again couple meant I had to do so much less legwork.’
Not that his play is explicitly about the Geller-Greens: a one-woman show, actress Molly Vevers performs both halves of an unnamed couple as they struggle through the mundanity of raising kids, getting old and getting sick. But by naming it Ross and Rachel, Fritz could allow the audience to fill in the backstory, drawing on all those hungover hours spent in front of E4.
Fritz didn’t re-watch Friends while writing Ross and Rachel but once the play had opened, he allowed himself a binge. How was that – is the sitcom ruined for him now, a cynical cloud hanging over Central Perk forever? He laughs, but adds that he does feel guilty for slamming Friends’ romantic ideals. ‘I’m able to still enjoy it, but at the same time I think: what did I do to Ross and Rachel?’
Ross and Rachel is on tour from 17 June to 9 July, producedbymotor.co.uk