New Yorker answers the tough ‘Friends’ questions in ‘I’ll Be There For You’

Approaching the story of Central Perk and its six primary inhabitants without a critical lens just isn’t feasible in 2018. Even a casual kickback with Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey and Ross (thanks, Netflix) leaves viewers with stewing questions.

Do these “Friends” ever go to work? What’s up with the lack of diversity; this is New York? How is Monica’s apartment so cheap? Can Rachel even afford “The Rachel”?

We could go on.

New York author Kelsey Miller answers these, and more, in her novel “I’ll Be There For You: The One about Friends,” released Tuesday.

“This show has had a huge impact on our culture. But for me, it seems very obvious that it’s possible to love something while seeing its flaws,” she says. “This was a very special show that also completely ignored the existence of people who aren’t white and reflected a lot of the problems that we are still grappling with not only on television, but also off-screen as well.”

For the book, the Greenpoint resident spent a little more than 12 months dissecting (and re-watching) the sitcom that became her go-to binge at the gym after what she calls a “Friends” “resurgence” around 2014/2015. Aka “when ‘Friends’ became cool again.”

“When you look at ‘Friends,’ it’s funny because it looks vaguely obtainable, even though it’s not,” she says, explaining its seemingly endless popularity. “… the fact that the show is so popular now means we’re paying more attention to all these little things.”

Miller, 34, set out to compile a retrospective, like that of Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s "Sex and the City and Us," that lets fans new and old in on the behind-the-scenes secrets that ended up shaping the influential series about that “time in your life when your friends are your family.”

For starters: Miller reveals show co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane first pitched the show as “Insomnia Cafe”; they wrote the catchy theme song’s lyrics; Lisa Kudrow was behind the idea to make Phoebe a twin, and Jennifer Aniston almost left the series early on.  

Her nearly 300-page book is broken up into chapters like “The One Where We All Got The Haircut” and “The One Where Two Women Got Married.” With the help of dozens of experts and insight from cast interviews, Miller explains decisions that led to iconic moments — that opening sequence  — character ticks — Monica’s competitive nature — and more.

“I realized there had never been a book that combines the history of the show while doing a broader cultural contextualization about it,” Miller says. “I really wanted to write something that combined a critical commentary while exploring the phenomenon.”

Miller’s book ($16.19) is available for purchase now on Amazon.com.

The One With Five Fast "Friends" Facts 

1. The name of the sitcom changed, and changed again.

Co-creators Kauffman and Crane first pitched the series as "Insomnia Cafe," which makes sense, but didn’t cut it. It was changed to "Friends Like Us" … almost there … and then became "Six of One" before being branded as we know it today. 

2. Matt LeBlanc pulled a Joey at his audition.

LeBlanc skipped out on studying lines the night before his "Friends" audition and went out for drinks with a pal, Miller writes. "Cut to the next morning: LeBlanc woke up on his friend’s couch, stumbled into the bathroom, tripped and fell face-first onto the edge of the toilet seat … Kauffman looked at him — at the enormous bloody gash running the entire length of his nose … This anecdote would become ‘Friends’ lore in years to come." 

3. The cast reportedly made $22,500 per episode in the premiere season.

"For the first season, the cast had been paid the same amount per episode," Miller writes, adding that changed in later seasons. "They’ve never disclosed exact numbers, but Kudrow and LeBlanc later stated that they were the lowest paid." 

4. The Sept. 11 attacks changed "Friends," but you may not have noticed. 

"No one wanted to see ‘The One with the Terrorist Attack," Miller writes. "Yes, they decided 9/11 did happen in the world of ‘Friends,’ but it would only be acknowledged in visual cues." Those cues included Joey wearing an FDNY shirt in "The One Where Chandler Takes A Bath," American flags popping up in Central Perk and I <3 NY stickers in the background in "The One with the Videotape." 

5. Ross and Rachel were only together for about 10 percent of "Friends."

"There are 236 episodes of ‘Friends,’ and they’re only together in about 10 percent of them. Not until after the breakup do Ross and Rachel really become Ross and Rachel. The real question was never will-they-won’t-they get together, but would they get back together, after all that."