“Life on Seinfeld may be laid back, but its characters always seem to have someplace to go. In Friends the crowd is always around to share their latest personal woes or offer a shoulder to cry on. But who would want advice from these dysfunctional morons, with their obsessive pop-culture references?” — Richard Zoglin’s review of the first season of Friends, which premiered 20 years ago on Sept. 22, 1994
Little did I know when I poked fun at Friends back in 1995 that I was dumping on what would become a TV classic.
But I was a dissenter then, and I’m still a dissenter. The show never rose above its artificial, formulaic roots — characters assembled straight from the sitcom-writer’s handbook, jokes delivered with mechanical predictability at the network-mandated rate of three per page. It became a little easier to watch over the years, thanks to sheer familiarity and as the actors and writers dove more deeply into the characters. And I admit the show looks better in retrospect: compared with The Big Bang Theory (or Two Broke Girls), Friends almost qualifies as cinema-verite.
Read that 1995 review, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: Friends and Layabouts