Second Look: Friends Season 3 Episode 11 – “The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister”
Originally aired 1/9/1997
Directed by Terry Hughes
Written by Alexa Junge
In the grand scheme of the series, “The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister” is a fairly unremarkable episode of Friends – but one that pulls off an impressive task. As the title suggests, this is an episode about Chandler’s regrettable drunken antics – and yet, it somehow ends with Ross being the biggest asshole in the room (big stretch – I know!). Though the mechanisms with which it arrives at this conclusion aren’t the show’s finest, it’s hard not to appreciate the show’s conclusion – especially with the hindsight of rewatching the series, and knowing The Mark of It All to come in future installments.
Again, this is an episode with Chandler’s name in the title; as he continues to rebound from his heartbreaking fling with Janice, Chandler decides to ingest an entire plate of Jell-O shots at the part him and Joey are hosting. He wakes up, realizing he’s done something vaguely erotic with one of Joey’s sisters – but in a wonderful crescendo of Chandler’s anxiety, his lack of short-term memory leaves him walking on eggshells around the ever-protective Joey.
This being the only real appearance of Joey’s collection of sisters (Gina, Dina, Veronica, Mary Therese, and Mary Angela), “The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister” utilizes its unique ensemble appearance to great effect, once again stationing season three as Chandler’s breakout season of the series. As his attempts to discern the identity of Mary Angela over a family dinner (which randomly includes his super Italian grandmother, Nonna – who is not Nonnie from season five’s “The One Where Ross Can’t Flirt”, to clarify), writer Alexa Junge crafts ingenious bits to ratchet up Chandler’s fear and unsettling anxiety, desperate not to meet the other side of Joey’s fist.
It plays into a more physical dynamic between Joey and Chandler, one that I always enjoy: their very different physical statures allow for a lot of great physical interplay (Joey more stoic and direct with his motions, while Perry’s Chandler barely contains the chaos raging in his nervous system). In this episode, that balance is heavily in Chandler’s favor: Joey never has to raise a fist to make Chandler squirm endlessly – to the point where he briefly lashes out at Nonna, in a moment that cracks me up after a half-dozen viewings.
But despite all of that behavior, Chandler’s inability to just come clean with Joey (and burying himself deeper, when another sister decides she wants a little bit of the Chan Man) is but second fiddle to Ross, who comes out of nowhere to remind everyone who the true Asshole of the ensemble is. After casually revealing a few red flags in their relationship (most noticeably in “The One Where No One’s Ready”), Ross’s horrid transformation into his most immature, insecure form comes front and center in this episode – and whoo boy, is it an unpleasant watch! Ross immediately questioning Mark’s intentions of getting her a job interview, sniveling when she thinks he’s forgotten about her, resignation and reluctant acceptance when she makes it clear she doesn’t give a fuck what a baby he’s being about it… none of it is flattering for Ross, and when placed next to Chandler’s unfortunate antics, only sticks out further what a obnoxious prick Friends was willing to make Ross – both for the sake of comedy and presumed brevity.
It’s a pure manifestation of Ross’s worst tendencies; but the episode smartly diverges in how it treats the behavior of its two male characters. Chandler’s inability to assert himself is rightfully played as damaging, but still endearing – Chandler’s intent was to blow off some steam and get drunk, not to behave in a way to intentionally divert attention to oneself. Though Chandler is the one who ends up getting punched in the face, Ross is the one who takes a shot to the gut when Rachel rightfully celebrates her new employment by giving Mark a hug; it’s a sign that on some level, Rachel saw through his whole spiel about just wanting to be supportive of her career.
A true shitshow for the Friends character with a proclivity for selfishness; the best part of it, however, is when Monica calls him out on his shit. Even when Friends is making room for other characters to justify Ross’s behavior (which, to a small degree, I think it tries to do here – and of course, a bit more explicitly later on), Monica’s never on board with his garbage; it is an important balancing factor in maintaining some semblance of realism for one of the most conflicting, self-centered romantic leads in American sitcom history (this was the same guy who threw a shitfit over his son playing with a Barbie, assuming the two mothers in his life were pushing him in the wrong direction… you know, behavior always associated with upstanding members of society). Monica takes a lot of shit from Ross through the series, and she finally gets to give a bit of it back here – and it’s a redemptive moment for Friends, a reminder that it’s a little more keen to Ross’s particular brand of shitheelry than it would often let on.
With so much gravity in these two stories, one almost forgets this is the episode Phoebe loudly fucks a dude in the upstairs apartment (who has removed his carpets, allowing Rachel and Monica to hear every detail of his life). Once again, Phoebe gets a story establishing how different she is from the rest of the group – but it is treated as but a cheap punch line, not a moment used to further distinguish Phoebe from her the more traditional, rigid mindsets of the women around her – Phoebe is low key hornier than Joey throughout the run of the series, and like Ross’s inherent toxicity, “The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister” is a solid opportunity to offer a small nod to a bit of character only idiot nerds like myself would notice across the series.
Though “TOW Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister” is mostly memorable because it is the catalyst for the Cataclysmic Moment of Regret for Friends, as a standalone episode of the series, it works rather well in how it contrasts its trio of male protagonists. And again – any episode that goes out of its way to remind us what a fucking jerk Ross can be when he wants has something going for it, another quality example of what Friends could do when it engaged in the slightly more cynical, self-absorbed undertones of its characters, and worldview.
- Oh, Mark.
- A little bit of story I like from the Extended version: Joey’s grandmother is at his house, because his parents are up in Vermont buying cigarettes.
- The biggest laugh of the episode comes when Ross reveals that Chandler likes to get a bit friendly with everyone after he’s had a few too many adult beverages.
- Nonna was the sixth person to spit on “Mussolini’s hanging dead body”, according to Joey.
- technically, this episode is where Monica and Chandler kiss for the first time, though it was off-camera… which reminds me of one of the episode’s more disappointing developments – why didn’t we get more blackout Chandler? He’s hilarious!
- Perry’s delivery of “Oh, its so bad” is an all-timer.
- My favorite line of the episode comes from drunken Chandler, trying to get Janice off his speed dial: “Why must we dial so speedily anyway?”
- Extended thoughts: the biggest difference is a joke about Monica naming a sandwich at the goofy restaurant we all forgot she was working at: “Actually, that’s a Barbara Streisandwich”. Also, Nonna loves Cops… which is funny, because we will learn in season five that Nonnie loves Law & Order.
Up next: Rachel gets an office phone, and Chandler hires a stripper in “The One with All the Jealousy”.