Second Look: Friends Season 3, Episode 21 – “The One with a Chick and a Duck”

Friends The One with a Chick and a Duck

Friends Season 3, Episode 21 “The One with a Chick and a Duck”
Written by Chris Brown
Directed by Michael Lembeck
Aired April 17, 1997 on NBC

At the heart of “The One with a Chick and a Duck” are a trio of stories about impulsiveness – and though all are in service of isolated stories with remarkably different aims, it forms the foundation for one of the better Friends episodes of recent vintage. For once, the Ross/Rachel drama (which is quickly, and very obviously, pushing itself back to the forefront) feels properly calibrated next to the stories of Joey and Monica, despite all three having very different emotional stakes: in many ways, it’s the most balanced episode of the season since “The One with the Giant Poking Device”, and finally gets season three on track before heading into the final stretch.

Of course, all three of the stories in “The One with a Chick and a Duck” are actually focused on accelerating the main arcs of season three’s back half – but they’re all united by the seemingly spontaneous decisions of its main characters, all leaning back into the season’s more forward-facing romantic subplots. Of course, some of these stories are a lot more potent than others – “Chick and a Duck” certainly fails to make its case for Monica and Pete, which we’ll talk more about – but cohering to the episode’s larger themes helps smooth out some of the episode’s rougher edges.

Friends The One with a Chick and a Duck

Of course, the real love story of this episode is between Yasmine, a young chick adopted by Joey during a depressed bout of watching the news (which he mistakes for a commercial), and the odd couple living in Apartment 19. Lonely after being set up like Kate, Joey insists a high maintenance, potentially expensive addition to the household is a smart idea; and after Joey and Chandler bicker their way into an agreeable arrangement, kick off Friends‘s second, much more successful, attempt to integrate animals into its world.

This story is nothing but pure pleasure; from Joey and Chandler bickering over the time they spend together as a ‘family’, to Chandler doubling down and adopting a duck alongside the chick (after trying to returning it, and learning the store’s euthanasia policies), “The One with a Chick and a Duck” mostly abandon its own pretense to see its most lovable pair at perhaps the peak of their masculine softness (at one point, Joey even provides healthy compliments to Ross about his potential clothing choices!) – and what’s not to love here? For the first time in a bit, Friends leans on its best comedic pairing to bring some much-needed levity to the season, and helps distract from some of the glaring issues elsewhere in the script, credited to staff writer Chris Brown.

Kate’s name isn’t even mentioned; and that’s not a bad thing, providing a bit of space from Joey’s unfortunate handling of the situation (let’s not forget him sleeping with the understudy and dumping her the next day). While it might feel disappointing that “The One with a Chick and a Duck” doesn’t push Joey into his misery to explore his character a bit more (as it often does with other characters), we’re definitely the better for it, both because of how it facilitates Chandler’s hilarious antics, but also because it saves us from another half hour of Joey making frowny face, further exacerbating the limited emotional range of his character.

Friends The One with a Chick and a Duck

Plus, it helps provide some comedic relief for the more weighted Ross/Rachel and Monica/Pete plots of the episode. And let’s just get the latter out of the way: “The One with a Chick and a Duck” is the end of Pete as a character with potential on Friends. His plan in this episode, to buy Monica a restaurant without her knowing it, is a decidedly awful (and not even slightly endearing) idea. Worse, it is one “Chick and a Duck” never even gives an opportunity to develop into something intriguing, immediately revealing (through Phoebe’s psychic intuition) that Pete continues to be full of shit, an incredibly boring man whose only attempts to win Monica’s heart have been by using his wallet.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to buy her sudden third-act moment of hesitation – where after telling off Pete, Monica kisses him goodbye and realizes that she might actually be attracted to him after all! But even a moment’s consideration reveals what an incredibly impulsive moment it is for Monica, one not befitting a character who is so anal about cleaning supplies and organization, she keeps a ‘permanent collection’ of hotel sample soaps from all over the world. As we saw last season, Monica’s not about to throw away her dignity and ambitions for a life and family, just to make a relationship work – to see her entertain the idea here, lays bare how Friends has struggled with her character since the emotional highs of her post- “The One Where Monica and Richard Are Just Friends” era.

Friends The One with a Chick and a Duck

Stuck between Joey’s impetuous decision and Monica’s brainless one, Ross’s choice to stay and help an ailing Rachel instead of be featured on the Discovery Channel is an interesting premise hindered by limited screen time. I don’t blame “The One with a Chick and a Duck” playing their first extended interactions since “The One without the Ski Trip” for laughs – but the abundance of focus on Rachel’s makeup and Ross’s ability to see Rachel naked in his mind’s eye, abdicates the episode from really engaging with the idea of a sitcom having its cake and eating it too. After all, even though Ross and Rachel broke up in rather definitive, traumatic fashion, the first FOUR seasons (spoilers?) of Friends are squarely focused on their entanglement, so it makes sense the show wants to tease us with a more benevolent Ross and forgiving, almost wistful Rachel.

The concept of being friends with an ex is not new to sitcoms, of course: Cheers made it part of the show’s very identity, but Friends‘ application of it is very different, and much more emotionally potent (at least, in theory – we’ll discuss as the season progresses whether it realizes that possibility). Since there hasn’t been enough time to dissolve the tension of Ross cheating in an acceptable way, the question for Friends is not only how they can effectively tease a possible reunion, but how they will achieve that tension without undercutting Rachel’s immense growth as a character in season three.

While nobody can really come away from “The One with a Chick and a Duck” convinced Rachel and Ross are still “each other’s lobsters“, it at least provides some reminder of why Ross isn’t a complete asshole 24/7 (though the Colonel Sanders suit he’s rightly roasted for is a reminder he’s always at least a bit of a douche), and that Rachel isn’t instantly regressing back into her previous, less confident self. Ross giving up a professional opportunity to take care of Rachel isn’t something he should win a big award for, of course; but in a season with very few redeeming moments for Ross, momentarily remembering he isn’t the only person on the planet and letting one (of many) opportunities to pontificate about fossils fall to the wayside is a gesture towards a more familiar Ross, one who isn’t consumed by his immaturity, jealousy, and regret.

Friends The One with a Chick and a Duck

Smartly, it doesn’t turn the episode into an extended diatribe on Ross’s behavior (though maybe it should when he insists on being able to see 100 naked Rachels whenever he wants). Instead, his choice to stay with her, which is certainly counter to those he’s made all season, surprisingly leads Friends to mostly comedic places (like with Ross putting Rachel into clown makeup and her subsequent attempts to remove it). But it’s a small step in the right direction for both character and story – and its occasional pauses to reflect on the complications of two people trying to figure out the blurry boundaries of their new friendship, clearly something the writer’s room is contending with as it constructs the final arcs of season three.

Though occasionally clumsy in spots, and still unable to convince the audience of Pete and Monica’s viability, “The One with a Chick and a Duck” is a pleasant episode of the season, and a much-needed comedic salve for the quartet of underwhelming episodes preceding it. Things are certainly on shaky ground as season three builds to its endgame – especially with Friends clearly building towards something with Pete and Monica – but there’s a palpable sense of direction in “Chick and a Duck”, which is ultimately, a noticeable improvement in quality over the show’s recent entries.

Grade: B

Other thoughts/observations:

  • “Do you know about chicks?” Chandler: “Fowl? No. Women? … No.”
  • Monica’s had a dream of running a restaurant since she opened her first, EZ Monica’s Bakery.
  • in the cold open, Joey notes Chandler’s goatee makes him “kinda look like Satan”. I just find the line delivery so hilariously perfect.
  • We get it – Monica’s bad at skating! Also, the waiters dress like Elvis, which I feel like should’ve been mined for a joke already.
  • Joey squeezes the chick tightly; Chandler tells him “Easy, Lenny.”
  • I wish Phoebe had more to do here than facilitate Pete and Monica’s climactic interaction. Kudrow’s line deliveries while talking to Pete in the diner alone warrant more screen time in this episode, time we never really get.
  • Monica mentions something about Chandler and a sock by his bed… Friends had a lot more male masturbation jokes than I remember it having, apparently?
  • Extended Thoughts: There is a solid trio of jokes cut from the broadcast version of the episode; the best of them involves Ross’s incredulity that Chandler is still rocking a goatee, which he calls the “ridiculous thing on your face.”

Up next: Friends features another high-profile guest star, and Phoebe sits on hold in “The One with the Screamer”.

One thought on “Second Look: Friends Season 3, Episode 21 – “The One with a Chick and a Duck”

  1. Believe it or not, the duck and chick were originally going to be in just this one episode – but they proved to be an unexpected hit, so they were made into recurring characters.

    That they were originally intended to be one-episode characters kind of puts a dark spin on the episode’s tag scene (which IRRC was not in the broadcast version).

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