Second Look: Friends Season 3 Episode 12 – “The One with All the Jealousy”
Originally aired 1/16/1997
Directed by Robby Benson
Directed by Doty Abrams
The plight of Ross Gellar in Friends season three is always a difficult one to watch. Centered on Ross’s immaturity, “The One with All the Jealousy” is no different – though, as is sometimes the case, is not a complete deal breaker! Anchored by a couple goofy, well-intentioned ancillary stories, “The One with All the Jealousy” is one of the better entries of this fateful Ross/Rachel arc – turns out a little pathos goes a long way, especially when David Schwimmer is allowed to access it in this early-to-mid-series episodes.
This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen Ross struggle with his attraction to Rachel; from “Pilot” to “The One with the Prom Video” and numerous times this season, Ross has consistently proven incapable of dating the woman he’s spent decades fantasizing about. In “The One with All the Jealousy”, however, Friends finally takes a beat to consider what it actually means for Ross Gellar to fall in love again. Strangely, it took almost a season of them dating (even Rachel notes they’ve almost been together for a year, a line of dialogue that will set off the alarms of any longtime Friends fan) before the show would engage with this idea. For the most part, they’ve mostly just reiterated a lot of what was established in the early episodes of season two – that on some level, Ross and Rachel have fundamental differences lurking in the shadows of their relationship, just waiting for opportunities like “TOW All the Jealousy” to step into the forefront.
The biggest of these, Ross’s divorce, is one Friends seems to almost forget at times. It’s not surprising, knowing this script is credited to Doty Abrams (her first since “The One with the Lesbian Wedding”) that this would be an episode that returned to Ross’s emotional baggage – but how it manifests in “TOW All the Jealousy” is a blueprint I wish this season would’ve adhered to more often. Ross is not a character without pathos, but in episodes like “The One Where Chandler Can’t Remember Which Sister”, Friends is not interested in mining that for meaningful material – the goal is much crasser and superficial, turning Ross into a supervillain monstrosity of his very worst character traits (which, as it did with many characters, it would indulge more frequently throughout the series). Make no mistake: Ross is a fucking terror in this episode, showering Rachel with unwanted gifts, phone calls, and visits on her first day at work, all because he lost his shit after Mark offered to take her out for lunch to help her get settled in.
For 3/4th of this episode, Ross is quite frankly, a little bitch: he’s lucky he doesn’t end up single after the barbershop quartet arrives, which Rachel rightfully compares to him trying to surround her with a ring of his piss to mark his territory. But that extreme behavior is finally given some definition here, manifesting Ross’s fatal flaw: he is always going to be insecure about being alone, after having the life he built for himself and Susan ripped out of his hands right when he was about to form a family. Time and time again throughout the series, Friends would show us the desperate places this would bring him to, from something as small as accidentally taking a bus to Canada, to a ill-fated London wedding… to you know, dating one of his fucking students (I’m getting ahead of myself, however).
Smartly, “TOW All the Jealousy” even explains this on a genetic level, paralleling Ross’s story with Monica’s brief fling with Julio the busboy poet – another story of a Gellar who are quick to jump to conclusions, and take drastic action based on their instincts. For Monica, the stakes are lower: she fools around with a hot Latino dude who turns out to be vaguely misogynistic (side note – anyone think The Empty Vase was a vagina joke waiting to happen? Or that Julio might just be closeted? As usual, I digress). But the moment Monica gets a whiff of something afoot, she’s wagging a finger in Julio’s face and throwing accusations; knowing where she probably learned that behavioral approach from, Ross’s reactions this season begin to make a lot more sense.
Of course, Friends would always struggle to balance Ross the asshole and Ross the empathetic sheepdog; “The One with All the Jealousy” is not except, really only allowing Ross to open up and be three-dimensional for a single scene. That scene (which again takes place on the Central Perk couch, the home to so many critical interactions this season) is an important one; while it wouldn’t really be an idea Friends would return to (or could, after the events of upcoming episodes), it provides a brief glimpse into Ross’s internal monologue, context that provides a necessary avenue to resolve a difficult story. It’s hard to not end this episode without Rachel laying into Ross for being a piece of shit – but Schwimmer’s performance in his monologue really makes the scene, and episode, work in retrospect.
While it works super well for Ross, it strangely doesn’t quite land for Rachel – while I love her unflapping dedication to starting her job and defining her work relationship on her terms, her jealous turn at the end seems a bit artificial, almost like the writers were scrambling for a way to even the playing field a bit in their conflict (which…. seems like it will not be a long-lasting concern of theirs? Just putting a pin in that for no reason!). Rachel can certainly be hypocritical at times, but knowing how Ross worships her and just groveled in front of her, her sudden shift to not see through Ross’s plan to make her jealous, and instead get angry and anxious, feels off, the one time this episode seems to prioritize plot over character – though its mostly played as a joke to cut to credits, so I’m not going to read into it as a defining moment for her.
Outside of the Gellar siblings, “The One with All the Jealousy” is rather light; if you can’t tell, just see how Phoebe and Chandler are mostly there to react to the Gellar siblings and Joey, who is lying his way through an audition for A Tale of Two Cities: The Musical. At least Joey shows off Friends‘ talent for escalating comedic stakes, as Joey slowly realizes learning to a sing a single song will not help him in a room full of choreographed dancing professionals.
It’s weightless in a way that the episode needs; what’s happening with Ross and Rachel is cringe by design, with a gravity that’s hard for the rest of the episode to escape. Instead of fight against that, Abrams and the writer’s room lean into it, alleviating the need of the B and C stories to have a more involved presence, so the Ross/Rachel story can have the necessary oxygen it needs to thrive (which admittedly, was a big part of the cultural lexicon, nodded towards with Ross’s line of being the “Ross in Ross and Rachel” while on the phone with Mark). It takes a bit of a difficult, unconventional road to get there (and admittedly, the Joey/Monica stories are less than memorable) – but contrasted with some of the ugliness on both sides of this half hour, “TOW All the Jealousy” is almost elegant in how it injects pathos into the season’s major romantic arc at a critical juncture. That’s not exactly an easy thing to do, but it’s a particularly critical step as season three heads into its iconic, controversial second act.
- Phoebe… has a dozen purses in this episode? There’s the backseat, and then there’s Phoebe, stashed in the trunk of the episode.
- Monica’s emotional turn in this episode relies on her inability to understand the world’s most simplistic poetic metaphor, which seems fitting – Monica is not a person who wastes time thinking about things (see: her completely random mention of getting artificially inseminated just a few episodes ago).
- Friends made a freakin’ Twyla Tharp reference? Has to be one of the most niche, obscure pop culture references of the series. An extremely New York joke.
- This episode is the first of three consecutive entries directed by Robby Benson, who is probably best known as being the voice of Beast in Beauty and the Beast. He’s also been cast in season two of Severance, apparently?
- Chandler accidentally channels Melissa Manchester when trying to give Ross advice: “learn how to hide your feelings…. don’t cry out loud!”
- Extended thoughts: The difference of people saying ‘vase’ is a great joke that gets more room in this version, and the kind of curiosity about English nomenclature modern comedy often forgets makes for easy, good material.
Up next: Monica heads to the video rental store, and Joey reads Little Women in “The One Where Monica and Richard Are Just Friends”.