Friends Season 3, Episode 23 “The One with Ross’s Thing”
Written by Ted Cohen & Andrew Reich
Directed by Shelley Jensen
Aired May 1, 1997 on NBC
On its face, “The One with Ross’s Thing” is a recipe for an absolute disaster of a Friends episode: a Phoebe-centric half hour featuring Ross’s ass growth and Monica’s temporary insanity as its supporting stories? Even to the biggest fans of the series, this does not sound like a quality sitcom episode. Surprise – it isn’t! But though “The One with Ross’s Thing” is a thoroughly mediocre episode of TV, it’s definitely not the worst Phoebe-heavy episode of the season – not exactly a saving grace, but it’s something the episode can hang its hat on amongst some real bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping material elsewhere.
The real downer of “The One with Ross’s Thing”, surprisingly, isn’t its titular character – it’s Monica, whose accelerated devolution into whiny, desperate girlfriend in a matter of episodes has been alarming, to say the least. After finally letting Pete’s wallet get in her pants, Monica’s somehow regressed to her post-prom video self in a matter of two episodes. What began as some innocent, if eyebrow-raising, behavior in “The One with the Screamer” turns into full-on insanity here, as Monica considers the possibility of marrying someone that, but a few weeks ago, was someone she shuddered at the thought of having sex with.
There’s losing the thread with characters, and then there’s whatever the fuck happened when Friends brought in Pete Becker to the show; there’s been nothing about this plot that feels properly calibrated or paced – and when placed in context after “The One Where Monica and Richard Are Just Friends,” does an incredible job at undermining the growth in its character. Monica’s romance and heartbreak was such a focus in season two, to see it return like this is incredibly disappointing, a turn that feels wildly out of character for a woman just starting to find her place in the world.
Of course, Pete isn’t sizing a ring for her finger: he’s sizing a ring for his mansion, so he can pursue his goal of “conquering the physical world” by becoming a UFC champion. Now, it’s worth noting UFC was not the mainstream entertainment product it is today; at the time, it was banned in 36 states after Senator John McCain saw footage of early events and led a campaign to ban the UFC (of course, this was when you could still pull hair, squeeze dicks, and elbow people in the back of the head).
Though oddly prescient for its time (just look at Jeff Bezos’ tight t-shirts if you don’t believe me), Pete’s sudden turn to become a pugilist is just dumb, a twist grounded in nothing but the need for Friends to resolve his character before the season finale. And it’s not really the twist itself that is the problem; though I’d rather see Pete disposed of by falling out the fire escape, Friends‘s expects the audience to be invested in a relationship that’s had precisely zero interesting/sexy/exciting moments in it to date – so to even drag the audience through a potential “is he going to propose” bit is counterproductive, because all it does is reveal how thin his character is, and expose how much Monica’s integrity was compromised in the process, as she flutters around cooing about her “boyfriend” and how she’s ready to say yes to his supposed proposal.
It’s so dumb, it almost completely drowns out the other mindless plot of the episode, where Ross runs around town trying to find a solution for a skin growth on the top of his ass cheek. Given Friends just did the “pointless distraction” plot in the last episode with Phoebe, it’s telling just how short all of Ross’s scenes are; Friends doesn’t care about this story or any of the minor characters in what amounts to a collection of bad jokes and Ross doing the prototypical “disillusioned and annoyed in the 1990’s” stare, before a new age guru’s watchband rips off the growth – a prescient reminder of the time we’ll never get back sitting through Ross’s inane subplot.
But hey, at least “The One with Ross’s Thing” is a good time for Phoebe, who finds herself dating two men who continue to buckle her knees with each new quality they reveal of themselves. Though this plot is as pointless as Ross’s “kundus,” one can’t help but enjoy watching Lisa Kudrow chew up scenery as Vince reveals his emotional side, and Jason reveals his six-pack and Phoebe finds herself in a lot of horny, anxiety-inducing positions. Plus, sex positive plots featuring women were rare in the pre-Sex in the City days, so seeing Phoebe try to have her cake and eat it too is a reminder of Friends‘s subtle sexual politics, and how they set the table for so many other comedies to follow in the 30 years since.
Look, there’s no respectable ranking of Friends season three episodes (I mean, who would even write one of those in 2024? *wink*) that would list “The One with Ross’s Thing” anywhere near the top of the list. And though nobody should expect a 25-episode season to be wall-to-wall bangers, the lack of craft in the execution of “The One with Ross’s Thing” is still a bit painful to endure, at least until the soft landing of Phoebe fumbling the bag with her two sensitive, smart soft boys. “The One with Ross’s Thing” doesn’t offer us much, but it at least has that.
- Want some good Chandler, Joey or Rachel material? Try again next time; they’re barely present!
- Blink and you’ll miss character actor Richard Gant as Ross’s curious doctor, who invites all his physician friends to come look at the unseen monstrosity on Ross’s backside.
- I also love the closing tag, when Joey and Chandler bring the duck to the guru to help with its cough.
- Ross in red again! I hate it!
- Hey, it’s Kids in the Hall alum Kevin McDonald, making one of his many appearances on American sitcoms as a weirdo. Thanks, Canada!
- “IKEA, this is comfortable.” Boy, different times for furniture brands.
- “Was it like a sneeze, only better?” Even with almost no screen time, Chandler still delivers a few bangers.
- “Does a dog’s lips move when he reads?”
- Extended thoughts: Extended version is about a minute longer than the TV version. Lots of great bits, but my two favorites are Phoebe saying the car on fire is “probably just low on coolant”, or Joey’s “Hey, you know what you don’t see a lot of? Topless tap dancing”, which inspires a classic response from Monica: “I really enjoy these little talks we have.”
Up next: Chandler’s butt comes front and center in “The One with the Ultimate Fighting Champion”.