Friends Season 3, Episode 22 “The One with the Screamer”
Written by Shana Goldberg-Meehan & Scott Silveri
Directed by Peter Bonerz
Aired April 24, 1997 on NBC
Friends‘s late season swoon continues with “The One with the Screamer”, an unfortunate momentum-killer after “The One with a Chick and a Duck” appeared to be getting season three back on track. Let’s not mince words here; “The One with the Screamer” is the worst episode of Friends since “The One with the Jam” – and at least that episode had one strong moment to rest its underwhelming laurels upon. Here, it’s just 22 minutes of wondering if the men on Friends are alright, an episode whose only redeeming quality is finally putting the Kate/Joey story to bed with all the awkward, unsatisfying indignity it deserves.
“The One with the Screamer” may just be the oddest episode of the season, turning up the unpleasantness to 11 as it welcomed in Ben Stiller (fresh off directing The Cable Guy and the first Derek Zoolander short for the 1996 VH1 Awards) for a particularly detached brand of Friends comedy. And it’s trouble from the word go, a cold open that establishes Phoebe will be doing nothing but sitting on hold for the entire episode, a briefly funny bit that quickly becomes yet another example of Friends fumbling Lisa Kudrow’s talents with pointless stories.
It’s telling, then, that Phoebe’s scenes are the most welcome parts of the episode: everything around her weightless, if ubiquitous, customer service experience is Friends at its dumbest, and most unpleasant. And like other episodes this season, its frustrations come more out of execution than conception; the leading trio of stories all come from interesting premises. I’d certainly watch an episode about Joey’s first big (onscreen) heartbreak, Ross and Rachel contending with dating other people, and Monica settling into her first post-Richard relationship. Sounds great, right?
The problems begin with Ross and Rachel; when Ross makes it known he’s bringing a date to Joey’s play, Rachel scrambles to find a date, as to not let him ‘win’ the breakup (how does YouTube not have a clip of this How I Met Your Mother scene in 2024?). Her date, Stiller’s Tommy, quickly shows his true colors when alone with Ross, where he screams at an old couple for accidentally sitting in the wrong theater seats. That acidity informs the rest of the episode – which quickly moves from there to the afterparty, where Pete tells the ‘hilarious’ story of how he bought his way into Monica’s heart… and it’s really mostly all downhill from there, as Joey and Kate’s director reads the first newspaper reviews of their show, and “The One with the Screamer” proceeds to go completely off the rails.
(also, in the extended version of the episode, Monica reveals her and Pete are making sex tapes? What the fuck?)
The whole episode is a Pick Your Own Adventure of undercooked nonsense, from Ross’s approach on confronting Rachel about Tommy, to how Joey lets himself get completely fucking played by Kate a second time. I mean, this is an episode where Monica continuously reminds everyone that “she has a boyfriend!”, as if we hadn’t just spent one of the best episodes of season three establishing Monica’s romantic maturity (itself a long, winding path from the teenager we saw in “The One with the Prom Video”). Friends really isn’t even trying with the Monica/Pete relationship; she goes from questioning if she’s even attracted to him, to being two feet in on a serious relationship, in a way that enormously undercuts everything that makes her an interesting character.
Thankfully, the show’s investment in Pete to this point has been nominal; what really feels like a waste of time in “The One with the Screamer” is the closing chapter of the Joey/Kate saga, which is almost angering in how it misuses Joey’s character. Remember the kind friend we saw back in “The One with the Jam”? He’s nowhere to be found here, sheepishly repeating the mistakes of “The One with the Tiny T-Shirt”, sleeping with Kate again – after she completely fails to justify her behavior in recent episodes, I might add, a telling sign in how much this plot feels like a complete throwaway.
Their brief tryst comes to an end, however, when she tells Joey mid-show that she’s taken a soap job in Los Angeles; she can’t even give the guy a decent fucking goodbye before she’s running off to the west coast. To compound things, Joey once again uses Lauren as a literal stand-in for Kate, expressing his supposed feelings to her through his character’s dialogue (before Friends also reveals the play’s been complete bullshit the entire time, which is fitting, I suppose) while Kate stands in the audience. As Joey climbs the ladder and Kate runs to the airport, one can almost feel season three hitting a new low.
That sound echoes in the final scene, where the gang finally sees Ross’s paranoia about Tommy was justified; if it wasn’t for the whole Joey/Kate dynamic sucking all the air out of the room in the third act, this plot would feel more disappointing than it does here, where it mostly just feels like an unfunny waste of a high-profile guest star. The idea is there, as Friends continues to tease contending with Ross and Rachel as being friends who date other people – but once again, it dips its toes in more intriguing, complicated waters, and instead settles on the simplest possible solution – in the form of a screaming Stiller and a lot of awkward, canned studio laughter.
With only three episodes left in season three, one might think “The One with the Screamer” might feel a bit more consequential, or at least purposeful: instead, Friends continues to stumble its way to the finish line, hamstrung by two underwhelming romantic plots, (one down, one to go!) and another missed opportunity with Ross/Rachel. With no meaningful developments, or even any memorable bits (outside of “Step away from the duck!”, of course), “The One with the Screamer” is certainly the season’s most insignificant entry, an only makes the season’s early, iconic episodes feel like a distant, fading memory.
- Kate’s endearing explanation for her behavior? “What, you never went out with an actress before?” Boy, I can’t understate how much I hate the whole Kate arc and how it damages Joey’s character.
- Who is costuming Ross this season? He follows up last week’s red, color-grading monstrosity with a hideous yellow button-down, bringing into question just what the hell’s happened to his closet post-breakup.
- “Tell your great, great granddaughter to look me up…” ugh, even the fictional Vic is a fucking weirdo. Side note: I always wish Friends had done something like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Producers, except with Joey starring in Death of a Salesman. What could’ve been, amirite?
- Chandler carries the chick and duck into Monica’s apartment, so they can hear from someone else they’re not allowed to go to the theater. And with that, America’s hearts swooned.
- Kate’s departure and the end of Joey’s play arc also means we say farewell to Lauren, who at least gets to tell Joey off a couple more times before her departure.
- Joey’s reaction to hearing he’s not the worst part of the play is the episode’s one funny moment.
- Wait… did Joey say he gave up a job declawing cats? That doesn’t even make sense!
- Estelle makes an appearance at the after show, clearly not having seen the play, as she tries to recruit Monica and Rachel into the world of acting.
- Extended Thoughts: outside of the sex tape joke, there’s not a lot remarkable about the two different versions, save for Chandler joking that the chick and the duck are going “back to Nintendo” after they’re informed they can’t attend the theater.
Up next: Ross seeks the advice of a Kids in the Hall alum, and Phoebe takes a ‘modern’ approach to dating in “The One with Ross’s Thing”.