Friends, in a first-season cast photo. But you probably knew that.
Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston, of
Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston, of Friends, in a first-season cast photo. But you probably knew that. AP
I have come to the conclusion that the last thing many of us outgrow — the last thing we fruitlessly try to drag along behind us with our other childhood possessions — is fretting about how old we're getting. I would like to say this revelation is simply something that occurred to me one day while I was admiring my dry, misdirected gray hairs, but in fact, I owe it to the news that Friends is starting its run on Nick At Nite on Monday.
Yes, Nick At Nite, which originally launched as a block of emphatically "oldies" sitcoms like The Donna Reed Show, is going to show Friends. When I first read that piece of news, I felt my eyes go, "BOING-OING-OING," like a very appalled monkey in a cartoon. "Nick At Nite?" my 40-year-old brain wondered. "Is showing Friends? That network with the old shows on it is going to show Joey and Chandler? I was out of college when that show started."
Now, this isn't really anything all that new. Nick At Nite has actually shown things before that overlapped with the run of Friends — Mad About You, NewsRadio ... there have been '90s-minted shows on before. But ... but ... this is Friends. Rachel and that stupid haircut! Paolo the crapweasel! Ms. Chnandler Bong!
At first, I soothed myself with the fact that they have, in fact, started running newer shows than they used to. After all, Everybody Hates Chris, the CW comedy Chris Rock could never quite get to fly with audiences, premiered on Nick At Nite only months after its last new episode aired in 2009. They've wandered away from the "oldies" model. It's not like Friends is The Donna Reed Show of our time, right?
Well, no, of course not. When Nick At Nite launched in 1985, The Donna Reed Show had been off the air since 1966. That's 19 years! Friends only went off the air in 2004. That's only seven years. So really, it is a much newer show. This is the fact with which I initially patted and comforted the petty part of me that worries about such things. I mean, if they were still showing exclusively things of the same vintage they once did, they'd be airing shows that went off the air in 1992. Shows like ... The Golden Girls.
Wait, WHAT? The Golden Girls is as old now as The Donna Reed Show was when Nick At Nite started? That's right, folks. It is.
You know what else is? The Cosby Show.
This sort of thing happens all the time, probably as much to a pop-culture commentator as anyone. I'm constantly noting things like when Die Hard came out, or when Cheers ended, or when Live Aid was. It's always a little bit jarring — as it is when people I think of as having sensibilities roughly similar to my own remind me that, for instance, Friends is something they really loved when they were in sixth grade. And I feel myself doing the thing that people once did to me, the "Oh, you're so young!" thing, the thing that feels like it has no right answer, because it's vaguely condescending even though it's sincerely meant to be envious and flattering.
(Quite honestly, people who think 26-year-olds are flattered by 40-year-olds gassing on about how young they are haven't been 26 in a while. And I say this as a memo to myself, believe me.)
There's nothing inherently wrong with it — with being surprised by how time flies. But then, the expression "time flies" has been around for kind of a long time, and probably doesn't need to be saluted every single time it comes up.
And there's nothing wrong with enjoying the last few times you will ever be carded, either, even when you secretly suspect it's a ham-handed effort to improve the tip. But eventually they will stop carding you — at least with any note of seriousness. After all, if you don't outlive the fears of the world's most conservative bartender that you might just be a very mature-looking 20-and-eleven-months, then you will have missed out on a lot.
I'm not any older because they syndicated Friends to a new basic cable network. That's ... a fairly aggressively dopey idea, as much the instinct is there for so many of us. Rather than seeing it as a reminder that I am 40 and therefore by definition and by force of law I am older than I feel, I prefer to take it as a reminder that 40 is a lot younger than I thought it was, even as recently as when Friends premiered in 1994 — or even when it went off the air ten years later.
I don't feel as much distance from the end of The Golden Girls as I assumed people felt from the end of The Donna Reed Show in 1985, when I was 14. It was a while ago, sure, and the shoulder pads seem a little ridiculous, and the pilot was four presidents ago. But I don't somehow feel like I've gotten on a spaceship and traveled to an entirely new world I could never have imagined, which is basically how I saw the difference between the '60s and the '80s as a teenager.
When I think about happy people I know, I know a lot more 40-year-olds who still fret about a vague notion of how old they are than I do 60-year-olds. Worrying about actual problems, like health issues and being able to retire and that sort of thing, that's all part of getting older, obviously. But the people I know who are 60 don't sit around fretting about being 60, which is not, in and of itself, a problem. They don't tell you all the time how old that is, how old their favorite movies are, or how it seems like everything that happened 25 years ago just happened.
So it wears off at some point, I think, that hard-to-shake vanity that keeps nagging you not to go gentle into the fact that everything naturally speeds up as you go, because it takes up a smaller and smaller percentage of your life thus far. One summer vacation when I was 11 or 12 was a whole era. Now I get to September and realize I forgot to take a vacation. It's one of many summers. I've had as many summers to enjoy since I finished grad school as I had all the way up until tenth grade.
And the time between the end of a pop-culture phenomenon as a going concern and the beginning of its time as something "retro" has certainly gotten somewhat shorter as we've revved up so many points of sale for nostalgia. But it's a mistake to overreact to your own changing perspective, I think — it's like driving away from a barn at 90 miles an hour, seeing it occupy less of your field of vision, and convincing yourself that either the building is getting smaller or you're getting bigger. Neither of those things is happening. What's happening is what's supposed to happen. Everything is stable; everything is physics. And you're still moving.