'Friends' Main Characters, Ranked From Ross To Best : Pop Culture Happy Hour The recent Friends reunion on HBO Max set off a new wave of nostalgia. So we put the most important question to you: Who's the best friend? Who's the worst friend? Thousands of you voted, and the results are in.

The 'Friends,' Ranked, From Ross To Best

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(SOUNDBITE OF THE REMBRANDTS SONG, "I'LL BE THERE FOR YOU")

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

The recent "Friends" reunion on HBO Max set off a new wave of nostalgia, and we are no exception. So we put the most important question to you - who is the best friend and, of course, who's the worst friend? Thousands of you voted, and the results are in. I'm Linda Holmes. And today on NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, we are revealing your ranking of the friends from worst to best, so don't go away.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE REMBRANDTS SONG, "I'LL BE THERE FOR YOU")

HOLMES: Welcome back. And joining us today is Sam Sanders, the host of NPR's It's Been A Minute.

Welcome, Sam.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Hello. Thanks for having me.

HOLMES: Always a delight. Also joining us is Weekend Edition books editor Barrie Hardymon.

Welcome, Barrie.

BARRIE HARDYMON, BYLINE: Hiya.

HOLMES: And also with us is film critic and culture journalist Bedatri D. Choudhury.

Hey, Bedatri.

BEDATRI D CHOUDHURY, BYLINE: Hello. Thank you for having me, Linda.

HOLMES: It is always so wonderful to have you. This is a wonderful panel to me. And we are going to talk about some "Friends." For anyone who needs a refresher, "Friends" ran from 1994 to 2004 on NBC. It was a phenomenon. It was a hit. It was a launching pad for its stars. It had a lasting influence on comedy. There have been plenty of retrospectives, though, so we went to the most important thing - cold, hard rankings of human beings.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Now, in this case, they are fictional human beings. And we decided we would ask people, who's the best friend, who's the worst friend? Now, the only issue we had with this particular thing is we were afraid that we knew who would be worst friend and best friend. And we'll find out whether we were right. The worst friend - ready? Is everybody ready?

HARDYMON: I'm so excited.

SANDERS: I'm so ready.

HOLMES: Worst friend...

SANDERS: Also, just sidebar really quickly - for you to say cold, hard rankings of human beings, that felt so "Black Mirror" to me. And I loved it.

HOLMES: Oh.

SANDERS: Thank you for that.

HOLMES: For sure.

HARDYMON: Very good.

HOLMES: We're just going to keep doing this with various groups of people.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: OK. Worst friend is Ross Geller.

SANDERS: Oh, you don't say.

CHOUDHURY: No, really?

HARDYMON: No.

SANDERS: I would have never guessed.

HOLMES: Huh.

(LAUGHTER)

CHOUDHURY: That wasn't my vote. I mean, just to be clear, I voted in this poll, too...

HOLMES: Oh, good.

CHOUDHURY: ...Not knowing I'd be on it (laughter).

HOLMES: Absolutely wonderful. Well, if people are not familiar with Ross, let's hear a little bit of Ross.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

DAVID SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Here we go - pivot.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Pivot.

HARDYMON: Oh, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Pivot.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Pivot.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Pivot.

HOLMES: Now, if you want to know why Ross did come up as the worst friend, it is because of things like pivot. That is him trying to get his friends to help him move a couch. Now Bedatri, you said you did not vote for Ross for worst friend. You are, I will tell you, (laughter) in the minority.

HARDYMON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Because with six choices for worst friend, Ross was selected as worst friend by 76% (laughter) of listeners.

(LAUGHTER)

CHOUDHURY: I need to - sorry.

HARDYMON: No way.

CHOUDHURY: I need to rethink my life decisions right now.

HARDYMON: That's amazing.

SANDERS: Oh, my God. I love it.

CHOUDHURY: This is - OK.

HOLMES: It's hilarious.

CHOUDHURY: I see where they are coming from. But...

HOLMES: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: ...For me, I think - oh, I don't know. Like, I think Ross has been there for people and have (ph) been supportive at times, which I just don't think Rachel ever did. So my vote...

HOLMES: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: ...For the worst friend went to Rachel.

SANDERS: Wow.

HOLMES: Yeah. Ross is a sad sack.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: Right? And you sort of have to figure out how much you mind Ross being a sad sack who eventually had a bad temper and - yeah.

SANDERS: I mean, I think for me - well, one, Ross is for sure the worst.

HARDYMON: (Laughter).

SANDERS: And I separate the "Friends" characters into, like, kind of mean and, like, kind of nice. And I think the kind of mean characters, it's probably Chandler and Ross. And for me...

HARDYMON: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...At least when Chandler was mean, it was funny.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

SANDERS: Ross was just mean just to be mean.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

SANDERS: And I never got him. I never will. He didn't deserve Rachel.

HOLMES: Nope.

CHOUDHURY: (Laughter).

SANDERS: He wasn't even that cute.

HOLMES: Nope.

SANDERS: Let me stop (laughter).

HARDYMON: He's not funny. And the audience was sort of invited to laugh at his sad sackiness (ph). But I never wanted...

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...To because I just found him irritating because he had literally no consciousness of himself, you know?

SANDERS: Exactly.

HARDYMON: He did not know how to appeal to others.

SANDERS: And it felt like Chandler got it.

HARDYMON: Oh, fully.

SANDERS: Yeah, Chandler got the joke.

HARDYMON: Chandler was in on the joke. That's right.

HOLMES: Yeah, I agree. Well, it's funny that Bedatri said that her vote for worst friend was Rachel because coming in fifth...

HARDYMON: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Among favorite friends...

HARDYMON: Oh, for sure.

SANDERS: Are you serious?

HOLMES: ...Was indeed...

SANDERS: I don't get that.

HOLMES: ...Rachel.

HARDYMON: Really?

SANDERS: I loved her.

CHOUDHURY: I will never forgive her for stealing Jean-Claude Van Damme from Monica.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Oh, that's a good thing.

HARDYMON: Oh, man. Loyalty counts.

HOLMES: That's a good point.

HARDYMON: I like it. I like it.

HOLMES: Yeah. I mean, obviously the vision of Rachel at the beginning was that she was very spoiled and, you know, had grown up with no problems. And, you know, there was an episode about how she expected her father to pay for everything. But eventually, I did come to find Jennifer Aniston's performance...

HARDYMON: Yes.

HOLMES: ...To be funnier and dryer than it originally was. I brought a favorite Rachel clip of mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

JENNIFER ANISTON: (As Rachel) I know. I know.

LISA KUDROW: (As Phoebe) You know?

ANISTON: (As Rachel) Yes, I know. And Joey knows. But Ross doesn't know. So you have to stop screaming.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Hey. What's going on?

(SCREAMING)

ANISTON: (As Rachel) Hi. Hi.

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) What? What?

ANISTON: (As Rachel) Nothing. Oh, God. No, we're just so excited that you want to get this apartment.

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Actually, it looks really good.

ANISTON: (As Rachel) Oh, really good. It looks really good.

HOLMES: For some reason, when Jennifer Aniston - that is the episode where the other friends find out that Monica and Chandler are sleeping together. The way she says you have to stop screaming...

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: ...And particularly, the way she intersects with that really funny Lisa Kudrow performance as Phoebe, I do love that. I do love Rachel a little bit.

SANDERS: She is the homecoming queen of television.

HARDYMON: Yeah. Agreed.

HOLMES: That's true.

SANDERS: She's so likable. You're always rooting for her. I just - I don't know. I just feel like - also, when I watch "Friends," I'm never really seeing Rachel. I'm seeing Jennifer Aniston, who I love.

HOLMES: I know it.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

HARDYMON: That's fair. That's fair.

HOLMES: It's - her charisma is so intense. Whenever she's like, oh, "Friends" made me a star, I always thought, oh, no, honey. You made you a star because everyone is looking at you when you're on screen...

SANDERS: Yes.

HOLMES: ...Whether it was "Friends" or "The Morning Show"...

SANDERS: Yes.

HOLMES: ...Or what - I just always want to look at her. And it is just charisma. It's pure TV charisma.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HOLMES: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. I mean, and I grew up in India. And I was watching "Friends" way later than the rest of the world was. I swear, like, when I was younger, I had the Rachel haircut. And all my friends did, too.

SANDERS: Me, too, girl.

HOLMES: She was a fashion icon, you know? She was a winner in that regard. Monica came in fourth as favorite friends or third as worst friend.

SANDERS: My whole thing with Monica's character, the character of Monica, is, like, I felt like she had some undiagnosed anxiety issues. And I felt like she, like, needed some talk therapy and a good pill because she was so anxious, so nervous, so, like, wrapped up in her own head. I wanted happiness for her. And she just always made me sad. Is that weird?

HARDYMON: No. I kind of get what you're saying. It's just that her anxiety disorder felt so familiar to me.

(LAUGHTER)

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

HARDYMON: I was like, oh, she and me are the same, except that my house isn't as clean.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HARDYMON: So - but I know what you're saying. Like, I could see how that would be a sad thing. But for me I was like, oh, I know this lady. I, too, feel this way.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Well, I also think that they really changed the vibe of Monica over the course of the series. I think at the very beginning, her anxiety came out more as sort of mothering, a kind of a hyper-competence, you know, desire to be...

SANDERS: I'm cooking for everybody

HOLMES: ...Sort of took care of everyone. Later, they made it much more about her being extremely controlling. I think after she and Chandler were married, they went sort of down a little bit of a henpecked husband...

HARDYMON: Yep.

HOLMES: ...Comedy rabbit hole with the two of them that I...

HARDYMON: I think that's right.

HOLMES: ...For both of them, I enjoyed much less than earlier iterations of those characters, that she was a nag and that he kind of didn't really like her anymore sometimes.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: Right.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HOLMES: But I think they pulled out of that by the end, when they were dealing with trying to have a baby and things like that. But they definitely, I think, over the course of the show, took Monica - and it's - unfortunately is pretty common with women characters. They took her from being sort of an interesting, extremely competent person and stretched that out until it became controlling and...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...Annoying. Now, I maybe would have put our No. 2 and No. 3 person in reverse order. But coming in third was Joey, who I love.

SANDERS: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: Oh. Interesting.

HOLMES: I love - oh, I love Joey.

CHOUDHURY: I would've thought he would be higher up.

HARDYMON: I love him, too. No, I would have put him up higher, too. I would have thought...

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. Me, too.

HARDYMON: Like, I thought that he was going to come in first. He's not my first. But he's definitely in my top two.

HOLMES: Yeah. I love Joey.

CHOUDHURY: So sweet.

HOLMES: Joey, I think, started out as, like, such a meathead. And then over the course of the show, they did sort of a reverse, where they made him, I think, way more appealing over the course of the show.

CHOUDHURY: Right.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: And, like, he was, like, the beating heart of that show by the end.

SANDERS: Yeah.

CHOUDHURY: Right.

HARDYMON: Right. He was so sweet. He was the kind of friend that you were like, oh, God, I wish I had a Joey who would just say...

SANDERS: Exactly.

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...How you doing every time - when I was in gym clothes...

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...You know? I want that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

MATT LEBLANC: (As Joey) What I do is I look a woman up and down. And I say, hey...

(LAUGHTER)

LEBLANC: (As Joey) How you doing?

(LAUGHTER)

KUDROW: (As Phoebe) Oh, please.

LEBLANC: (As Joey) Hey. How you doing?

CHOUDHURY: But I was like - I've always felt that I wish I had a friend like Joey. But I wish he would treat women he dated better.

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Yes.

CHOUDHURY: That was, like, my only problem with Joey.

HARDYMON: Yeah. Yeah. You're right.

HOLMES: I think that's fair.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

HOLMES: That may be what bumped him down a little bit because I think, especially - again, especially at the beginning of the show, he was more of a stereotypical, like, player. I think the comedy stylings of Matt LeBlanc are some of the ones that hold up the best.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: I think that's a good point.

LEBLANC: And he's just a really great actor. Like, it always felt like he really got the assignment. He was so committed to, like, getting that role right, it feels like.

HARDYMON: Yep.

SANDERS: He just nailed it all the time.

HARDYMON: The scenes with his family were - I felt like...

HOLMES: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...Were the ones where you were like, oh, yeah, no, he's acting. That's great.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HOLMES: Yeah. Yeah.

HARDYMON: You know, he's been acting all this time...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...Because that made sense that that was his family. You know what I mean?

HOLMES: Right. Right. Absolutely. And he's also one of the ones who can just still crack me up with, like, a reaction, like, a sort of a - pulling faces and stuff like that.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Physical.

HOLMES: Love it. Love it. So coming in second - this is probably not a big surprise, as between the two we have left, coming in second is Chandler.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

MATTHEW PERRY: (As Chandler) Could I be more sorry?

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Chandler, boy, when I was like - because I was essentially a contemporary of these characters. So I was in my early - early mid-20s when this show started. Boy, I loved the Chandler at that age.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Me, too.

CHOUDHURY: Yes.

HOLMES: And, boy, guys like Chandler did not age that well...

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. Yes.

HOLMES: ...In terms of people that I enjoyed being around. But I did love the joke.

HARDYMON: That's funny, Linda. I think I'm in your same demographic, and I felt the same. Like, he was the one that I thought was hot, and I thought that nobody else would have thought that he was hot. But then it was, like, a surprise that it was like, oh, yeah. No, we all thought that that was, like, pretty cute. And then we all aged out of him. Was he hot to younger people?

SANDERS: I - oh, so I didn't start watching "Friends" until just like, honestly, probably, gosh, two years ago. And I went down the rabbit hole with Netflix. And I remember in the first season, when I was getting to know all the characters, I said to myself, oh, my God. Chandler's gay. I said, Chandler is a closeted gay man. He's dating...

HARDYMON: Sure.

SANDERS: ...Way too many women to distract from the fact that he's actually gay. And all the mean snarkiness is his anger at having to be closeted. And then, when I researched the show, I realize that one of the creators of the show is a gay man. And I have always wondered what he was trying to do with that Chandler character. And I've read some think pieces that kind of insinuate that the gay show creator was trying to make these male characters who are so afraid of sexuality to poke fun at this sense of gay panic among straight men, especially in Manhattan in the '90s. But I never knew if he meant it that way and it was, like, a meta commentary or what. But in my mind, Chandler was always the most interesting for me because he represented these layers of nuance around sexuality and comfort. And, I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I found him the most interesting.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. I mean, for me, Chandler is to me what Monica is to Sam - is like, I thought that somebody should have helped him. Because, like, his jokes are funny, but there's always that note of self-deprecatory.

SANDERS: He was sad.

CHOUDHURY: He was always...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Self-hatred, yeah.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. So I always thought that, you know, he - yeah. Somebody needed to just, like, step in and like - you know, maybe a good therapist and...

SANDERS: And tell him that he's gay (laughter).

HARDYMON: It's funny, Sam.

HOLMES: Yeah. No, it's true.

HARDYMON: You just changed - I feel like that reading makes me - because I find those - sort of those gay jokes sort of, like, tiresome and annoying as an adult now. But that kind of changes the reading for it for me in a way. I like that reading.

SANDERS: I knew Chandlers. I was a Chandler. And it's like - (laughter) I don't know. I just felt like I knew that guy. And...

HARDYMON: Yeah, you rehabilitated him for me.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HOLMES: That's true.

HARDYMON: Yeah.

HOLMES: So it stands to reason that 50% of our listeners - fully 50% of our listeners - chose Phoebe.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

KUDROW: (As Phoebe, singing) Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you? Smelly cat, smelly cat...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As backup singers, singing) Smelly, smelly, smelly, smelly, smelly, smelly, smelly, cat...

KUDROW: (As Phoebe) Oh, whoa. Oh, my God.

(LAUGHTER)

KUDROW: (As Phoebe) I mean, like, who was that?

(LAUGHTER)

DEEDEE RESCHER: (As record producer) They're your backup singers - behind you, hon.

KUDROW: (As Phoebe) Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

KUDROW: (As Phoebe) Oh, I thought they were just watching me.

(LAUGHTER)

KUDROW: (As Phoebe) You know, like at an aquarium, you know?

HOLMES: She is the gentle spirit.

SANDERS: Yes, hands down.

HARDYMON: Yeah. She's still funny. She still gets all the stuff that like - there's a couple of sharp bits with her. She's smart. She's competent even in her wildness. You know, there's like a...

HOLMES: Right. Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...Kind of like a competence to her that I love. Yeah, no. Phoebe forever, man.

SANDERS: She's also the friend...

HOLMES: Yeah, absolutely.

SANDERS: I feel like she's the kind of friend where you don't see her for 20 years. And then you do...

HARDYMON: Yes.

SANDERS: ...And it's like you just saw her the day before.

HARDYMON: And nonjudgmental. Like, I love too that, like, if you saw her after 20 years, she would never be like, where have you been? She'd be like, hey, what's going on? Like, there's no...

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

HARDYMON: There's no judgment from Phoebe. And the rest...

SANDERS: Yes.

HARDYMON: ...Of the friends are all so judgy that it was such...

SANDERS: Yes.

HARDYMON: ...A breath of fresh air when she was just like, be you.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: (Laughter).

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. I mean, not only would she, like, give you a hug, she would probably write a song about you, even after 20 years.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

HARDYMON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: She's a sweet one.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

HOLMES: She's a good one.

HARDYMON: She's the good one.

HOLMES: To me, she is the one who represents the friend you would actually wish to have.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

HARDYMON: Yes.

HOLMES: You know?

HARDYMON: Can you recap the rankings now that we're at the top? Because I feel...

CHOUDHURY: Yeah.

HARDYMON: ...Like I forgot the middle.

HOLMES: Absolutely I can. We began with Ross, voted by 76% of listeners as worst friend.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

CHOUDHURY: Aw.

HARDYMON: I love that.

HOLMES: Then we went to Rachel, second worst friend; Monica, third worst friend; Joey, third best friend...

HARDYMON: That one's so weird.

HOLMES: ...Chandler, second best friend; and Phoebe, best friend to us all.

HARDYMON: Huh.

HOLMES: Good job, audience.

SANDERS: I want a new season of "Friends." Like, a mini season, six episodes, on, like, HBO, where it's all just Phoebe helping Chandler come out of the closet...

HOLMES: Come out.

SANDERS: ...Twenty years later.

(LAUGHTER)

HARDYMON: That's a genius idea.

SANDERS: I want that show.

HOLMES: Absolutely. And since the IP is probably a problem, you could just call it something else.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HARDYMON: Right.

HOLMES: You could make her name Regina Phalange.

HARDYMON: Right.

HOLMES: And his name could be something else.

SANDERS: And then call the show Besties.

CHOUDHURY: Chanandler Bong.

HOLMES: Chanandler Bong (laughter), exactly.

HARDYMON: Oh, my God. You should do it.

HOLMES: His name would be Chanandler Bong. And it would be - you know, wouldn't actually be them - no IP problems.

SANDERS: There you go.

HOLMES: So those are our six ranked friends. And tomorrow, we're going to be right back here to reveal the definitive ranking of the best sort of characters from the extended "Friends" cinematic universe - your love interests, your parents, your Gunthers. As always, you can find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Thanks to all of you for being here for "Friends" Part 1.

HARDYMON: Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you.

CHOUDHURY: Thank you.

HOLMES: And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Right back here, we will see you for "Friends" Part 2 tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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