Friends [1971/I]

Friends' fourth season, one of the very best and most consistently satisfying, begins with Chandler urinating on Monica's leg to relieve a jellyfish sting. It ends with the two in bed and in lust. In between are several benchmark episodes and rich, character-enriching plot developments that keep this series from coasting on comfort level. Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) agrees to become a surrogate mother for her long-lost brother (Giovanni Ribisi). Chandler (Matthew Perry) "crosses the line" after falling in love with Joey's girlfriend, and is forced to spend one memorable Thanksgiving in a box. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston in what should have been her Emmy year) desperately pursues the recently divorced Joshua (then real-life squeeze Tate Donovan). Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Chandler trade spaces with Monica (Courtney Cox) and Rachel, and then, with provocative (albeit offscreen) sapphic compensation, return to their humble abode. And Ross meets the warm and wonderful Emily (Helen Baxendale), setting the stage for a London wedding and classic season finale that revitalizes our rooting interest in the whole Ross and Rachel thing. Especially jolly good in this two-parter are the scene-stealing British character actors, including Hugh Laurie as the unfortunate airline passenger seated next to Rachel as she wings toward London to tell Ross she loves him ("And by the way, it seems to be perfectly clear that you were on a break," he tries to reason with her), and Tom Conti and an absolutely fabulous Jennifer Saunders as Emily's squabbling parents. As Friends winds down, it is a pleasure to return to one of its glory years. --Donald Liebenson

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