This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Friends series finale, which aired on May 6, 2004. In honor of this important occasion, I decided to take a closer look at the series’ decade-long run and attempt to determine which of the six friends were the closest, as determined by which characters spent the most time on screen with each another.
The Friends writers did a remarkable job of distributing screen time evenly among the six principal players. While Joey appears in 47.7 percent of all scenes, the most of any character, Phoebe, the character who appears in the fewest, is just barely behind her pals, with appearances in 41.9 percent of all scenes. (In Seinfeld, by way of comparison, Jerry appears in 58.3 percent of all scenes, while Kramer only appears in 38.4 percent.)
But just because the characters have equal screen time, does this mean that all of the friends were equally friendly? Is there a pair or trio who spent more time together than the others? Is there a pair or trio or foursome who rarely rendezvoused at the Central Perk for a latte and a chat with Gunther?
To determine which characters shared scenes, I downloaded transcripts of all 236 episodes from this remarkably comprehensive fan site. For the purposes of this inquiry, I treated these transcripts as authoritative, as watching all 10 seasons was impractical. Due to inconsistencies in the transcripts, which do not always list all of the characters present in a given scene, I used the following methodology: If a character spoke a line in a scene, I marked him or her as present. Admittedly, this is an imperfect approach, as even with this gregarious group, there were scenes in which a character was present but did not have a line. However, in most instances, all parties present in a scene end up uttering a line, so I’m confident my analysis is sound, even if it missed a moping Ross here or a pouting Rachel there.
There are 63 possible arrangements in which the six characters could have appeared in any given scene. This includes all combinations of one, two, three, four, five, or six characters. Each one of these 63 combinations occurred during the show’s run, though some combinations are more common than others. For instance, Joey, Phoebe, Monica, and Chandler appeared together 41 times, more than any other foursome. This stands to reason: For a long stretch of the series, Joey and Chandler were roommates as well as friends, and it makes sense that the missing pair were the on-again-off-again lovers Ross and Rachel. Indeed, as you might expect, Ross and Rachel are the two friends most likely to have their own scenes together.
Other combinations of friends were much less common. There is only one scene in the entire history of Friends in which Joey, Phoebe, Monica, and Ross appeared together without either Rachel and/or Chandler. The scene occurred in Season 1, Episode 7 when, during a blackout, the four are left in Monica’s apartment to listen to Phoebe’s newest song: “New York City has no power, and the milk is getting sour, but to me it is not scary, because I stay away from dairy.” During this scene Chandler is memorably trapped in an ATM vestibule with an attractive woman and Rachel is alone on Monica’s balcony.
Is there an outcast in the group? It depends on how you crunch the numbers. In addition to appearing in the fewest scenes, Phoebe also has the lowest degree centrality score (a measure used to assess importance within a network). However, there were 58 scenes in which all of the friends except Ross were together. This is the most instances any one friend was left out; it exceeds the number of times just Phoebe was left out by more than 30 percent.
In terms of the most popular friend, again, different metrics may tell a different story. But a safe bet is Rachel. She has the highest degree centrality score, making her, at least from a statistician’s point of view, the center of the friend-network.
And which friends were the closest, based on scene counts? There were more scenes featuring all six friends than any other combination of the characters. The most common friend combinations with fewer than six friends present were Ross and Rachel, followed by Chandler and Monica. But those pairings also represent the two couples in the sitcom. If we throw out those more-than-friends combinations, Chandler and Joey are the winners, having appeared in 130 scenes without any other friends, more than any other combination.
Run your own experiments with the Friends Friend Group widget above. Select any specific set of friends and the widget will tell you how many times each group appeared on screen together. Can you find a trio that appears four times as often if Chandler is added to make it a group of four? The most common third-wheel? The least common group of three? Post your answers and other Friends findings in the comments below.
Correction, May 5, 2014: The interactive in this piece originally misstated there were two scenes in the series with just Joey, Phoebe, Monica, and Ross. There was only one such scene.