Friends 1
Mandy Paysse
Programming Analysis and Criticism of Television
Mr. Whittemore
October 13,2001
Review of literature
2001 Season Premiere
Friends 2
Default Assumptions are created throughout our everyday
In many cases we can relate to the default
assumptions that occur on popular sitcoms such as Friends.
Through an overview of a chosen episode of the sitcom
Friends, this paper reveals the meaning of default
assumptions and how they are created.
The critical
approach strategy is the method that is primarily used in
studying the use of default assumptions in this episode of
The behavior, context, and personality of the
characters will be examined in defining the use of default
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ThesisMany scholars have acknowledged that the words we use
have default assumptions.
While we are making these
default assumptions, something that does not lie within us
as humans shows us that we usually don’t consciously think
about the mental jump we are making to create these
A default assumption is made by assuming that
the way we think things should be is the way they actually
Using a recorded video of “Friends,” and similar
sitcoms, I will show how they have incorporated default
assumptions throughout their episodes.
Usually when a
default assumption is made it is falsely assumed throughout
an episode and then solved before the episode ends.
Sometimes this solution does not occur and the default
assumption is never solved.
There are several examples of default assumption in
the season premiere of “Friends”.
Throughout my example
episode, it is falsely assumed that Monica (a character of
the sitcom that is getting married) is pregnant and that is
the reason that she is going through the marriage ceremony.
Therefore Phoebe, Ross, and Joey all created a Default
Assumption that Monica is the character that is pregnant.
The reason this default assumption is maintained throughout
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the episode is because Rachel (another main character in
the sitcom) led them all to believe so by not telling
anyone that she was actually the pregnant character.
Overview of the EpisodeThe setting of the season premiere episode of Friends
is the wedding of Monica and Chandler.
It begins with a
photo session of the groom and the bridesmaids whom are
discussing Monica’s pregnancy. The overall theme of the
episode was the resolution of Rachel being the pregnant
character and whether or not she truly is.
The Review by Richard Keller Simon:
Richard Keller Simon compares the popular television
sitcom “Friends” to Shakespeare with the exception that one
is written in poetry and the other is in the language of
everyday life. The core characters, plots, and themes are
closely the same in both Shakespeare and Friends.
they are written or acted out, most comedies share
qualities that are equivalent to one another.
He thinks
that Friends share more with Shakespeare than the tradition
of New Comedy.
“In Friends, small groups of unmarried
young men and women flirt with each other play a series of
tricks on each other, and fall in and out of love.
characters are apprehensive and fearful about marriage and
commitment, others more enthusiastic, but all are torn
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between the conflicting obligations of love and
friendship.” (Simon) He makes a comparison with the
relationships between the characters in friends to the
characters in Shakespeare.
He shows how the characters of
Friends become romantically involved only when they learn
by accident or unplanned confession how much each loves the
other person.
Rachel gets hurt by the character Ross and
pushes him away to let him suffer the consequences before
she allows herself to date him again.
He compares Ross and
Rachel’s love for each other to Claudio and Hero in
Shakespeare’s comedy. (“Much Ado About Nothing”)
they have feelings for each other, they are contrasted with
their opposites.
Rachel’s friends are each unique
individuals and well as Ross’.
As for in Shakespeare,
Claudio’s comrades are different as well.
comrades are the sexually active and witty Benedick, and
Don Pedro, a man expert at wooing women and eager to help
his friends.”(Simon)
Therefore he perceives that the four
friends in Shakespeare became the six friends of the sitcom
“Friends” because the dynamics between the two are so
“Chandler is the sitcom’s version of Benedick, the
witty, sarcastic bachelor who keep himself from getting
attached to women by obsessing over their faults.
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finally meets his match in the strong and clever Beatrice,
who trades jibes with him and ultimately marries him, just
as Chandler finally finds Monica.” (Simon)
a character who acts as a fool.
Phoebe is just
She creates songs that
contain total truth, and makes comments that are completely
Simon focuses on the literary criticism of the
sitcom Friends and compares it to Shakespeare to see the
difference in the actions as well as the language.
The Review of Bambi Haggins:
Haggins thinks that the situations in television shows
such as The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Living Single, and
Friends, show that the genre remains limited to the stories
of the American Dream and the opinion that the failure to
achieve it is because of the responsibility of the
All people have a dream that they try to
This can compare the Burke’s definition to Man.
All people are rotten with perfection.
As humans we try to
reach perfection even though we know it can not be
By having large dreams we are trying to reach
this perfection.
Because we are able to create these
dreams our own making separates us.
Problem StatementThe season premiere of “Friends” will be studied to
find the meaning of default assumption and how it is
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The main strategy used will be to examine this by
using the critical approach.
The critical approach is
examining the show by viewing the dialog, the actions of
the characters, and how the episode flows.
This particular
way of viewing is going to help find how the context as
well as the behavior of the characters creates default
assumptions in sitcoms.
This research will show what ways
default assumptions are created in sitcoms such as
“Friends” by using similar sitcoms as examples.
sitcoms such as Seinfeld, Will and Grace, and Roseanne also
contain default assumptions within their episodes.
It is
common for default assumptions to be located in sitcoms
because the producers want for us as viewers to be able to
relate more to the sitcom.
We as humans commonly create
default assumptions on a daily basis.
Default assumptions
vary from sitcom to sitcom because producers create the
show for a targeted audience, and different groups of
people create different types of assumptions.
BehaviorBeing uncertain about how you should act is a kind of
uncertainty dealing with behavioral questions.
“Friends” Rachel is uncertain how she should act when she
discovers she is pregnant. Because the default assumption
has been made and people assumed Monica was the one
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pregnant. Rachel didn’t know how to tell everyone that she
was actually pregnant instead of Monica.
A second kind of
uncertainty is cognitive question. These are aimed at
discovering who the other person is as a unique individual.
Each of the characters in “Friends” is unique individuals.
These types of uncertainties are from Charles Berger’s
Uncertainty Reduction Theory. (137, Griffin)
particular type of uncertainty enables you to have the
ability to create default assumptions.
If you are not
certain about something then you create a meaning to better
These meanings can be falsely created, called
default assumptions.
ContextContext includes the setting, the meaning of the
conversation, or dialog of the sitcom.
Context is based on
what is said, words, communication, and also allows
interpretations to be made.
Bormann, an interpretive
theorist, notes that interpretive theory works best when it
suggests universal patterns of symbol using.
interpretive theory is humanistic, much like the critical
The context of the message, and the way that the
audience interprets it, should be viewed closely by the
In the season premiere “Friends” the dialog, or
context has default assumptions throughout the episode.
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the dialog is not viewed closely to get an interpretation
then the default assumptions may be overlooked.
Words, or
the dialog in the sitcom, take on the meaning of the
context in which they are used.
According to Cambridge
University literary critic, I. A. Richards says, “Words are
arbitrary symbols that have no inherent meaning.” (40,
Griffin) For Richards, “meanings don’t reside in words or
other symbols; meanings reside in people.” (40, Griffin)
This is important because it gives people a clearer
definition about how default assumptions are made.
or actors/actresses, create meaning in words, or dialog.
Ross asks a guest at the wedding where she is seated in
hopes of getting to know her. She flashes her card at him
and he assumes that the number he sees is a six. Once he is
seated he realizes that the number was actually a nine.
When an incorrect meaning is developed, default assumptions
PersonalityPersonality plays a role in default assumptions
because people make assumptions about a person by the way
they act or look whether or not they are true.
A person’s
personality is a characteristic of a communicator.
viewing a character’s personality and the way that they
perceive themselves as their character, you as a viewer
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make your own assumptions about that person.
Taylor compare people to onions.
Altman and
They think that the
personality of a person is multi-layered.
There is the
surface personality, which is just what you see without
hearing the person speak or see the person interact with
other people.
The inner core personality, which is made up
of the persons unresolved conflicts, deeply felt emotions,
and self-concept.
not personal.
to look.
The outer personality layer is basic and
It is what is accessible to anyone who cares
It’s basically what people see on the surface of
which they are looking at.
The inner core is the part
where you tell more about yourself, being personal, and
more in depth.
The inner core is based on the values and
self-concept of that individual.
This inner core is unique
because it is invisible to the world but still makes up
that individual.
These layers that make up the personality
give people opportunities to draw assumptions. (127, Altman
and Taylor)
A way to solve these default assumptions and
create a correct understanding is through self-disclosure.
Sharing personal information of ones self can create a
better understanding to correct these default assumptions.
Part of Burke’s Definition of Man:
The symbol using- we as humans use words to create
symbol to be able to identify.(289,Burke)
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This serves an importance in the season premiere of
“Friends” because we created the words to obtain a meaning
throughout the episode.
For example, we connected a tennis
player within Joey because he appeared to look like one.
Separated from his own making- Man is separated by his
own means. (289, Burke) We use language to separate us and
make us as humans unique.
As humans we are separated because of language to make us
This plays a role in Default Assumptions because
we as humans are able to use language to create these
incorrect thoughts.
Goaded by the spirit of hierarchy- we seek to classify
words to have a better understanding. (289,Burke)
As humans if we misunderstand something, we are able to
seek for a better understanding.
This interacts with the
episode of Friends because the characters seek for a better
understanding on the pregnancy issue seeking through the
use of language.
Rotten with perfection- as humans we strive to reach
perfection even though we know that it can not be
This definition of Man interacts with the episode Friends
because Joey and Ross think that the only way for them to
capture the women at the wedding is by trying to be
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“perfect” in their eyes.
Joey tries to impress the women
by allowing them to assume that he is a tennis athlete.
Ross just tries to impress a lady by allowing her to assume
that he is “perfect”, sensitive, and nurturing with
Critical ApproachCritical approach allows critics to have a broader
interpretation of dialog, actions, and the flow of the
episodes. The critical approach requires you to have a more
abstract thinking that allows more than one interpretation
to be made.
It allows the critic to interpret the episode
by viewing several aspects of the sitcom rather than just a
single area.
The way that one critic may view the season
premiere episode “Friends,” may be completely different
than another critic may view it.
Therefore it allows more
than one interpretation to be made by using the critical
The critical approach allows one to use the
dialog of the episode along with the actions of it as well,
making the interpretation personal. By using the critical
approach the default assumptions that are being studied in
“Friends,” can be interpreted in a unique personal manner
by studying how the assumptions are created throughout an
Analysis of Friends:
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Default assumptions are used frequently in the sitcom
After studying how it is used in one particular
episode it creates a more applicable awareness of the show
and when it is present.
The viewers of the show are more
aware of when these default assumptions are created rather
than the characters in the show itself.
This changes our
way of seeing because we as viewers know the characters
personality and lifestyles more than the one’s creating the
default assumptions, therefore we see things differently.
For example, in this episode of “Friends”, a guest at the
wedding assumes Joey is a tennis player because he is
dressed as one.
In reality he had rushed to the wedding
and that was the only thing the hotel gift shop had
available for him to purchase.
Everyone who saw him
dressed as a tennis player and did not know Joey made the
default assumption.
Those that do know Joey’s inner core
personality, as the social penetration theory states, know
that he is not a tennis player and that his wardrobe did
not resemble his real personality.
Another example of this
would be Ross’s way of dealing with the young girls during
the dance reception of the wedding.
The woman he was
trying to impress did not know Ross personally so she
falsely assumed that he was sensitive with children, which
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drew her closer to him.
The viewers who know Ross know
that that was an incorrect speculation of his lifestyle.
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Auster, Albert. Television Quarterly V. 28. 1996.
Television Quarterly.
Griffin, E.M. A First Look at Communication Theory. 2000,
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Tomashoff, Craig. People Weekly V. 43. 1995, People Weekly.
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