Stunt casting stumbles (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Charlie Sheen) aside, it was a very good year for this beloved series, recently ranked by TV Guide
as among the top 25 of all time. With the bar set so high from the first season, a sophomore slump could be expected, but, apart from a game Julia Roberts, only the hour-long episode raised the question whether success would spoil Friends
. (This episode, "The One After the Super Bowl," convinced some misguided NBC executive that guest star Brooke Shields could carry her own series!) Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (an Emmy-worthy Jennifer Aniston) were the engine that drove the season and produced some of the series' most monumental episodes, including "The One with Ross' New Girlfriend," "The One Where Ross Finds Out" (with R & R's first kiss), "The One with the List," "The One with the Prom Video," and "The One Where Ross and Rachel... You Know." But this was not the only significant story arc.
Enter--and, in the bittersweet season finale, exit--Tom Selleck as Dr. Richard Burke, the family friend ("He's like a brother to... Dad," notes a disapproving Ross) who becomes Monica's (Courtney Cox) lover. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) finds success (albeit short-lived) as Dr. Drake Ramoray on "Days of Our Lives" and moves out ("We're not Bert and Ernie," he tells roommate Chandler). Future Emmy winner Lisa Kudrow's best season is to come, but, as Phoebe, she makes the most of some memorable subplots, including her shocked discovery of sad movie endings she had been shielded from ("The One Where Old Yeller Dies"), her dispute with Ross over evolution ("The One Where Heckles Dies"), and her channeling of an elderly woman who died on her massage table ("The One with the Lesbian Wedding"). Praise is due unsung hero Lauren Tom, so charming and sweet in the thankless role as Julie, the Girl Who Comes Between Ross and Rachel. Adam Goldberg also makes an indelible impression in his three-episode stint as Chandler's new "psycho" roommate. Notable omissions from this set include chapter stops for each episode, and uh, ahem, hel-LOH, how about commentary from the cast? --Donald Liebenson