' penultimate season could well be called "The One with All the Romantic Arcs." Phoebe meets Mike (Paul Rudd virtually joining the ensemble). Rachel attempts to "move on" from Ross with a rival co-worker (guest star Dermot Mulroney). Ross meets Charley (Aisha Taylor, welcome colorblind casting), a paleontologist with an intimidating roster of Nobel Prize-winners in her dating history (so, of course, she hooks up with Joey). Other storylines, including Chandler's transfer to Tulsa and Rachel's sudden lust for Joey, are not as compelling as previous seasons', and an indication that inspiration is flagging. But while one is hard-pressed to add any of these episodes to the Friends
pantheon, what redeems the season are the grace notes: Phoebe channeling a New England WASP to impress Mike's parents ("The One with Ross's Inappropriate Song") or playing naughty girl to Ross's "daddy" ("The One with the Lottery"); Joey's confession that he doesn't get it when people punctuate the air with finger quotes ("The One Where Emma Cries"); and Chandler's discomfort (and ultimate revenge) as an audience member at a ranting feminist's one-woman show ("The One with the Soap Opera Party").
On the guest star front, Friends welcomes back Jon Lovitz, who reprises his character from the classic first-season episode, "The One with the Stoned Guy" in "The One with the Blind Dates," and Hank Azaria as David the "Science Guy" who returns to complicate Phoebe's love life. Christina Applegate is a riot as "Rachel's Other Sister," and it's surprising that NBC didn't go all Suddenly Susan on Freddie Prinz Jr. after his surprisingly funny stint in "The One with the Male Nanny." Selma Blair is a seductive co-worker who makes a play for Chandler in "The One with Christmas in Tulsa," and Jeff Goldblum portrays a master thespian who mistakes Joey's urge to urinate as method acting. For Friends fanatics, it's a coup to get the episodes complete and uncut as opposed to their commercial-laden syndicated counterparts. For more casual viewers, let's just say of this comparatively lackluster season (by Friends' own gold standards) that the show was on a break. --Donald Liebenson
The hilarity continues with Season Nine of the smash-hit comedy series as Phoebe is confronted with some tough romantic choices, Rachel takes on motherhood and Monica and Chandler become inspired to start their own family. Guest appearances include Hank Azaria, Freddie Prinze Jr., Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, Jon Lovitz, Jeff Goldblum, John Stamos, Elliot Gould and Dermot Mulroney.