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  • "Friends" is a show with six main characters,

  • but if you had to pick one protagonist --

  • the one who really takes the biggest journey over the ten seasons,

  • you'd probably choose Rachel.

  • The series starts with Rachel Green making a choice that will define her entire life.

  • Welcome to the real world!

  • It sucks -- you're gonna love it.”

  • She runs away from the wealthy but passionless existence she could have had with her orthodontist

  • fiancé, Barry.

  • And she seeks out a life of uncertainty.

  • She embraces being a regular twenty-something.

  • "Oh, and wish me luck!"

  • "What for?"

  • “I'm gonna go get one of those job things.”

  • This down-on-your-luck, no-frills lifestyle is a given for the other friends,

  • and they're sometimes disenchanted with it.

  • They're starting to feel that longing for marriage, children, having a bit more money

  • and the end of this unpredictable stage.

  • Rachel certainly struggles with whether she could have made a mistake.

  • Everyone I know is either getting married or getting pregnant or getting promoted, and

  • I'm getting coffee!

  • And it's not even for me.”

  • But she chooses this life because she doesn't want to live some numb, lukewarm life in the

  • suburbs,

  • even if that means she has to brave a lot of new lows.

  • It's like there's rock bottom, 50 feet of crap, then me.”

  • So more than any other character, Rachel embodies the value of experimenting, failing, and striving

  • in your twenties.

  • Mom, I realize you and daddy were upset when I didn't marry Barry and get the big

  • house in the suburbs

  • with all the security and everything, but God, this is just so much better for me.”

  • Slowly but surely, she finds her feet in her career,

  • falls in and out of love -- mostly with Ross,

  • and gains independence.

  • Rachel proves that the choices we make at this age can completely transform us.

  • She changes from spoiled princess to savvy executive and put-together mom.

  • The person she's become is thanks to the many missteps and lessons learned,

  • and even more than that, thanks to the friends she found.

  • So we can say that Rachel is the true protagonist of Friends

  • because she most demonstrates the message of the show --

  • that we grow into our best selves by investing in our friends

  • and accepting the messiness of our young adult lives.

  • Besides being the missing piece of the friend group at the beginning,

  • Rachel is also our proxy -- we enter the world of the show through her.

  • The pilot is framed around her personal journey as she moves in with Monica,

  • finds a job at Central Perk, and cuts herself off from her family's financial support.

  • In fact the whole first season is focused more on Rachel than any other individual,

  • as she adjusts to this new way of life.

  • "It was totally...not worth it.

  • Who's FICA?

  • Why is he getting all my money?"

  • So from the get-go, it is a story about Rachel finding herself and coming of age.

  • "Gunther, I quit."

  • "Friends" can get criticized for offering a sugarcoated, lillywhite vision of twenty-something

  • life.

  • But Rachel does face a lot of classic universal problems, from financial strain --

  • "I will have the side salad."

  • "And what will that be on the side of?"

  • to dead-end jobs --

  • Bloomingdale's eliminated my department.”

  • to the trials of apartment hunting.

  • And we see how invested the other friends are in her progress.

  • "Wow."

  • The reason they -- and we -- care so much is that everything feels like a bigfirst

  • in Rachel's adult life.

  • Look!

  • I cleaned!

  • I did the windows, I did the floors, I even used all those attachments on the vacuum

  • except for that little round one with the bristles.”

  • She seems to see everything with new eyes.

  • She's earnest and enthusiastic even as she experiences things like doing laundry for

  • the first time.

  • "If I can actually do my own laundry, there isn't anything I can't do."

  • Even as the show goes on and Rachel becomes less of an ingenue,

  • she maintains this lovable, sometimes clueless streak.

  • So we can relate to her drive to try new things as well as her tendency to stumble.

  • "I wasn't supposed to put beef in the trifle!"

  • Rachel's oblivious parents and vain sisters represent what she could have become

  • if she'd stayed in her bubble of privilege and security.

  • You didn't marry your Barry, honey, but I married mine.”

  • We also get the alternate reality where we see

  • the bored, dissatisfied housewife version of Rachel who did marry Barry.

  • She's an altogether shallower and less interesting person.

  • Hi, I love you on that show.

  • I watch you every day.

  • I mean when you took out your own kidney to save your ex-wife even though she tried to

  • kill you…”

  • Sometimes we do see the aftereffects of Rachel's upbringing sometimes,

  • when she acts entitled or self-involved.

  • But ultimately she's rejected that life path.

  • And we recognize that it takes guts to let go of everything you know

  • and face the judgement of your peers.

  • While Rachel's new life delights us, it doesn't always look great to outsiders.

  • What that Rachel did to her life.

  • We ran into her parents at the club.

  • They were not playing very well.”

  • “I'm not going to tell you what they spent on that wedding.”

  • Still, we see from her mother's envy that Rachel escaped a deeply unfulfilling life.

  • In the long run, she dodged a bullet.

  • You know, I never worked.

  • I went straight from my father's house to the sorority house to my husband's house.

  • I am just so proud of you.”

  • So Rachel's plots are a stand-in for us and the trials we experience,

  • but Rachel the character, played by Jennifer Aniston, is also the most aspirational Friend.

  • Her story is a classic upward arc: young woman comes to the big city, works hard, and makes

  • a name for herself.

  • And then there's her wonderfully '90s fashion andthe Rachelhaircut which

  • shaped a generation.

  • She's beautiful, sweet, and sometimes scatterbrained --

  • a lot like the heroine of a romantic comedy.

  • Her relationship with Ross is one of the most hyped TV pairings ever.

  • Ross and Rachel.

  • Rachel and Ross.

  • That's been one heck of a seesaw, hasn't it?”

  • What?”

  • "Friends" proved there's something satisfying about the pairing of the stylish girl next

  • door

  • with the good-hearted, nerdy guy.

  • The long buildup starts with Ross pining after Rachel,

  • then her falling in love with him when he's seeing someone else.

  • Rachel's discovering her new attraction to Ross shows how much she's matured.

  • In high school, she looked right through him.

  • So being able to see the value of Ross' love is a sign that she's become a deeper,

  • more genuine human being.

  • But even after Ross finds out about her feelings, they don't get together

  • because Ross makes a list of her bad qualities to help him choose between her and Julie.

  • Kind of ditzy?

  • Too into her looks?

  • spoiled --

  • "Now that's a little spoiled.

  • He was supposed to type 'little,' the idiot."

  • "Just a waitress?”

  • At first we -- and Ross -- think that this is just a fight that she'll get over.

  • But Rachel is dead serious because her whole new life is about the conscious choice

  • not to be the spoiled, shallow rich girl others see her as.

  • She refuses to be with someone who doesn't see her true potential.

  • "How would you feel if the one person that you trusted the most in the world not only

  • thinks them too,

  • but actually uses them as reasons not to be with you?"

  • It's only six episodes later -- which is long in "Friends" time -- that the prom video

  • gets Ross another chance

  • because it helps her realizes how true his love is.

  • See?

  • He's her lobster.”

  • Briefly, in parts of Season 2 and 3 we actually get to see the couple happy together, which

  • is great for a bit.

  • "Do I look fat?

  • No."

  • But at this point Rachel still doesn't have the rest of her life together at all.

  • "Ross, you have planned out the next 20 years of our lives, we've been dating for six weeks."

  • They break up after the infamousWe Were on a Breakfiasco --

  • "I thought we were broken up!"

  • "We were on a break."

  • And we'll never all be able to agree on whether this counted as cheating or not, but

  • Rachel can't forgive him.

  • You're a totally different person to me now.

  • I used to think of you as somebody that would never, ever hurt me, ever.”

  • When you rewatch this season, though,

  • it's clear that this event is the symptom and not the real cause of their separation.

  • Just before this, Rachel has finally started making a little progress in her fashion career,

  • and Ross really isn't handling it well.

  • His misguided jealousy drives them apart,

  • and we wonder if his jealousy is less about Mark and more an immature reaction

  • to the fact that she now has something substantive in her life besides him.

  • As much as we'd like Ross and Rachel to be together,

  • at this moment they are not in the same place.