Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 6, 2004
POP CULTURE: The Sexy Friend
A thought on the end of "Friends" tonight . . . it's a commonplace, and one I'd certainly agree with, that there's altogether too much sex and sexuality in mass entertainment these days. And yet, for all the panting and bumping and grinding, the portrayals of sex tend to be rather incomplete. The typical mode of sexual expression tends to be raw, animal passion, people grabbing each other, tearing their clothes off, etc., conveying a sense that sex is a powerful force that completely overhwelms us. Which is fine as far as it goes, but in the real world, even the most passionate relationships won't sustain that sort of demonstrative intensity for very long stretches; even fires that burn very hot won't always send up such visible flames. At the other end of the scale, particularly among long-married sitcom couples, we see the portrayal of sex as the logical conclusion of playful, wholesomely leering banter; the big inside joke of a married couple. Which, again, isn't so much a false picture as a woefully incomplete one.
What brings this all to mind is that Jennifer Aniston has to be one of the best, perhaps the best, actress I can recall at portraying genuine sexual longing - not just theatrical lust but the powerful cocktail of affection, need, and desire that forms the real foundation of a sexual relationship. The episode this season that really powerfully dramatized this was the one where Rachel's father had a heart attack and she was hanging closely on to Ross; their scene in her childhood bedroom was one of the most sexually charged things I've ever seen on television notwithstanding the fact that the scene concluded with essentially nothing having happened and the characters still fully clothed. Watch that one again some time and pay careful attention to her. It should be added, of course, that Aniston's acting in this regard has sustained the credibility of the Ross-Rachel storyline this season despite the obvious fact that Ross, who was the funniest thing on the show the first season or two, has been acting like an annoying idiot for the last 6 or 7 years on end.
Of course, Aniston's not the only one who does this well; Linda Cardellini and Goran Visnjic have put on similar performances on "ER" this season, and even Tony and Carmela's scene in the pool on the Sopranos two weeks ago was a good example of going beyond the usual TV cliche on sex. But Aniston has long been particularly impressive, in "Friends" and her film roles, in this regard.