If by now you haven’t caught any episodes of Friends — even by accident — then you are one of the few. The list of 236 episodes over 10 seasons may appear daunting at first, but that’s where we come in.
In honor of the TV show’s 25th anniversary of its premiere (that’s right, this show is likely as old as Rachel, Monica, and the gang were supposed to be when the show started), we’ve put together a list of the episodes every fan, new or returning, needs to watch. For those of you new to the show, consider the following list of 10 essential episodes the CliffNotes version so you’ll no longer be entirely out of the loop when someone drops a reference about pretending to move to Yemen or “ugly naked guy.” (Spoilers ahead, but you’ve had forever to watch.) For those of you who have binged Friends so often the show lives in your top five “Keep Watching” Netflix queue, feel free to debate us on these 10 episodes. But do it fast — we all know by now that Friends is in fact leaving Netflix sometime next year.
The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate
Season 1: Episode 1
Every binge watch, whether of the 200-episode variety or an abridged one, must start at the beginning. It’s here where we first meet the iconic group: siblings Monica (Courteney Cox) and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and their three closest friends Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), and Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc). The gang is enjoying an afternoon at their favorite nearby coffee shop, Central Perk, when a wedding dress-clad Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) frantically runs in to disrupt their hangout. Rachel grew up with Monica and Ross and she escaped to New York City on her wedding day upon realizing she wasn’t in love with her husband-to-be Barry. Rachel moves in with Monica and off we go.
Best part of the episode: Six characters are introduced right away without dwelling on the back story. Think of how many shows have pilot episodes that bend over backwards to introduce you to people. Friends, thankfully, does not. The seeds for Ross’s woe-is-me attitude, Phoebe’s quirkiness, or any of their other idiosyncrasies are planted in the first episode and you start to learn why they’re all friends — but we can get the full history later.
The One With the List
Season 2: Episode 8
Ross’s long-held dream of being with Rachel is finally about to come true after they had their first magical kiss. There’s just one tiny problem: Ross is still dating Julie, who’s great. And how does someone in Ross’s impossible situation solve such a predicament? By listening to Chandler’s horrible suggestion that he make a pros and cons list for each woman. Ross ultimately decides to break up with Julie because “she’s not Rachel.” Of course Rachel finds the list and is immediately, and rightfully, angry about it.
Best part of the episode: Rachel won’t accept any of Ross’s apologies, so he tries to dedicate a song to her on the radio as a last-ditch effort (how quaint). U2’s “With or Without You” begins to play and this has all the trappings of a classic rom-com scene where she takes the idiot back, but instead Rachel calls the radio station and they quickly cut off the song because of how appalling Ross’s actions are. It’s funny, still sad, and much more realistic than what you would expect from a sitcom.
The One with the Football
Season 3: Episode 9
If you celebrate Friendsgiving this episode will really hit home. One group of people is focused on cooking, while the other is focused on watching football on TV. Then there’s Monica and Ross’s sibling rivalry during what’s supposed to be a friendly game of pigskin that will remind you of the worst instincts of the competitive people in your group of friends. You know who they are, the ones for whom even air hockey is a bad idea.
Best part of the episode: Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, and Joey leave Ross and Monica behind at the park to go eat their turkey dinner after neither of the Gellers will budge on a game-deciding fumble. Sometimes the best course of action is to ignore the morons.
The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break
Season 3: Episode 15
It’s Ross and Rachel’s anniversary, but she’s stuck late at work. Typical relationship tension. Ross does the really-good-guy-bad-idea thing of bringing the anniversary festivities, and his loud food prepping, to Rachel’s office and it blows up in his face. A fight ensues with Rachel concluding they need to take a break. For Ross that means blowing off steam by getting drunk with Joey and Chandler and spending the night with a woman he barely knows. The episode ends in classic “To Be Continued” fashion. It’s not until the next episode that we get Ross’s pleading (and soon-to-be running gag) “we were on a break!” during their next fight that truly ends things between them, but what happens in this episode sets the series up for seasons to come. You could even go as far as calling it a “pivot.”
Best part of the episode: The episode opens with Phoebe desperately in need of an atlas because she’s going on a date with a UN diplomat, but she can only sort of remember the name of his country. The only thing Monica can offer is a tiny globe. No smartphones. No Google. What a world.
The One with Ross’s Wedding Parts 1 and 2
Season 4: Episodes 23 and 24
Ross, Monica, Chandler, and Joey are off to London for Ross’s wedding to his British fiancée Emily. Phoebe can’t attend because she’s very pregnant as her brother’s surrogate, and Rachel declines because she can’t see Ross marry someone else. Rachel tries to distract herself from her true feelings for Ross, but she can’t get over him. So she jets off to London at the last minute hoping to take Ross back before he marries Emily. Rachel shows up right before the ceremony and changes her mind about pouring her heart out to Ross upon seeing how happy he looks with Emily. But there’s no way things will end so simply for our favorite will-they-or-won’t-they couple. Moments later, Ross utters the infamous “I, Ross, take thee, Rachel...” right before the end credits roll.
Best part of the episodes: When Chandler’s rehearsal dinner speech bombs and Monica is sad about people’s comments over her age and singlehood, the two console each other. Their eventual hookup has no buildup, shocking the audience (note: this is from a pre-spoilers TV era) and setting up the future of the whole show.
The One Where Everybody Finds Out
Season 5: Episode 14
We’re more than a dozen episodes into Monica and Chandler’s secret relationship that began the night before Ross’s botched nuptials to Emily. (They married, but it ended quickly.) At this point, Joey and Rachel have already figured it out and Phoebe finds out when she sees them together from an apartment Ross is viewing that faces Monica’s place. Phoebe chooses to mess with the hidden lovers by hitting on Chandler. Monica realizes Phoebe is only doing it because “she knows,” so Chandler messes back. The tit for tat escalates to the point where Chandler has to end a planned night with Phoebe by yelling “I’m in love with Monica,” and now everyone knows — except for Ross, who sees his sister and best friend together from the window of his new apartment as the episode is ending.
Best part of the episode: After more than a season of hearing about “ugly naked guy,” we finally (sort of) meet him. Well, more accurately, Ross meets him when in trying to rent the guy’s “great” apartment he pulls out all the stops, including hanging out with him in the nude in full view of his pals.
The One That Could Have Been Parts 1 and 2
Season 6: Episodes 15 and 16
Flashback episodes happen on all kinds of shows, but alternate reality versions are less common. Rachel receiving news that her former fiancé Barry is divorcing her former best friend Mindy, with whom he was cheating on her with, sparks the game of what if? In this version, Rachel married Barry, Ross is still with Carol, Chandler is a struggling comedy writer, and Monica remains overweight, while Joey (famous soap opera actor) and Phoebe (finance professional) are the career success stories. Once you’ve hit your thirties it’s pretty normal to think about what your life could’ve been if you’d made a few different choices, so it’s only natural for such a close group of friends to do so. Would Rachel really cheat on Barry with her favorite actor Joey Tribbiani? Would Ross actually stay in such a loveless marriage?
Best part of the episodes: Even going through this nutty thought experiment can’t keep Chandler and Monica from ending up together. It’s nice to know that sometimes in life things are just meant to be.
The One with the Proposal Parts 1 and 2
Season 6: Episodes 24 and 25
Chandler has the perfect engagement planned for Monica: a beautiful ring, a lovely dinner, and expensive champagne with every step planned out. But obviously, this wouldn’t be a sitcom proposal without a few hijinks. Monica’s ex-boyfriend Richard (Tom Selleck) shows up to the same restaurant, throwing Chandler’s plans out the window. The rest of the group knew the proposal was happening so when they see the couple again they nearly blow Chandler’s backup surprise plan by asking to see Monica’s hand. Chandler, being his full-of-crappy-ideas self, decides to throw Monica off the scent by pretending he doesn’t believe in marriage, which would complicate things enough on its own, but Richard shows up at Monica’s work to tell her he still loves her and wants to marry her. Disaster is avoided when Monica decides to take matters into her own hands — after Joey tells her Chandler was only pretending to not want to get married — and puts together a surprise proposal herself.
Best part of the episodes: At some point in your life you’ve likely had to keep quiet about your friends who are about to get engaged. It’s a fun little secret to have, sure. But you also can’t wait for it to finally happen so you can say, “Congrats!” Joey yelling “Can we come in? We’re dying out here!” as he, Rachel, and Phoebe are standing right outside the door to Chandler and Monica’s apartment couldn’t express that feeling better.
The One with the Red Sweater
Season 8: Episode 2
Rachel is pregnant, but only Phoebe and Monica know. She hasn’t even told the father, nor told her friends who the father is. As she tries to decide whether or not to tell the father, Rachel presents a hypothetical to Joey and then they have to keep up the ruse that Phoebe’s the pregnant one. Joey proposes to Phoebe to avoid having her raise the child alone, forcing Monica to tell him they can’t marry because Rachel is the one who is pregnant. Joey remembers Rachel (his roommate) slept with a man about a month before and that he left behind a red sweater. Later on, Ross shows up — while Rachel is gone — and sees the red sweater. “Hey, my sweater. I’ve been looking for this for like a month,” Ross says to the shock of everyone present.
Best part of the episode: Monica and Chandler just got married and they each have a simple task as they begin their new life together. Chandler has to get the photos developed from the disposable cameras everyone used at their wedding. Monica must resist opening the presents by herself. Each fails spectacularly. Monica rips open every last present as Chandler is at a different wedding with Ross pretending to take photos of his wedding because he lost the cameras. Chandler starts showing the pictures to Monica — including one of him kissing the wrong bride — only to be told the lost cameras have been found. But Chandler quickly spots all the opened presents. He kissed a strange lady and she didn’t share a fun, early marriage experience with him. However, instead of drama they decide to call it even. This silly bit could’ve been the A plot, but instead it’s treated as it should be, something hilariously ridiculous to just move on from.
The Last One
Season 10: Episode 17
Chandler, Monica, and their adopted newborn twins are moving to the suburbs. Joey and Chandler must tear apart the foosball table they’ve had forever because a baby chick and a baby duck are stuck in it. Rachel is leaving New York for a new job in Paris. All good things must come to an end. But Ross doesn’t want everything to come to an end. He’s very much in love with Rachel and wants her to stay, so he races to the airport to stop her. Despite his begging, Rachel boards her flight. Things can’t end so simply, though. Ross gets home and is greeted by a message on his answering machine from Rachel saying she loves him and wants to be together. Right as the answering machine gives out, Rachel appears in the doorway and the two embrace.
Best part of the episode: Seeing everyone put down their individual copies of keys to Monica and Chandler’s apartment was funny, but also very relatable. At some point, we all have to say goodbye to the go-to hangout spot.