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Best Friends episodes: counting down the classic sitcom's top 20

Best Friends episodes
(Image credit: Courtesy of HBO Max)

Looking for the best Friends episodes ahead of a rewatch? You've picked a good time. This week, HBO Max dropped its long-awaited special, Friends: The Reunion. This unscripted event reunites the Central Perk gang for the first time since they closed the door to Monica’s apartment in 2004. The one-off reunion doesn't continue the story of Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey, but instead looks back at the show’s best moments – it's not bad

What better way to follow up the reunion, then, than by watching the best Friends episodes? All 10 seasons are worth revisiting, certainly, which is a testament to its consistency, but trying to binge all 236 episodes this week is... ambitious. Below, then, we've picked out our 20 best episodes of Friends, so you can stick to the highlights if you fancy a brisk rewatch.

All 10 seasons of Friends are streaming on HBO Max in the US, and Netflix in the UK. 

20. The One With Ross’ Tan (season 10, episode 3)

Best Friends episodes - the one with ross' tan

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This episode offers a classic example of Ross’ academic mind getting in the way of a simple task. After noticing Monica’s bronzed complexion, Ross decides to also pay a visit to the spray-on tan place. Typical of Ross, he botches it and spends the episode getting increasingly more tanned until he looks downright ridiculous. Even in its final season, the show commits to slapstick silliness here brilliantly with Schwimmer acting the clown. Guest star Jennifer Coolidge also crushes it as Phoebe and Monica’s old pal. Points to the show, too, for wrapping up the late-in-the-day Rachel and Joey romance on a tender note.

19. The One With Unagi (season 6, episode 17)

Best Friends episodes - the one with unagi

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Phoebe and Rachel take a self-defense class, which Ross scoffs at. He believes their skills to be no match for his own ‘ka-ra-tay’ and supposed mastery of the ancient concept of Unagi, a “a total state of awareness” which actually means eel. That doesn’t stop Ross from trying to prove he’s an ultimate badass, but the girls get their own back on him in a hysterical jump scare. Rachel’s line delivery of “Ah, salmon skin roll” is the episode's highlight.

18. The One With All The Cheesecakes (season 7, episode 11)

best Friends episodes - the one with all the cheesecakes

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It’s a shame we didn’t get more Rachel and Chandler episodes, since Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry played off of each other so well. In this one, the pair unite over a cheesecake Chandler finds in the hallway that’s the best either of them has ever tasted. Alas, it ends up on the floor, with the two picking at it with forks in a classic Friends moment. Meanwhile, Phoebe and Joey’s side story – involving the return of Phoebe's former lover David (Hank Azaria) – reveals a tender and kind moment between the two that the typically 'silly' duo of the show seldom have.

17. The One Where Ross Finds Out (season 2, episode 7) 

Best Friends episodes - the one where ross finds out

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A must-see episode in the Ross and Rachel journey. Having finally given up on Ross now that he’s dating Julie, Rachel gets winedrunk on a date who inspires her to seek closure. She leaves Ross a drunken voicemail confessing that she’s now “over him.” In one of the show’s perfect setups, he plays back the message with a hungover Rachel nearby. The episode ends with the pair kissing in the rain outside of Central Perk. It's an iconic image that’s cemented in the Friends canon as a pivotal moment in their relationship – and indeed, it comes up in the reunion special. 

16. The One With All The Resolutions (season 5, episode 11) 

Best Friends episodes - the one with all the resolutions

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The gang makes New Year’s resolutions, perfect fodder for some truly great gags that tie together several story strands while never scrimping on comedy. That said, this really should be called 'The One With Ross’ Leather Pants', as it’s his storyline that everyone remembers (that moment comes up in the reunion special, too). Vowing to try something new every day he dons his new leather pants on a first date, but gets too hot so escapes to the bathroom to cool off. With his leather pants around his ankles, legs spackled in lotion and powder paste... Ross creates a look. 

15. The One With The Jellyfish (season 4, episode 1) 

Best Friends episodes - one with the jellyfish

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This big episode wraps up the season 3 finale cliffhanger – will Ross end up with Rachel or Bonnie? As it turns out, neither. Ross falls asleep reading an 18-page letter from Rachel (“Front and back!”) and mistakenly agrees to take responsibility for all their previous problems, birthing the iconic “We were on a break!” line. Elsewhere, unconventional seeds of Monica and Chandler’s relationship are planted through him peeing on her jellyfish sting. The biggest heart moment here is when Phoebe meets her birth mom, in a twist no one saw coming.

14. The One With The Rumor (season 8, episode 9)

Best Friends episodes - one with the rumor

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This episode is best known as 'The Thanksgiving One With Brad Pitt'. Jennifer Aniston’s then-husband appears as Ross and Monica’s friend Will, who Rachel bullied all throughout high school. It’s revealed that Will co-created the 'I Hate Rachel Green' club, and is dismayed to learn that its co-founder, Ross, is the father of Rachel’s child. Pitt’s turn is great as the seething, resentful Will. And, while the rumor the club spreads about Rachel is in poor taste, Joey’s insistence on eating an entire turkey adds that familiar Friends holiday feeling.

13. The One After the Superbowl (season 2, episodes 12 and 13)

Best Friends episodes - one after the superbowl

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Season 2 welcomed a slew of guest stars and crammed most of them into this star-studded and memorable two-parter. The wraparound story involves the fictional Outbreak 2 shooting on the streets of Manhattan, where Ross tries to reconnect with his monkey, Marcel. Meanwhile, Monica and Rachel chat up Jean Claude Van Damme, who tries to ensconce Monica into a threesome with Drew Barrymore. Elsewhere, Phoebe dates Chris Isaak briefly, Joey gets stalked by a fan played by Brooke Shields, and Chandler encounters Susie, played by Julia Roberts, who agrees to date him despite their rough playground history. 

12. The One With Chandler in the Box (season 4, episode 8) 

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Chandler kisses Joey’s girlfriend, Cathy, and as “punishment” he spends Thanksgiving in a box. That’s Joey logic for you. Joey changes his mind at the last second as Chandler waves goodbye to Cathy (with one finger through a hole), realizing how much the two care for one another. Meanwhile, Monica invites Richard’s son to dinner and things get weird, leading her to dispense this classic comeback: “Fine, fine, judge all you want. But – married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, live in a box!” Vintage Friends.

11. The One With The Fertility Test (season 9, episode 21)

Best Friends episodes - the one with the fertility test

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Monica and Chandler’s infertility made for a truly great storyline that arced over several seasons. Friends bungled sensitive topics frequently over its ten years, but the Bings’ family planning was handled deftly, starting with this episode. The pair share a final moment closing out the episode that’s one of the gentlest, most compassionate of the series. Speaking of, Ross’ compassion makes a rare appearance when he helps Joey plan the perfect date for Charlie. A sweet episode.

10. The One with the Flashback (season 3, episode 6)

Best Friends episodes - the one with the flashback

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Friends dabbled with flashbacks aplenty over the years. We catch a glimpse in the season 2 prom video, but this is the first dedicated episode, prompted when Janice asks the gang if any of them have ever almost slept together. What results is a historical tapestry of moments with the six. Back when Central Perk was a bar, Ross and Phoebe made out on the pool table, Chandler and Rachel almost did the same, and Monica and Joey… had a misunderstanding about inviting someone in for lemonade.

9. The One Where Everybody Finds Out (season 5, episode 14)

Best Friends episodes - the one where everybody finds out

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Everyone except for Ross learns that Monica and Chandler are together, yet no one will admit out loud to the other that they know, prompting one of the show’s silliest competitions of sexy chicken. Phoebe pretends to hit on Chandler, he pretends to like it, resulting in an awkward showdown where they’re each trying to outlast the other. What’s perfect is Chandler’s breaking point, when he cries out that he can’t do it because he loves Monica. 

8. The One With Joey’s New Brain (season 7, episode 15) 

Friends

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Joey learns how to play a bitchy mom when his Days of our Lives character Dr. Drake Ramoray emerges from his coma, following a brain transplant. Snagging Susan Sarandon to play his soap co-star still doesn’t top the best part of this episode. The b-plot has Ross learning how to play “Celebration” on the bagpipes as a surprise for Monica and Chandler’s wedding. He shows the gang his progress, and asks them all to join in and sing along, prompting one of the series’ funniest moments as Phoebe screeches to imitate the bagpipes. Lisa Kudrow is laugh-out-loud hysterical in this sequence.

7. The One With the East German Laundry Detergent (season 1, episode 5)

Friends

(Image credit: HBO Max)

'The One Where Ross Finds Out' is considered to be where Ross and Rachel first kiss, but technically? It’s this one. Rachel plants one on the flustered paleontologist after her first-time success at the laundromat. Elsewhere, Chandler struggles breaking up with Janice after guzzling countless espressos then accidentally swatting her in the face. In classic Friends fashion, Joey convinces Monica to double-date with his ex and her new man, but tells Monica they are siblings. 

6. The One With the Prom Video (season 2, episode 14)

Best Friends episodes - the one with the prom

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The gang gather to watch Monica and Rachel’s prom night video, shakily lensed by Jack Geller, where we learn Ross was going to take Rachel to the prom when her date failed to show. The back and forth between Ross and Rachel feels dizzying in the first half of season 2. It finally reaches its apex when, despite having shunned him when he made a pros and cons list, Rachel changes her mind about Ross immediately upon seeing the tape. She walks slowly to him, and they kiss. Aw. 

5. The One With the Football (season 3, episode 9)

Best Friends Episodes - the one with the football

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Of all the Thanksgiving episodes Friends gave us over the years, this one spends the most time outside of Monica’s kitchen – although her trusty timer makes a repeated appearance. Inspired by the football on TV, the gang ventures to the park for a friendly game which swiftly grows competitive. Ross and Monica’s childhood rivalry emerges when they introduce the gang to the coveted Geller Cup, a vile troll-looking memento. The game features excellent plays, including Phoebe’s circle around Ross and Rachel flapping the ball away from her. Although Monica wins with her cruel motivational barb: “Come on you hairy-backed Marys!”

4. The One Where Ross Got High (Season 6, Episode 9)

Best Friends episodes - the one where ross gets high

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Arguably the best Friends Thanksgiving episode which, like Rachel’s catastrophic beef trifle, is packed with layers. The early stages of Monica and Chandler’s romance is milked to maximum effect, here, as Chandler tries to win over the Gellers but accidentally tells them that Ross got high as a teen and pinned it on him. The “meet the parents” schtick takes a backseat once Ross and Monica’s sibling bickering kicks into gear. A slew of revelations come forth as they out-tattle each other. Christine Pickles' Judy Geller steals the show in the genuinely laugh-out-loud climax where Rachel also learns that she wasn’t supposed to put mince in the dessert. 

3. The One Where No-One’s Ready (season 3, episode 2)

Best Friends episodes - the one where no one's ready

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A bottle episode to rival them all. 'The One Where No-One’s Ready' unravels at Monica’s apartment on the night of an important work engagement for Ross. His worries over being late sends the night into a shambles. Chandler and Joey engage in a tussle over a chair, which spirals into a fight over clothes, ending in Joey lunging in Chandler’s entire wardrobe. Monica breezes in and embarks on a voicemail game with her ex Richard’s answering machine, while Phoebe’s dress gets hummus stained, Rachel takes umbrage with Ross’ snippy tone... and in short? Everything falls apart, Ross gets annoyed and it’s hilarious.

2. The One With the Blackout (season 1, episode 7)

best Friends episodes - the one with the blackout

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A season 1 classic. This action-light episode showcases the series’ gift for sharp, relatable humor as the city falls under a blackout. Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, and Phoebe hang out at the apartment, where we first learn of Phoebe’s skill for on-the-fly songwriting (“New York City has no power, and the milk is going sour, but to me that is not scary, ‘cause I stay away from dairy”) and Ross’ feelings for Rachel. But it’s all about Chandler, who spends the whole episode stuck in an ATM vestibule with Victoria’s Secret model, Jill Goodacre. A segment so good it gave us the unforgettable line: “Gum would be perfection.”

1. The One With The Embryos (season 4, episode 12)

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This should be called 'The One With The Housemate Trivia'. The best episode of the series begins, like all the other greats, with an innocent wager between Monica and Rachel and Joey and Chandler, and escalates into a trivia game designed by Ross. It’s here we learn of Joey’s imaginary childhood friend Maurice, of Miss Chanadler Bong, and that no one really knows what Chandler’s job is. That last one loses the girls their apartment, prompting much bickering. But Phoebe’s good news at the end of the episode cuts through any bitterness, as she announces she’s pregnant. It's still a true classic, all these years later.