Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Pal Joey

Is it just me or did our planet lose a piece of itself when Matt LeBlanc's Friends spinoff Joey got canceled? Look at how things have gone to hell since it went off the air in 2006. The financial industry collapsed and sent the world spiraling to the verge of global depression ever since we stopped inviting that delightful Joey Tribiani into our homes each week.

Who could possibly forget all those wonderful supporting characters? Go ahead, take a minute to think of your favorite one and reflect upon how that character affected your life. I bet that took longer than a minute. Perhaps you thought of Joey's crude, crazy sister Gina, a true free spirit who we'd all like to be from time to time. Or maybe it was Joey's nephew Michael, the straight laced college student who often looked to Joey for lessons in how to lighten up and have fun. Michael's life lessons became our life lessons and the nation became a much happier place as a result as we all discovered the simple joys of video games, eating pizza and wooing pretty ladies with the simple utterance of Joey's classic catchphrase, "How YOU doing?" Of course, how could I leave out Joey's non-threateningly attractive platonic girlfriend with the potential for more, Alex. Joey and Alex showed us all what true friendship was and how love can blossom from it. Alex made us all want to be Joey's non-threateningly attractive platonic girlfriend with the potential for more and we weren't ashamed to say so.

What about Joey himself? Matt LeBlanc's subtle, ingenious performance should be studied by acting students for decades to come. At first glance, Joey is an immature man-child obsessed with his own hedonistic pleasures. True, he values his friends and family but he often places them second in his pursuit of food, women and whatever else catches his fancy. For example, there was the episode where Joey had arranged a date with a pair of twins who had recently appeared together in Playboy and wanted Joey to help them "test" their new video camera, one of many double entendres for which the Joey writers were famous. However, nephew Michael was competing in a big science show that night. Joey tries to postpone the date but the twins are leaving town the next day to do a nude photo shoot in Monaco and they wanted Joey to help them practice spreading oil on each other. Joey then tells Michael that an old friend of his is sick and that Joey had agreed to spend the night taking of this person. A depressed Michael said he understood but the plucky, clever Alex knew what Joey was up to when she saw him dressed in a way meant to impress women. Alex told Joey that Michael really needed him to be at the science show. LeBlanc's face then became a window into Joey's soul. You could see the doubt and guilt form as Joey's true decency began to emerge. I dare say that Matt LeBlanc transcended mere acting and that he actually was transformed into Joey Tribiani. Then the Playboy twins showed up and told Joey how they'd been doing special bending exercises all day and Joey quickly left with them. Later, we see Michael on stage at the science show. Without his beloved uncle there, Michael lacks the confidence required to properly operate and demonstrate the use of a potato battery. Suddenly, Michael spots Joey's smiling face from across the room. Joey's better nature had won out and Michael was able to use a potato to make a light bulb dimly glow and win the contest. This was an unforgettable moment of triumph that gave our cynical society a reason to hope and smile.

And now it's all gone. No one really knows why. The network claimed that the show suffered from low ratings but fans of the show simply don't see how that is possible. A more likely explanation is that jaded network executives couldn't even begin to grasp the warm, simple and loving genius that was Joey. Instead of embracing this wonderful show as a standard and anthem for a new millennium, they quietly shelved it after two oh so short seasons. Still, we have our DVDs, our memories and the warm spot in our hearts that will never allow us to forget the wonder that was Joey. Farewell Joey Tribiani. Know that the love of a nation follows you wherever you go and we will always think of you and wonder, "How YOU doing?"

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