Friends had a bunch of jokes and absurd situations that can be funny, but taking a step back and looking at them, there are some that hurt the characters instead of adding to them or making them funny, and that’s the problem with the episode “The One Where Joey Speaks French”. Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, Friends premiered on NBC in 1994 and came to an end in 2004 after ten seasons. The series followed a group of six friends in their late 20s/early 30s living in New York City and going through many ups and downs in their personal, professional, and social lives.
Every member of the Friends group had its own quirks and personalities, all of them proving to be very relatable one way or another, and a big fan favorite was Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), the ladies man of the bunch. Joey was an actor, food-lover, and was also a very loyal and caring friend, although he wasn’t very smart. Throughout the series, there were a number of jokes on how dim-witted Joey was, but one episode took it too far and actually hurt the character.
Season 10’s episode “The One Where Joey Speaks French” followed Joey preparing for an audition for which he had to read some lines in French – but he didn’t speak a word of it, and it was one of the many lies on his resume. Luckily, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) was fluent in French and agreed to help him. When she tried to teach him basic lines in French, even pronouncing them very slowly, Joey was incapable of following her and ended up speaking gibberish, though he thought he was doing a great job. Phoebe went to the audition and told the director that he was her little brother and was “a little retarded”, asking him to play along. Joey wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, but this episode made him unnecessarily dumber.
Joey was brought down to almost a Homer Simpson-level of stupidity, which was off-character even for the less bright member of the group. Joey had moments where he proved he was smarter than his friends thought, and as an avid Stephen King reader, it’s clear that he did have some brightness in him, even if he didn’t show it often. Although it’s obviously hard to learn a language in just a couple of days and pronunciation can be tricky (depending on the language), Joey not being able to pronounce even one word (made worse by the fact that he can pronounce them syllable by syllable but not altogether), and instead resorting to talking gibberish, only belittled the character to the point where it wasn’t actually funny.
The cherry on top of this was Phoebe referring to him as “retarded” (and taking advantage of his lack of understanding of French to say this without him even knowing), something that was cut out in later reruns. Surely, one of Joey’s main traits was that he wasn’t bright, but making him full-on stupid in this episode wasn’t funny and hurt what Friends had been building about the character in previous seasons.