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Thursday, May 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Friends of 'Friends': guest characters

Joey's (Matt Le Blanc) agent, Estelle (June Gable), shown in a photo at her funeral, was in the tradition of tough-bitten Broadway types and was killed off too soon.
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No sitcom is classic without that vital ingredient, the recurring guest character. From Otis the Town Drunk to the Soup Nazi, guest characters can kick-start story lines, lend a new insight, or just make us laugh.

But not all are well-utilized. The friends of "Friends" were a mixed lot. Here's a subjective ranking of our most and least favorites:

1. Janice (Maggie Wheeler). Was everyone saying "Oh... my... God" before or after Janice came along? Her honking accent and indomitable style were reassuring glimpses of the New York that "Friends" generally ignored. Please, please, a finale cameo!

2. The Gellers (Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles). You meet someone's parents and think, "That explains it." Jack and Judy Geller, played perfectly by old pros, likewise showed how Ross and Monica became a pair of obsessive-compulsive nutballs.

Which friend of "Friends" was your favorite?

The Gellers
Chandler's parents
Duck and chick
Ross' son, Ben

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3. Richard (Tom Selleck). Selleck's swanky mix of paternalism and sexiness still has us convinced this is the guy Monica should have picked. (C'mon. She'll eat Chandler alive.)

4. Frank (Giovanni Ribisi). He made Phoebe's histrionic family background more convincing. And Ribisi's grounded portrayal skillfully took the ick curse off Frank becoming both uncle and dad to his half-sister's triplets.

5. Chandler's parents (Kathleen Turner and Morgan Fairchild). Their time on stage was brief. But we love these actresses. And their characters illustrated why "Friends" kept credibility with under-30 viewers who — unlike most of America — favor gay marriage.

6. Estelle (June Gable). Joey's hardscrabble agent was in the tradition of Thelma Ritter and other tough-bitten Broadway types. Alas, they killed her off, too soon for "Joey."

7. Duck and chick. Painfully conceived during a creative dry spell, they at least had the decency to turn in understated performances.

8. Gunther (James Michael Tyler). He didn't speak until Episode 33. Did anyone notice?

9. Marcel. The source of those excruciating scenes where David Schwimmer tries to act vulnerable. Frankly, we preferred Fox's "Man Versus Animal."

10. Ross' son, Ben. First his father neglects him in favor of a monkey, then a "new" baby. If writers created this kid to humanize Ross, the strategy backfired. It's the kind of stuff that brings caseworkers to the door in dramas.

— Kay McFadden,

Seattle Times television critic

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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