Friends Thanksgiving episodes get all the love and attention, but as far as parties go, the show had much more to offer than just Turkey Day football games and meaty trifles. There were small birthday toasts, New Year’s Eve ragers, obligatory family events, and many more, as Friends writers clearly understood that parties were a clean way to get everyone in the same room for at least a chunk of an episode. And while gathering the group (and often others) allowed the plot to move forward and comedy to run wild, it also showcased the show’s central premise: Friends often become family, the people you turn to to celebrate everything from birthdays and marriages to attempts to flirt with the hot guy you met at work.
Since none of us can really go to parties right now, and since HBO Max launches this week, bringing all 10 seasons of Friends along with it, it’s a good time to revisit all the parties that Friends ever staged. But which Friends parties are the best, or at least actually look fun? Even taking into consideration our collective current homebound state and potential skewed perception of a “fun party,” some of the Friends parties are utter duds. I’ve taken the liberty of ranking them all, so you know which ones are worth transporting yourself to and imagining yourself at.
No Thanksgiving dinners were included, as those aren’t really parties per se; ditto funerals, not even the one Monica and Phoebe cater where the widow hosts a sing-along; ditto wedding ceremonies without receptions. Only parties that occurred on-screen are included, and they have to be more than just a general group hang, as that’s all the Friends friends ever did. Essentially, the gatherings have to be inherently celebratory to warrant inclusion.
In a sad metaphor for life and also the show, the early Friends parties seem way more fun. Later on there are a lot of bridal and baby showers, and bridal and baby showers are not fun, even fictional ones that have sitcom-y hijinks thrown in, but that’s a Ted Talk for another time. Consideration was given to whether or not the core Friends characters had fun, since they’re the lens through which we view the show’s parties, but that was not the only standard here—the apparent enjoyment of the other guests was also accounted for, as well as more immeasurable concepts such as my personal opinion.
Now that we have all of that out of the way: Let’s party!
44. Chandler’s bachelor party (Season 8, Episode 8)
Even Chandler doesn’t want to be at this bachelor party, which is belatedly thrown for him because he learns that Monica secretly broke their “no bachelor/ette party” pact.
43. Ross’s neighborly party (Season 5, Episode 15)
No one shows up, because none of Ross’s new neighbors like him (and there’s a conflicting party for the building’s super happening). Pro: There are Cheez-Its. Con: There are name tags, and Ross wears multiple.
42. Monica’s bridal shower (Season 7, Episode 19)
Not only is this shower planned by Phoebe and Rachel super last minute, meaning that only “losers” who don’t have plans at 4 p.m. on a Friday are able to attend, but the party hosts forget to invite the bride (or buy a cake). When she finally does show, she accidentally insults all the guests. No thank you to this party.
41. Phoebe and Mike’s rehearsal dinner (Season 10, Episode 12)
Could’ve been fun, but party planner Monica and bride Phoebe butt heads. Really bad party experience for all involved; the other guests would talk unfavorably about it for years.
40. Rachel’s baby shower (Season 8, Episode 20)
“That was a quick shower,” Ross says. “Not if you were here,” replies Phoebe. That about sums it up.
39. Ross’s museum banquet (Season 3, Episode 2)
There’s no way a seated dinner that Ross is tightly wound up about for career reasons could measure up to the fun (and drama) that the friends had getting ready for the event. When Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” he was definitely talking about this party and the party’s preamble.
38. The Gellers’ 35th anniversary party (Season 8, Episode 18)
This dull-looking celebration is pushed over the edge into uncomfortable territory by an awkward toast from Monica. She talks at length about a dead dog.
37. Class of 1991 college reunion (Season 10, Episode 11)
This reunion looks more like a conference for a really boring industry, like the one Chandler works in before pivoting to advertising, than a party. See above re: name tags.
36. Cousin Frannie’s wedding (Season 7, Episode 11)
This reception seems just fine unless you’re sitting with Monica and Ross.
35. Phoebe’s baby shower (Season 4, Episode 22)
A nice gesture that turns sour because a) Phoebe is moody due to pregnancy hormones, b) she’s a surrogate and will not be raising the babies she’s carrying, so a traditional baby shower is sort of moot, and c) the workaround Rachel and Monica come up with to account for Point B—Phoebe get gifts she’ll be able to enjoy after giving birth, like alcohol and leather pants—just upsets Phoebe because of Point A.
34. Jack Geller’s birthday party (Season 2, Episode 16)
Parties thrown by the Geller parents are never that great, and this one is made extra awkward by gossip about Jack’s friend Richard’s “twinkie in the city,” also known as Jack’s daughter, Monica. The high note of the party is Judy and Jack having some X-rated fun in the bathroom. The low note of the party is Monica, who was hiding in the shower, being forced to overhear it.
33. Judy Geller’s party (Season 4, Episode 3)
Judy is a real ass to her own daughter at this suburban party, unearthing years of tension and familial resentment, but at least we know the food is good (thanks, Monica!). Plus, a breakthrough is had (not that you’d know it from Judy’s attitude toward Monica in seasons to come).
32. Ross and Emily’s wedding reception (Season 5, Episode 1)
A would’ve-been-low-key affair at the Walthams’ newly redecorated house, disrupted by the fact that, you know, Ross said the wrong name at the altar.
31. Phoebe’s birthday dinner (Season 9, Episode 5)
Everyone is late and then distracted, and the restaurant staff is super snooty. Phoebe’s right to leave her own party, to be honest.
30. Ross and Emily’s rehearsal dinner (Season 4, Episode 24)
The wedding may have been doomed, but the rehearsal dinner was … well, only slightly better. The bride’s and groom’s parents fight the whole time and Chandler’s speech bombs. One bonus: It clearly has an open bar.
29. Chandler’s 30th birthday party (Season 7, Episode 14)
A small, intimate gathering at which Joey cries.
28. Joey’s 30th birthday party (Season 7, Episode 14)
A small, intimate gathering at which Joey cries.
27. Rachel’s 30th birthday brunch (Season 7, Episode 14)
In theory, a chocolate chip pancake brunch with gifts that are nearly all from your approved list is a great birthday party, for both birthday girl and guests. In practice, Rachel spirals about turning 30 and breaks up with the much younger Tag. Joey cries, too. It’s a mess, despite the good intentions and delicious-looking pancakes.
26. Rachel’s going-away party (Season 10, Episode 16)
A sad, but touching, hardly-a-party party.
25. College dorm party (Season 10, Episode 11)
This party from Ross and Chandler’s college years looks decently fun, though there’s only keg beer and it appears to be in a dorm common room.
24. Ross’s bachelor party (Season 4, Episode 22)
Bachelor/ette party custom tees are overdone … but these are a classic. Everyone seems to have fun at this party, even the chick and duck, though the ring mishap—which involves Joey blaming the stripper he hired for stealing Ross’s wedding ring, even though the duck actually ate it—sort of ruins things.
23. Emma’s first birthday party (Season 10, Episode 4)
A baby’s first birthday party that none of the guests want to be at. It ends up sweet, but the road to that sweetness is long and acrid.
22. Richard’s party (Season 2, Episode 15)
This party has plenty of booze and food by Monica, and it brings Monica and Richard (Tom Selleck) together. But even by Richard’s own admission, it’s boring as fuck—though his ophthalmology jokes kill. And at least we get to see Richard in a tux. Hubba-hubba.
21. Danny’s housewarming party (Season 5, Episode 7)
This party spills out into the hallway and there’s salad and bread, but Rachel’s “hard to get” antics with Danny add a whole bunch of complication to a situation that should be otherwise pretty fun.
20. Rachel’s birthday party no. 1 (Season 1, Episode 24)
A chill, intimate, calm barbecue … until Chandler lets it slip that Ross is in love with Rachel, causing Rachel to have an existential crisis. This would be fine, but no one gets to eat until she’s finished working through it … and that takes a while.
19. Handyman Howard’s retirement party (Season 5, Episode 15)
It’s all fun and games until Ross eats the cake too early and Phoebe starts insulting the guests. Let’s hope Howard retired to a beach somewhere.
18. Phoebe’s bachelorette party (Season 10, Episode 11)
It may be uncomfortable at first, but every bachelorette party should have a guest appearance by Danny DeVito (stripping and crying optional).
17. Rachel’s birthday party no. 2a (Season 2, Episode 22)
A surprise party for Rachel has to split in two when Rachel’s warring parents show up. (Bitterly divorced parents: not great for a party.) Monica’s half has the ever-sparkling Marlo Thomas (Rachel’s mother), but it also has regimented party games and partygoers defecting to the impromptu second party across the hall.
16. Rachel’s birthday party no. 5 (Season 9, Episode 12)
On the one hand, this party has martinis in funky glasses and Dermot Mulroney (though he shows up late). On the other, it has seven rat babies. The fact that it’s over by 9:30 p.m. is both good and bad.
15. Monica and Chandler’s Halloween party (Season 8, Episode 6)
A neutral/silly party, but throwing a last-minute Halloween party and forcing all your adult friends to wear costumes is kind of obnoxious. Just because you look good in a Catwoman costume, Monica…!
14. Emily’s fake goodbye party (Season 4, Episode 16)
A party that scores high on the “secondhand embarrassment” meter, as everyone is forced to witness Rachel’s increasingly desperate attempts to woo Joshua (Tate Donovan). But Emily—the fake focal point of the fake party—has a great time, and Rachel does successfully woo Joshua, so all in all … a success?
13. The Ralph Lauren silent auction (Season 6, Episode 24)
12. Barry and Mindy’s wedding (Season 2, Episode 24)
A fine, if tacky, wedding, made tackier by the fact that everyone keeps roasting Rachel, who, as the maid of honor and groom’s ex-fiancée, should hardly be the focus of the event. If I were Mindy, I’d be pissed. But if I were a guest at this wedding, I’d dine out on the stories that would come out of this for years.
11. Monica’s 30th birthday party (Season 7, Episode 14)
A black tie party in an apartment may seem like a chore, but there’s champagne flowing, a cater waiter, and a birthday girl who drunkenly makes a speech before falling over. I’d hang.
10. Monica and Chandler’s wedding (Season 8, Episode 1)
At least slightly different from all the other Friends weddings out there: there’s a swing band that isn’t too obviously swing-y; disposable cameras on the tables; trendy champagne coupes; and pregnancy rumors. A very good wedding/party.
9. Issac’s DJ party (Season 3, Episode 15)
This party may be the setting for a key component of Ross and Rachel’s breakup, but it’s not really the party’s fault. Said party looks totally decent, even if the only beer the club seems to serve is Red Stripe.
8. New Year’s Eve 1995 (Season 1, Episode 10)
This party sucks if you’re one of the six friends or David (Hank Azaria) or Fun Bobby, who’s mourning his grandfather, but everyone else seems to have a great time.
7. Joey’s birthday party (Season 3, Episode 11)
Not so fun if you’re Chandler, who drunkenly makes out with one of Joey’s sisters and then forgets which one he kissed, because that stinks; but it’s a great time for everyone else. There are Jello shots!
6. Carol and Susan’s wedding (Season 2, Episode 11)
A lot of the weddings in the Friends universe look the same: in a banquet hall/hotel ballroom with formal table settings. Carol and Susan’s Season 2 wedding, though, is a cocktail party in a modern art museum or gallery. That’s really cool by Friends standards. Ignore the uncool ignorant jokes from Chandler and Joey and celebrate the art, food, and Carol and Susan’s loving union.
5. New Year’s Eve 1999 (Season 5, Episode 11)
1999: the year of Joey, kicked off by a party with fun hats, paper horns, and midnight smooches. No one is in a bad mood; no one is mentioning the word “break”; no one is choosing to make a public gathering the setting of their existential breakdown. All in all: fun.
4. Rachel’s birthday party no. 3 (Season 5, Episode 18)
I’m just gonna say it: Rachel had too many birthday parties. Anyway, when Monica puts Phoebe in charge of cups and ice for this one-month-early surprise birthday party for Rachel, Phoebe takes her job very seriously. Behold: “Cup hat, cup banner, cup chandelier, and the thing that started it all … the cup!” Plus crazy straws, cubed, crushed, or dry ice, and snow cones. Are the decorations wasteful? Yes. Are they creative and fun? Also yes.
3. Days of Our Lives cast party (Season 9, Episode 20)
Famous people, sushi, wine, and a stunning view of all of New York City. (Why is this the only party the friends ever threw on the roof of their building?) This is a pretty cool party, though it loses points for those terrible plastic wine glasses with stems.
2. The slumber party (Season 1, Episode 4)
Rum punch, pizza, besties dishing, and spying on George Stephanopoulos? Check. Capping it all off with Twister and a realization that your friends are your “magic beans?” Double check.
1. Rachel’s birthday party no. 2b (Season 2, Episode 22)
The fun half of the aforementioned split birthday party from Season 2. This one has booze, pizza, music, dancing, and indoor volleyball. It’s the clear winner here (unless you’re Ross, who has to entertain Rachel’s temperamental dad).