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  • Writer's picturecasey

Friends episode 1.11 "The One With Mrs. Bing"

A quality I’ve been noticing a lot lately in content that I enjoy is an intimacy between artist and audience. The illusion that we really truly know these people with a certain amount of depth is what hooks us. It’s the thing that creates fandoms and births groupies, but it’s also the reason we buy concert tickets and make a standing appointment with our favorite shows. And I’d even go so far as to say that that intimacy isn’t an illusion. If someone really is pouring themselves into their work, and they’re good at it, I think anyone who’s there to see it will probably have an important understanding of that person. So, your favorite artists may not know you, but you do know them.

I think that’s why Chandler resonated with people so strongly. I may be biased, but I also spent a lot of time in the Friends fandom, and he really was the fan favorite. The entire cast was of course a strong ensemble who made their characters their own, but I don’t think any of them identified with their role as much as Matthew Perry. He says in his memoir that he was Chandler and Chandler was him, but I think we knew that already. Everything from his clothes to the cadence of his speech is instantly identifiable, funny, endearing, and real.

Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc in "The One With Mrs. Bing".

My favorite episodes of Friends (and of most comedies) are the ones that get as close to drama as a sitcom can get, and I’ve noticed that Chandler is almost always at the center of the show’s most emotional moments. When Chandler kisses Joey’s sister, his repentance is so sincere. When Chandler finally admits his love for Monica, tears of laughter turn to tears of endearment in a literal split second; Ross and Rachel make you say, “oh my God”, Monica and Chandler make you say “awwww”.

And as early as season one, a sole episode featuring Chandler’s mom carries more depth and character development than a decade with the Gellers. Chandler’s mother, Nora Bing, is a bestselling erotica novelist. She’s introduced in this episode as the gang forces a begrudging Chandler to watch Nora’s appearance on Jay Leno. Two episodes prior, we heard Chandler’s first recounting of his Thanksgiving horrors (we’ll come to be very familiar with the tale): at nine years old, Chandler’s parents sat him down at the end of Thanksgiving dinner and told him they were getting a divorce- his father is having an affair with the pool boy.

Right after admitting on national TV that sex makes her crave Kung Pao Chicken, Nora excitedly tells Leno that she’s heading to New York tomorrow and will get to see her son. Chandler declares, without surprise, “And this is how I find out. Most moms use the phone.” Seconds later, Nora is explaining the depths of her love for her son by stating that she bought him his first condoms. Summing up how every parent makes their kid feel, though probably not to this extent, Chandler says: “And then he burst into flames.”

Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow, and Jennifer Aniston in "The One With Mrs. Bing".

In one short, funny scene we understand a surprising number of layers to Chandler’s character. Nora was sincere when stating her love and excitement about seeing her son. Ross- the only one who knows her- declared that he loves Chandler’s mom. Rachel gushed that she is a huge fan of Nora’s books. Despite their bizarre dynamic, Chandler has to endure everyone else loving his mom and telling him to relax, something he really does try to do.

He brings the whole gang out to dinner with his mom- including Paolo, which is generous of Nora.

NORA: I am famished… what do I want?

CHANDLER: Please God don’t let it be Kung Pao Chicken.

NORA: Oh, you watched the show! What’d you think?

CHANDLER: Well, I think you need to come out of your shell juuuust a little.

But he says it all with a smile, dropping a kiss on his mom’s cheek. And then hops right on board as she orders tequila shots for the whole table. It’s a strange dynamic, and a comical one, but also one that now feels real. Matthew Perry’s performance turns this punchline of a premise into something more: what would a person with this upbringing really be like?

Matthew Perry and Morgan Fairchild in "The One With Mrs. Bing".

Towards the end of dinner, Ross has gotten good and drunk on Nora’s tab. Rachel and Paolo are driving him up the wall. He runs into Nora after coming out of the bathroom- the women’s bathroom, he realizes, when a woman steps out a few seconds after him. He’s down, out of it, and Nora knows it’s about Rachel. She comforts him, promising that Paolo isn’t the kind of character that sticks around. Rachel will be turning to him in no time.

This seems to help, but suddenly the two are leaning into each other, kissing a real kiss. And who’s headed for the bathroom now but Joey, who sees them and stammers in shock that he’s gonna go pee in the street. Ross and Nora separate and sigh that sigh that’s old sitcom speak for “fuck”.

David Schwimmer and Morgan Fairchild in "The One With Mrs. Bing".

The next day, Ross tries to get away with never telling Chandler what happened. Joey hasn’t told him, but he tells Ross that he has to- and takes offense to the suggestion that his own mom isn’t as tempting as Nora Bing (“I’ll have you know that Gloria Tribbiani was a very handsome woman in her day, alright? You think it’s easy giving birth to seven children?”).

Ross at first tries to claim that Paolo kissed his mom, which has Chandler in enough shock already, but finally Ross exclaims that it was him, getting real anger out of Chandler. “You know, of all my friends, no one knows the crap I go through with my mom more than you.” Ross tries to apologize, but Chandler leaves, slamming the door.

Later, at Central Perk, Ross tries again:

ROSS: Chandler, can I just say something? I know you’re still mad at me, I just wanna say that there were two people there that night. Okay? Two sets of lips.

CHANDLER: Yes, well, I expect this from her. She’s always been a Freudian nightmare.

ROSS: Okay, well, if she always behaves like this, why don’t you say something?

CHANDLER: Because it’s complicated. It’s complex- hey, you kissed my mom!

Other coffee drinkers turn to look. Ross declares to the coffee house that they’re rehearsing a Greek play. Typically the kind of joke Chandler himself would make, he doesn’t even crack a smile.

CHANDLER: That’s very funny. We done now?

ROSS: No! You mean you’re not gonna talk to her? You’re not gonna tell her how you feel?

CHANDLER: That would be a no. Look, just because you played tonsil tennis with my mom doesn’t mean you know her. Alright? Trust me, you can’t talk to her.

Chandler then comes close to breaking Ross’s finger, but even if he’s not admitting it now, Ross has said something significant. While it’s the biggest betrayal coming from Ross, this isn’t an isolated incident on Nora’s part. It’s a not-so-funny symptom of the overarching mother/son dynamic that has been comically displayed until now.

Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer in "The One With Mrs. Bing".

Back up at the apartment, Chandler is saying his goodbyes to Nora. She brought copies of her book for the rest of the gang and asks if Chandler wants anything from Lisbon. On the surface, they have a playful banter, and he takes things in stride. But finally, as she’s walking out the door, he stops holding it in: “You kissed my best Ross! … or something to that effect.”

She knows it’s not good. She steps back inside and gently closes the door. She apologizes, they agree that it was stupid, and she promises it’ll never happen again. And when she asks if they’re okay now, he starts to say yes… but then he says no. The kiss got his attention, but it’s the tip of the iceberg.

In the hallway, Ross approaches to find Joey listening at the door. We can hear Chandler and Nora’s muted yelling. Excitedly, Joey says “He did it! He told her off, and not just about the kiss, about everything!” They’re good friends, honestly. They give him grief and find Nora fun, but clearly Ross isn’t the only one who knows there’s more to the story.

Then, the screaming match is over and Chandler walks Nora down the hall. She asks if he’s okay and he says yes. She kisses his cheek, and after a formal “Mrs. Bing”, “Mr. Geller” between her and Ross, she’s gone. And Chandler and Ross are alone.

CHANDLER: Hey.

ROSS: You mean that?

CHANDLER: Yeah, why not. I told her.

ROSS: Yeah? How’d it go?

CHANDLER: Awful. Awful. Couldn’t have gone worse.

ROSS: Well, how do you feel?

CHANDLER: Pretty good! I told her.

The two shake hands, and Chandler smiles big, throwing an arm over Ross’s shoulder.

Chandler has the zaniest backstory of the group (except for maybe Phoebe), yet he’s somehow the most whole, the most down to earth. You can connect the dots between the life story that exists off screen and the choices he makes in front of us. And could you even fathom anyone else playing Chandler Bing?

Matthew Perry in "The One With Mrs. Bing".

There was just something special there. Matthew Perry had that “x factor”, as they say, although I think that x factor really is the ability to make strangers feel like they know you. He did it everywhere, and I think we all really liked the guy we got to know. If, like me, you’re looking to watch the best of Chandler Bing in the wake of Matthew’s passing, here are some others to add to your queue: episode 2.03 “The One Where Heckles Dies”, episode 4.08 “The One With Chandler in a Box”, and episode 5.14 “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”.

Among many other things, I also highly recommend his book Friends, Lovers, and the Big, Terrible Thing, his movie The Whole Nine Yards, and his show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I’ll be back here with sometime soon. And if you’re having any Matthew Perry related thoughts or feelings, I’d love to hear about them! This one is very close to my heart.

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