Welcome to TV Rewind, in which we look back at iconic episodes of beloved shows and try to determine if they still hold up today. This week, we look at the episode of "Friends" in which Ross tries to teach his son about the holidays.
Episode: "The One With the Holiday Armadillo," Season 7, Episode 10
Plot summary: Armadillo suits on, boys and girls! All other holiday episodes are about to get schooled. Ross is determined to teach his son, Ben, about the magic of Hanukkah (since he feels Ben has been exposed only to Christmas). As a result, Ross declares that this Christmas will be a Santa-less one -- until he realizes how horrible that sounds.
So, after failing to find a Hanukkah-appropriate costume, Ross dresses up as "The Holiday Armadillo" (the only costume he could find on short notice) in order to teach Ben all about the Jewish holiday. (Chandler also shows up dressed as Santa, but gives Ross, Ben, and the Holiday Armadillo costume their space.)
Meanwhile, Phoebe worries that Rachel is too comfortable living with Joey and won't want to be roommates once their apartment is fixed post-fire. So, Phoebe begins giving Joey gifts like noisy drums (which, it turns out, Rachel loves) and a tarantula (which she loves even more) to drive Rachel outta there -- but at the end of the episode, it turns out the apartment has been renovated into a one-bedroom anyway.
As for Chandler and Monica: Chandler's held up waiting for a table and attempts to bribe the host (in coin) to make a theatre performance in time. He also ends up keeping the Santa costume "for later" (Monica's words, not mine). Wink!
What still works: Well, first: Chandler Bing dressed up as Santa and declaring, "But I was going to shake my belly like a bowlful of jelly!" to a sullen-looking Ross, who's dressed up as an armadillo. If you don't laugh at that, you don't deserve neither holiday mascot, or timeless sitcoms.
Also, it takes a bold show to tackle holiday traditions without being preachy, but "Friends" succeeds admirably, thanks to melding physical comedy and actual heart. Ben seems legitimately psyched to hear about Hanukkah from his dad, which obviously means a lot to Ross. But at no point does he try and explain the holiday to the viewers, which could come across as condescending.
What doesn't work: Absolutely nothing. Aside from Phoebe failing to communicate her roommate worries to Rachel (though it wouldn't be a sitcom without a little miscommunication), "Friends" always managed to juggle multiple plots without jokes getting muddled or progress being prevented. Here, Ross bonds with his son, the set-up for Rachel-as-Joey's permanent roommate is complete (because he has to fall in love with her in later seasons -- but that hasn't happened yet so we won't talk about what a terrible idea that was), and Monica and Chandler provide enough comedy to keep things moving. We're maybe owed a backstory on Monica's Santa thing, but also... no, never mind. We don't want that. Not at all.
The verdict: "Friends" holiday episodes do something most TV shows have yet to master: they covered the holiday without turning it into a stereotypical "holiday episode." With "The One with the Holiday Armadillo," we still got the warm and fuzzy feeling of Christmas and Hanukkah, but the whole episode wasn't defined by the holidays.
That, and we can totally relate to Chandler needing to tip a host in coin -- for some of us, that's what the holidays are about. Though for anyone who's seen this episode, we know the holidays are really about Santa's Tex-Mex friend, the delightful Holiday Armadillo.