“The One with the Prom Video” is the fourteenth episode of the second season, and the 38th episode overall, of the American television situation comedy Friends, which first aired on NBC on February 1, 1996. The episode focuses on the main characters watching Monica (Courteney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) getting ready for their high school prom in the titular video. A subplot sees Joey, now earning more income, (Matt LeBlanc) buying roommate Chandler (Matthew Perry) an unusual gift.
The episode was directed by James Burrows, written by Alexa Junge and guest-stars Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles as Jack and Judy Geller, respectively; Michael Ray Bower as Monica’s date; and Patrick Kerr as the restaurant manager.
Joey, now earning money, gives Chandler a gaudy gold bracelet as thanks for paying for head shots and food. Chandler mocks it when it costs him a date, upsetting Joey when he overhears. Chandler promises to never take it off again but immediately realizes he cannot find it. He buys a replacement, but the original is found shortly afterwards. He gives one to Joey, repairing their friendship. Ross (David Schwimmer) continues to seek forgiveness from Rachel after insulting her in a previous episode, but she tells him that they as a couple will never happen. Ross and Monica’s parents Jack and Judy bring boxes of Monica’s possessions to her apartment. After prodding by Ross, she eventually tells them she was fired from her job, but Jack encourages her to use her savings from her bank account and assures her that they will be there to lend money to her whenever she needs it.
Whilst looking through the box, Monica finds a video of her and Rachel getting ready for their senior prom. The friends decide to watch the video, although Ross objects to everyone seeing the tape. On the video, Rachel’s date, Chip Matthews, has not arrived, and Monica refuses to go to the prom without her. Mrs. Geller convinces Ross to wear his father’s tuxedo and take Rachel to the prom himself. Ross reluctantly agrees, but by the time he is dressed and ready to go, Chip has arrived and the girls leave. The video ends with Ross looking disappointed and dejected. Rachel, touched by Ross’s gesture, gets up and passionately kisses Ross, forgiving him for what happened between them. Monica later watches the video alone which features her and Jack dancing. The video then shows Jack and Judy in bed, which disgusts her.
The producers had kept Ross and Rachel from being together throughout the first season, eventually bringing them together in the second-season episode “The One Where Ross Finds Out”, only to split them up in the following episode. Writer Alexa Junge incorporated many of her own experiences into the script, in particular Phoebe’s line about Ross and Rachel being “lobsters”, something Junge’s husband once said. Aniston wore a false nose for the scenes in the video while Cox wore a “fat suit”. While a previous episode had already established Monica as being overweight as a child, this was the first on-screen appearance of “Fat Monica” (the fat suit made frequent return appearances). Rachel’s large nose was added because Junge believed that the characters “were so good-looking, you wanted to feel they had some realness in their past”.
At first, Schwimmer did not want to wear the afro wig and mustache because he thought he would look like Gabe Kaplan in Welcome Back, Kotter (a similarity referenced in the episode). He relented because it enabled him to “tap into a part of himself that was very vulnerable and shy” and incorporate it into his performance. An early script draft featured a scene in the prom video in which an episode of All My Children is on in the background. The scene was intended to feature the character “Bryce”, played by Gunther (as revealed in “The One Where Eddie Won’t Go”).
In 1997, TV Guide ranked this episode #100 on their list of the “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time”.
“The One with the Prom Video” received acclaim from critics. Entertainment Weekly rates the episode “A”, welcoming the return of Burrows as director and calling the prom video “witty character development disguised as a standard flashback.” The authors of Friends like Us: The Unofficial Guide to Friends write that it is “a watershed in the history of the show” and “It’s the sign of a good show that they can switch so effortlessly from comedy to pathos to romance in one short scene.” Robert Bianco wrote in USA Today in 2004, “If any one outing can take credit for moving Friends from good to great, it’s Prom Video” and describes the resolution as an “ingenious, unexpected twist.”
The episode is popular among fans of the series. It appeared on one of the first region 1 “best of” DVD releases and is one of the two episodes to feature an audio commentary on the region 1 DVD release of the complete second season. In a poll conducted shortly before the series finale, “The One with the Prom Video” was voted the best episode of Friends, with 1.6 million people polling on the Internet. The episode is the favorite of Schwimmer, who liked the comedic and emotional origins of the Ross/Rachel relationship, as well as the exchange between Monica and Chandler as she defends her weight on the video.
In 2014, Gawker published a list of every episode of Friends ranked from #236 through #1. “The One With The Prom Video” was ranked as the #1 best episode on the list.