Let’s get something straight, Ross Geller is the worst character on this show, but David Schwimmer is the best actor.
One of the beauteous aspects of Friends is that the cast act as a unit. When one character has a problem, the rest of the group react unanimously. They are a collective unconscious except when differing views are needed. While this is establishing the motif of friendship… it’s also the show’s biggest weakness.
You don’t need to be watching very closely to see one character say a line that was clearly written for someone else.
(Ex. In The One with 5 Steaks and an Eggplant, Ross, Chandler, and Monica pay for the whole gang to see Hootie and the Blowfish, when Phoebe, Joey, and Rachel react disappointed, Ross gives the line:
“Could you guys be less enthused?“
While I added the emphasis on “be,” that line was clearly written for Chandler, but they needed to divvy it up between the characters more — equality in lines.)
Despite this, Schwimmer stands out among the rest because even when a line needs to be altered, he never feels out of character.
This isn’t meant to put any of the others down, but given David Schwimmer’s acting career (Shakespearean theatre) parallels how Friends was filmed (in front of a live-studio audience) and the fact that he was chosen for the role before they even had casting… it’s clear that he was a shoe-in to steal the spotlight – even if most of the time he plays the happy medium to keep us grounded in reality.
However, some may be unconvinced that Ross is central to the show’s success. I say this because I have met many people that have said
“Ross adds nothing to the show,”
but seldom provide more than that. This is one of those situations where you can see who is a talented actor vs. what is written well.
To vaguely quote Modest Mouse, people often give actors the credit that belongs to the writers, but it can be hard to determine who is more responsible – especially since the writers were known to pitch ideas to the actors to see what they come up with (ex. Episode 601, Chandler says, “I don’t think they’re as married as they are two bottles of vodka walking around in human form” – that’s all Matthew Perry, the direction he was given was, “… as married as they are totally drunk.”).
Despite this, it is Schwimmer’s career as Ross that is a perfect example of how an actor can elevate the written material.
The best way to showcase this is to take the character out of context.
Ross is a cheater.
Ross cheats on just about all of his girlfriends: Julie, Rachel, Bonnie, the woman from upstate concurrently with the woman from Poughkeepsie, Mona (-ish) — even on Carol with Phoebe — and Ross even makes Carol cheat on her life partner (later wife), Susan, with a kiss.
Ross is abusive.
Not in the physical sense, but he is the poster child of an abusive boyfriend. Being a notorious cheater, he is also supremely jealous, making him suspicious and controlling.
Ross has two illegitimate children.
From two (of three) failed marriages.
Ross is condescending.
Ross is egotistical and often belittles peoples’ intelligence. He toots his own horn whenever opportune and showcases his achievements, rock collections, dissertations, and slideshows like trophies.
In short, on paper, Ross is an asshole.
However, Schwimmer plays him as easily one of the most sympathetic characters and he doesn’t need Chandler’s self-deprecating humor (and history) to do so; it’s Schwimmer’s charisma that makes you gravitate to Ross. That is pure talent.