Matt LeBlanc, Andrea Anders, Paulo Costanzo, Jennifer Coolidge, Drea de Matteo and Miguel A. Núñez Jr. in Friends

Looking back at: Joey

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Matt LeBlanc in Joey

Spin-offs from TV sitcoms are a tricky proposition. For every “Frasier,” there’s a dozen “The Tortellis”. More often than not, spin-offs fail to capture the magic of the original show, resulting in a series that struggles to attract viewers and gets canceled after one or two seasons. “Joey” is a prime example of a high-profile spin-off that flopped, underscoring that success is never guaranteed.

The series follows Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), who moves to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career after his friends have moved on with their lives. In LA, Joey lives with his sister Gina (Drea de Matteo) and her genius son Michael (Paulo Costanzo), forming a close-knit family unit. Joey’s adventures in Hollywood involve navigating auditions, quirky friendships, and romantic interests, including his neighbor Alex Garrett (Andrea Anders) and his eccentric agent Bobbie Morganstern (Jennifer Coolidge). While the show captures Joey’s characteristic charm and humor, it explores his journey towards self-discovery and career success amidst the challenges of the entertainment industry.

Drea de Matteo in Joey

“Joey” seemed like a surefire success on paper due to several compelling factors. First and foremost, it capitalized on the immense popularity of “Friends“, one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, ensuring an established fan base eager for more content. Matt LeBlanc’s portrayal of Joey Tribbiani had already won audiences over with his endearing charm and comedic timing, making him a relatable and likable lead. The premise of Joey moving to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career opened up fresh storylines and settings, promising a blend of familiar humor and new adventures. Additionally, the involvement of seasoned producers and writers from “Friends” suggested that the show would maintain the high-quality writing and comedic elements that made the original so successful. All these factors combined gave “Joey” the appearance of a promising continuation of a cherished TV legacy.

Jennifer Coolidge in Joey“Joey” sadly failed to capture the success of its predecessor. Despite its promising premise and the popularity of Joey Tribbiani as a character, the show struggled to recreate the ensemble magic and chemistry that defined “Friends“. The new supporting characters, while competent, lacked the same depth and connection with audiences, making the interactions feel less engaging. Additionally, the writing and humor did not consistently reach the high standards set by “Friends“, often relying on repetitive jokes and situational comedy that fell flat. The shift in setting to Los Angeles also altered the show’s dynamic, removing Joey from the familiar environment that had helped define his character. Finally, viewers’ high expectations, fueled by “Friends’” legacy, led to disappointment when “Joey” failed to deliver the same level of emotional resonance and comedic brilliance, resulting in declining ratings and its eventual cancellation after two seasons.

Matt LeBlanc in Joey

Part of what made “Friends” so beloved was its ability to make viewers feel like they were part of the gang. When fans tuned into “Joey”, they were eager for a continuation of that camaraderie, especially with one of the main stars from “Friends” taking the lead. Many hoped for glimpses of Chandler or nods to their shared past. Instead, they were left with just a fleeting mention in the first season and some nostalgic props—like the Scarface poster, the Magna Doodle, and Huggsy—that felt more like crumbs than a satisfying connection. The show’s disregard for its own history, with Joey dubbing Zack as his best friend, felt like a slap in the face to loyal viewers who expected continuity. As if Chandler has been erased from history. It’s understandable that the creators wanted “Joey” to carve its own path, but given Joey’s integral role in “Friends“, it felt nearly impossible to divorce the two entirely. Successful spin-offs often thrive by focusing on supporting or guest characters, like Mork’s brief but memorable appearances in “Happy Days”.

Judged solely on its own merits, “Joey” holds its own. Throughout its 46-episode run, there were plenty of laughs that kept me entertained, and Jennifer Coolidge emerges as the show’s standout star. She effortlessly steals every scene she’s in, elevating each episode she graces with her presence. Drea de Matteo, fresh off her role in “The Sopranos“, channels her Adriana energy into her character, albeit with a somewhat one-note feistiness. Still, I appreciate the open portrayal of her bisexuality. However, the remainder of the cast fails to leave a lasting impact. In particular, Zack’s character feels contrived, as if he were hastily concocted in the writers’ room to fill the void left by Chandler in California. His presence feels forced and lacks authenticity, especially given Joey’s burgeoning success contrasted with Zack’s struggle to secure even minor speaking roles.

Simon Helberg and Jayma Mays in Joey

One of the clearest indicators of “Joey” sitcom’s failure is the fact that the final four episodes of its second season were never aired. Fans of the show were left in limbo until the series came out on DVD, depriving them of closure. In today’s era of streaming, where shows are readily available at the touch of a button, it’s surprising that “Joey” is nowhere to be found on platforms like Max, especially considering its connection to the immensely popular “Friends“. At the time of writing, the show’s absence is conspicuous, leaving viewers with no legal means to access it easily. Resorting to piracy becomes the only option for those eager to revisit the series, and even then, finding decent-quality copies can be a challenge. It seems Warner Bros. may prefer to sweep “Joey” under the rug altogether. Despite its shortcomings compared to “Friends“, the show remains an intriguing watch, with notable moments like the appearance of a group of nerds reminiscent of those in “The Big Bang Theory”, hinting at its influence on future sitcoms.

That’s the tragic tale of “Joey” — a show initially hailed as a slam dunk, only to crash and burn in the ratings, and perhaps, unexpectedly pave the way for one of the next decade’s most colossal sitcoms.

Matt LeBlanc and Drea de Matteo in Joey


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