This Heartwrenching Ross and Rachel Tribute is the Most Hated Episode of ‘Friends’

Ross and Rachel were not the first “will they or won’t they” sitcom couple, but they certainly are among the best known and loved. Over the 10-season run of Friends, audiences were constantly kept in a state of uncertainty about the couple, wondering if they could ever make it work for the long haul.

It seemed that the timing was always wrong, true feelings were kept hidden, and careers, other couplings, and wounded prides got in the way of what could prove to be their amazing future together. That’s why this particular episode from Season 4 is so emotional and heart-wrenching… and yet, fans did not approve.

The One with the Invitation

Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer
Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green, David Schwimmer as Dr. Ross Geller | Danny Feld/NBCU Photo Bank

Nearing the end of Friend‘s fourth season, episode 21, The One with the Invitation, opens on Ross addressing wedding invitations with his bride-to-be Emily. A discussion occurs between them over whether or not to invite Rachel, with Emily ultimately leaving the decision in Ross’s hands. This sends Ross and the audience down memory lane, with flashbacks starting all the way from a flashback to Season 1 with Rachel’s dramatic wedding dress entrance into Central Perk.

After these musings and some deliberating, Ross makes his decisions and pops Rachel’s invitation into the mailbox right outside of Central Perk.

When Rachel later receives the invite at home in her apartment with Monica, as you could have guessed, she goes down a flashback montage of her own, doubling over some territory already covered in Ross’s montage. Her memories, not surprisingly, include Ross’s most repeated line, “We were on a break!”

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Time to finally settle this. Were they on a break?

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The worst episode of the best-loved show

According to fan reviews on IMDb, “The One with the Invitation” is without a doubt the most hated episode in the show’s history with a user rating of 7.3/10. For comparison, the show’s two highest-rated episodes, The One Where Everybody Finds Out, and The Last One, scored a whopping 9.7/10 while the average episodes hover around an 8.5/10.

It’d be tempting to speculate that the heart-breaking nature of the episode is what made it so despised. It’s often a dicey proposition to include an overly-sappy or sad episode in what fans expect to be a show with side-splitting laughter.

However, the fan-favorite, The Last One, is arguably far more heartbreaking than The One with the Invitation, so it seems that fans of the comedy are open to a few tears once in a while. This then begs the questions, why is this episode the most hated?

Less than the sum of its parts

“The One with the Invitation” contains clips from some of Ross and Rachel’s most iconic moments from early on in their courtship, but it leaves audiences ultimately unsatisfied. When watched without knowing the full story arc of the couple’s relationship, it seems to signal the final end of an era. The end of Ross and Rachel, and the conclusion that they, in fact, “won’t.”

If one were watching the show when it originally aired in 1998, there would have been no indication that the two would ever get back together again after the conclusion of Ross and Emily’s wedding.

Though that would have been a frustrating end to the lengthy cat and mouse game, it isn’t really a huge factor for syndicate viewers who are already aware that that wasn’t the end of Ross and Rachel. No, the answer to why audiences despised this episode is much simpler: Fans want completely new episodes, with reviewers, said the episode does nothing to advance the plot.

The flashbacks only seem to delay what was an interesting plot in full swing: the hasty international marriage of Ross and Emily. Some fans even went as far as to blame the lackluster episode on budgetary issues and laziness.

If there is one thing we can know for sure about TV fans, it’s that they are always after something fresh. Recycling old clips may save studios time and money, but it does little to captivate audiences.