Picture this television series: A group of six individuals in their 20s and 30s. The men in the group share an apartment. So do the women. Both apartments are in the same building. Among the individuals, there is romantic tension, sexual tension, and yes, even real relationships. Jokes abound about living in New York City.
So, here’s my question: Were the people you pictured white or black? If they were black, chances are you may have been thinking about the Fox sitcom Living Single that aired for five seasons starting in 1993. If they were white, then you were probably picturing Friends, the NBC sitcom that aired a year later and lasted a decade. These shows were more similar than many people wish to admit.
Both shows were popular, though Friends had a viewership (25-30 million) almost three times as large as Living Single. Both shows were also pretty terrible, in my humble opinion. But, more to the point of this blog, both shows managed to weave in some billiards, with Living Single making it far more the centerpiece of an episode than Friends.
In March 1995, Living Single aired “Another Saturday Night,” the 22nd episode in its second season. The episode is available to watch here. The billiards plot is paper-thin. Overton (John Henton) gets hustled out of $200 at the pool hall. Khadijah (Queen Latifah) offers to help Overton get his money back. Along with Synclaire (Kim Coles), Overton’s girlfriend, the trio go to the pool hall and challenge the two flimflammers to a double-or-nothing game of mixed doubles against Overton and Khadijah. Initially feigning ignorance about the game, Khadijah then turns on her skills and wins back the money with a one-hand shot.
Not satisfied to just win $200 with “the best streak of beginner’s luck [she’s] ever had,” she agrees to play again, upping the bet to $500, using her rent money. Down five balls pretty quickly, Khadijah then slips, suffering a wrist injury that prevents her from finishing the match. The opposing team has the option to pair Overton with another woman (or he forfeits). They choose “Mary Tyler Poppins” (i.e., Synclaire), who, painting her nails, looks completely disinterested. But, of course, they chose wrong, as Synclaire turns out to be the real shark, running the table and winning the game and the bet on a six-rail shot, no less. The lesson to the hustlers: “Deceit and duplicity don’t pay…although in this case, they did pay for us,” says Synclaire.
To my knowledge, Friends never went full-tilt-billiards, but in October 1996, the episode “The One with the Flashback” (Season 3, Episode 6), did introduce some billiards humor, when Ross (David Schwimmer) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) reminisced about their almost-hookup on the pool table. The specific scene is here.
Ross and Phoebe attempt to take their passion to the baize, only to suffer multiple problems, including Ross hitting his head (twice) on the overhead light, Ross fumbling to get the balls off the table, Ross getting his foot stuck in a pocket, and Ross having trouble with the “stupid balls in the way,” which promptly kills the mood.
Get it? As I said already, I never understood why people thought these shows were any good.