Friends saw a variety of recurring characters who were close to the main group in different ways, but one who was especially close to them and yet never part of the bubble was James Michael Tyler’s Gunther, who ended up becoming the seventh friend. The 1990s saw a variety of sitcoms, but the one that continues to be considered not only one of the greatest of the decade but in TV history is Friends. Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman. Friends premiered on NBC in 1994 and lived on for a total of 10 seasons, coming to an end in 2004.
Friends followed a group of six young adults living in New York City and doing their best to juggle their social, personal, and professional lives, all while dealing with everything that adulthood threw their way. Over the course of ten seasons, viewers saw Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Joey, Rachel, and Ross grow from 20-somethings trying to figure out their lives to adults with their own families (except for Joey, whose story came to a full end in the spinoff series Joey), but without losing the silliness and humor that made them so popular. Accompanying the group from time to time were a variety of recurring characters, among those Gunther, the manager of Central Perk.
Although the main settings in Friends were Monica’s apartment and also Joey’s, the group also spent a lot of time at Central Perk, their favorite coffee shop. Behind the counter was Gunther, serving as a barista and later manager of the place, and while he sometimes never said a word, he was one of four characters who appeared in all seasons of Friends. Even if quiet, Gunther was a strong presence in the show, and he subtly ended up becoming the seventh friend.
How Gunther Became the 7th Friend On Friends
Gunther began his run on Friends as a background character with no dialogues and ended up becoming one of the most memorable characters in the series. Gunther’s first appearance was in season 1’s episode “The One With The Sonogram At The End”, and he just appeared in the background (and it was an uncredited appearance). With time, the barista at Central Perk with white hair became a proper character with the name of Gunther, and he went from a background character preparing coffee for the main characters to actually interacting with them almost daily. Although Gunther was never an active part of the storylines in Friends, serving as a comedic addition to them, he was given some relevance starting in season 3 when he developed a crush on Rachel.
His presence in certain stories actually gave the writers the chance to share some bits about Gunther’s backstory, such as him being a former child actor (who played Bryce in All My Children and was killed off by getting buried in an avalanche, which led him to become a barista and waiter), having a smoking habit he had trouble quitting (just like Chandler did), and being fluent in Dutch. Gunther never became part of the main group on Friends, but he was, in a way, the seventh member, as out of all recurring characters that are not blood-related to them, he was the closest to them. Gunther was on good terms with most of the main characters (except Ross, who he never liked due to his relationship with Rachel), to the point where he was invited to many of their parties, such as Rachel’s birthdays, Emily’s farewell party, and Chandler and Monica’s Halloween, and he even attended Phoebe’s wedding. Gunther ended up being the character outside of the main cast to appear in most episodes, either interacting with the group or just being in the background doing his job.
Why James Michael Tyler’s Gunther Performance Was So Great
James Michael Tyler was cast as Gunther in Friends because he was the only extra who could work the cappuccino machine on the Central Perk set, but as Gunther went from extra to recurrent character, the crew behind Friends and viewers were able to see Tyler’s acting talents. Tyler was subtle but his timing in scenes was impeccable, which is why they were always so funny. Gunther could have easily become an over-the-top and silly character, which would have hurt him and possibly the show as well, but Tyler’s subtlety kept the character grounded and a lot funnier than if he had been loud and exaggerated. Tyler also had good chemistry with the main cast, which made his quick but clever appearances all the more memorable, as he was able to clap back at Chandler’s jokes, attack Ross sometimes in such subtle ways that the paleontologist took a couple of minutes to understand what happened, and show how much he cared about Rachel (even if she never got the message).
Why Gunther Is So Important To Friends
Friends was all about the main group, their dynamic, and their personal struggles, so the show needed someone from the outside who could occasionally break that bubble to show the world outside of it and how this interacted and influenced the group’s own little world, all while also highlighting how strong their bond was. Gunther played that role in Friends and was the perfect link between the world of Rachel and company and the outside one, as through their interactions, he highlighted the strengths of the characters and the group as a whole and their weaknesses as well (all with a lot of humor, such as the recurrent joke of him being close to the group but not being a part of their inner circle), and brought some balance to the series. Gunther was a subtle but big presence in Friends, and even when he wasn’t physically in the scene, he was mentioned by the characters, and sometimes he played an important role in pushing a storyline forward, such as when he told Rachel about Ross sleeping with Chloe (Angela Featherstone).
Friends had a variety of characters – minor, recurrent, guest, and cameos – but aside from those who were part of the main group’s families, none had the same impact and relevance as Gunther. James Michael Tyler became the “secret” seventh friend thanks to his subtle yet strong performance as Gunther, becoming one of the most memorable characters on Friends.
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