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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Friends' ends with Ross-Rachel embrace

The "Friends" soap opera ended predictably and blandly last night, with no big surprises, just two little ones -- Monica's and Chandler's twins.

But after months of brash NBC hype and teary cast interviews, finale letdown was probably inevitable.

As expected, Rachel chose not to move to France in order to be with Ross, the father of her daughter, her romantic obsession for 10 years, her lobster. It was the crowd-pleasing culmination of a decade of relentless Ross-Rachel back-and-forths that will continue to air daily in "Friends" syndicated reruns.

Meanwhile, Chandler and Monica learned that the mother of their baby was actually delivering a pair of tykes -- a boy and a girl. As Janice would have said, "Oh. My. God."

To fill up the hour before Ross and Rachel would finally unite, the writers came up with a feeble obstacle plotline that had Phoebe and Ross rushing through airports to find Rachel. And when the love birds did manage to voice their true feelings to each other, their lines and delivery were oddly flat. "I am so in love with you," said Ross. "Please don't go. I do love you," said Rachel. If there was a spark between them, it wasn't in evidence last night.

The good news about the finale was that the writers and producers tried to treat the hour as just another episode of "Friends" (albeit one with Super Bowl-priced ads). They chose not to break the tone of the series by pulling a bold stunt -- the kind of unwieldy twist that made the last episode of "Seinfeld" something of a head-scratcher in 1998.

While Ross and Rachel tied up their loose ends, the rest of the friends deployed their usual affectionate banter and one-liners, with Joey wondering if France was on a different continent, Phoebe pretending to be in a musical, and Chandler self-consciously avoiding emotion. Meanwhile, daughter Emma was nowhere in sight.

The show's parting image also managed to be restrained and memorable, as the melancholy gang of six wandered out of Monica's bare apartment to go -- where else? -- for one last cup of coffee. Yep, from here on out, other Manhattan coffee lovers will be able to enjoy their lattes from the comfort of that happy orange couch.

The most iconic moment in the episode, though, might have been the destruction of Joey's foosball table, in order to save the trapped chick and duck that he'd bought for Monica and Chandler. There it was in pieces around Chandler and Joey, the symbol of their boyish camaraderie. The former roommates shared a lame, "cool-guy" handshake, as Chandler put it, and then an awkward hug.

At that moment, it was clear that the next stop would be adulthood -- and Joey.

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