Comedy of Errors

If ABC had asked me, instead of asking a million anonymous Americans, to name the best comedy television show ever, I wouldn’t have pointed to I Love Lucy. Nothing against the clownish antics of beloved Lucille Ball. But I’ve always been much more likely to laugh out loud watching Friends. Could be a Gen-X thing, I guess.

And maybe it’s thanks to my influence, but my 13-year-old daughter has also become a big Friends fan. When she craves down time and some cuddling on the couch with her mom, she’s often liable to want a half hour of snappy dialogue between six Manhattan twentysomethings with good hair.

This week, we watched “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” (Just why Phoebe hates PBS isn’t all that important here, but I can tell you it has to do with a traumatized adolescence and an unexpected snub from Big Bird.)

During this episode, Joey argues that there’s no such thing as a totally selfless good deed. Phoebe doesn’t agree. And she sets out to prove Joey wrong. But every one of her attempts (raking her neighbour’s leaves, making a charitable donation) ends up backfiring, since they make her feel great every time.

Spoiler alert: By the end of the episode, it looks like Joey’s won the debate. Phoebe’s frustrated because she can’t help but get joy from her acts of kindness.

But I’m not making a fuss over it. As scientific research has shown us again and again, we derive pleasure from doing good deeds. It’s part of our make-up. And, yes, we get lots of tangible benefits from our benevolence, like better health and greater self-esteem.

So is that selfish? Does it matter? When the helper and the helpee both come out on top, I call that a win-win situation.

Photo of Lisa Kudrow in role of Phoebe

Oh, Pheebs, you mustn’t let it get to you. You carried your brother’s triplets out of the goodness of your heart.

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