Six urban dwellers made us a promise on Sept. 22, 1994, and for 10 seasons they kept their word.

Or, as the “Friends” theme song goes, “I’ll be there for you.” That they were.

If the show was human, on Tuesday it could enjoy its first beer. Yes, it’s been 21 years since the first episode, often referred to as “The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate.”

It didn’t take long for the sitcom to dominate television, and even impact culture. Jennifer Aniston’s hair became the country’s obsession. What they wore week to week left empty racks in fashion stores. And their catch phrases were all the talk in the office on Friday mornings: “We were on a break!” and “Hey, how you doin’?”  And who can forget smelly cat? (The tune still lives: Just last month, Taylor Swift and Lisa Kudrow sang the catchy jingle to a sold-out crowd at Los Angeles’ Staples Center).

 

They had each other’s backs, even if a particular episode showed otherwise for comic effect.

“Friends” was never the funniest, or the most sophisticated, show on the broadcast landscape. It didn’t get the critical love contemporary programs earned. Yet audiences became attached to it in ways that remind us why pop culture matters then — and now. The final episode drew more than 52 million viewers. (For comparison’s sake, the first installment of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” earlier this month drew 6.6 million viewers.)

So what was the magic elixir? Here’s a hint: It’s right in the title.

The six characters in “Friends” truly were there for each other through the proverbial thick and thin. That doesn’t always happen in the real world. Real friends disappoint. They move away. They marry spouses we don’t always love — or even like. Their tastes and interests evolve and expand. In short, they’re just as human as everyone else, and it’s the rare friendship that survives time.

Not these friends. They had each other’s backs, even if a particular episode showed otherwise for comic effect. They weren’t endlessly cynical, as many show characters today are. They looked on the brighter side whenever it made sense to do just that.

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Almost every aspect of pop culture today is dark … cynical … edgy. Superman, the original Boy Scout of superheroes, will be hunted by those who fear what a man of his power might do to the world in next year’s “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Heck, even the “Muppets” are back on television in a newer, more cynical format. “Friends” never succumbed to that cultural trend.

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What’s intriguing about “Friends” is the year it finally signed off. In 2004, our social media age was just beginning. Facebook debuted early that year, which means it didn’t have the iron grip on our leisure time as it does today. We couldn’t tweet out great lines from the show or swap funny GIFs of David Schwimmer’s reactions.

Today, Facebook allows us to stay in touch with people who otherwise might slip off our friend radar. We’re closer to more people than ever before — but in a way much farther apart. We can ignore a “Friend” request via our laptops, or say no to an “Evite” without so much as a reason why. Technology is making the notion of friendship more complicated than ever.

Those “Friends,” they were there, physically and emotionally, together: The apartments, the coffee shop. Would Ross and Rachel have ever gotten together in a social media landscape?

Every few months, a rumor of a murmur will bubble up about a “Friends” reunion, and the news will get squashed in short order. That’s a shame. TV show reunions come and go, but we need these “Friends” now more than ever. Especially today’s young people.

The ‘Friends’ Resume:

The Emmy List: Six wins, 62 nominations

Guest Stars: Tom Selleck, Paul Rudd, Julia Roberts, Charlie Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt and many more.

The Spinoff: “Joey” starring Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, only lasted two seasons.

The Merch: The NBC ‘Friends’ store offers T-shirts, blankets, hoodies, magnets and mugs with the show’s logo and cast emblazoned on them.