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The Watcher - Don't cry for me, Central Perk

Tuning in for the Friending'"

I confess: I quit caring whether Ross and Rachel would get together after they married each other in a drunken Las Vegas trip ... five seasons ago. Call it pop-cultural duty, but I'll watch the "Friends" one-hour retrospective and the one-hour series finale tonight, anyway (NBC, 8 p.m.). But so far, the Rachel-to-Paris story line smacks of Carrie's bon voyage on "Sex and the City." And we already know Ross' first and last names, so who cares what would pop up on Rachel's cell phone caller ID?

Why rip off a series finale from earlier this year? After all, few television shows make it to a self-determined finish, so they should strive for sparkling originality. If tonight's last episode leaves you feeling unsatisfied, perhaps one of our alternate "friendings" will please you.

The "Dallas"

At the very end of the show, Ross wakes up in bed and hears the shower running. Confused and disoriented, he walks into the bathroom, pulls back the shower curtain to reveal ... his ex-wife, Susan.

"Good morning," says Susan.

"What are you doing here?" asks Ross. "I thought you were gay, left me for a woman and had my child with her!"

"Gay? Honey, you must have been having a dream," says Susan.

The "Dallas," take two

At the very end of the show, Rachel wakes up in bed and hears the shower running. Confused and disoriented, she walks into the bathroom, pulls back the shower curtain to reveal ... Brad Pitt. Oh wait, that's her real life.

The Scooby Doo

The gang is all at Monica and Chandler's apartment when the doorbell rings. They look at each other confused, because they're all already in the apartment. Ross opens the door to reveal ... Fat Monica. "Monica? But ... but ... then who are you?" he asks thin Monica. Thin Monica dashes to the door, but Fat Monica blocks the exit, grabs the thin girl and rips off a rubber mask revealing ... Ursula, Phoebe's twin sister! And she would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for that pesky Ugly Naked Guy.

Gunther's Revenge

Ross, Rachel, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler and Monica chat on the couch in Central Perk. Joey rambles on about the greatness of sandwiches when Gunther brings over a round of cappuccinos. "We didn't order these," says Monica. "They're on the house," Gunther mutters in a monotone. "Since you will all be moving away and this is your goodbye." The friends mumble their thanks, sip their frothy coffee — then grasp their throats, make horrible gagging sounds and die. Gunther, calmly watching the poison he had put into their cups take effect, sits down by Rachel's still-warm body and caresses her cheek. "I told you that you could never leave me," he says.

The Super Spin-off

With "Friends" ending tonight and "Frasier" ending May 13, NBC will be desperately seeking new must-see TV. Here's the solution: Joey relocates to L.A. and moves in with Frasier's kid brother, Niles Crane. Sloppy, intellectually challenged Joey and anal-retentive, academic Niles re-emerge as this millennium's version of "The Odd Couple."

The Real Spin-off

"Joey" is scheduled to take over the Thursday "Friends" time slot this fall. In addition to Matt LeBlanc, Drea de Matteo from "The Sopranos" has been cast to play Joey's sister. It's hard to say if the lovable lug can carry his own show, especially after the public flatly rejected post-"Seinfeld" projects. But who thought that Frasier would be the phoenix to rise from the "Cheers" ashes?

heather.kuldell@creativeloafing.com