We're all, like, so gonna miss you

Tonight marks the end of an era as the last episode of Friends is screened on British television. Arts reporter Nick Ahad looks at the impact of the phenomenally successful series. "I get by with a little help from my friends," sang the Beatles. So what are we supposed to do after tonight? How will we get by without our Friends?

Well, we can watch our collection of videos and dvd box sets – once the preserve of sci-fi geeks – that Friends made it okay to buy. And, of course, there are the constant repeats we can expect from Channel Four, the British home of the American sitcom.

But you can't help feel that somehow our lives will never be the same, now that we have lost our Friends.

The phenomenally successful NBC series bows out tonight and leaves British television screens in the season-10 – and series – finale.

It was in 1994 that we were first introduced to Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey and made our first visit to Central Perk, the coffee shop where the six friends would meet regularly and we would vicariously live their Manhattan lives.

Marta Kaufman and David Crane had written the pilot and we watched characters talk in a way which we had not before heard:

Scene: Central Perk. Chandler, Joey, Phoebe and Monica are there.

Monica: "There's nothing to tell! He's just some guy I work with!"

Joey: "C'mon, you're going out with the guy! There's gotta be something wrong with him!"

Chandler: "All right Joey, be nice. So does he have a hump? A hump and a hairpiece?"

Phoebe: "Wait, does he eat chalk?"

(They all stare at Phoebe, bemused.)

Phoebe: "Just, 'cause, I don't want her to go through what I went through with Carl... oh!"

Monica: "Okay, everybody relax. This is not even a date. It's just two people going out to dinner and… not having sex."

Chandler: "Sounds like a date to me."

And so it began. An American sitcom came into our lives and influenced us in a way we could scarcely imagine – to the point where we now find it difficult to remember a life without Friends.

When I arrive at work, I take my morning coffee to my desk. Or rather, I take my morning cappuccino to my desk, before preparing for a day at the coal face.

A lad from Keighley, drinking a cappuccino. It used to raise the collective eyebrows of the more mature colleagues with whom I share an office and I'm sure there was a time when I would have willingly ordered a Malibu and cherryade with an umbrella at my father's local before being seen buying a cappuccino, but Friends made it okay.

There are few people in their twenties and thirties – who have grown up alongside the Friends – who won't have had a cappuccino in a big mug. It is no surprise to find out that the first New York Starbucks store opened in the same year that Friends began.

It was not only the way we drank our early morning caffeine that Friends changed, however.

For the last decade, the way we've cut our hair, the way we've dressed, even the way we talk, all owe something to the weekly half-hour dose of a group of six friends in Manhattan.

Researchers at the University of Toronto analysed the effect the series has had on the way we speak. Their research into the linguistic influence can be summed up with one word. Pre-1994 the commonest way to intensify a noun was by preceding it with "very" or "really" – on Friends the word "so" replaced these.

A style of speech once the preserve of Californian teens was suddenly common.

And, throughout the first few series, women in this country and the world over were wandering into salons to request a "Rachel", in accordance with the varying hairstyles that that character wore.

So what is it about Friends that has kept a generation hooked for a decade?

What Kaufman and Crane – and a wealth of massively talented writers – tapped into over the last decade was the zeitgeist. They identified something that was happening – mass coffee consumption, a change in the way we speak – and reflected it. The series also led the zeitgeist, introducing us to phrases we had never heard before: "Oh. My. Gawd."

But what it tapped into and reflected most was a change in the way we live.

The generation that Friends speaks to is the generation that is driven by career aspirations and which is marrying and having children much later than our forebears.

It is also a generation that is dealing with the fall-out of the marriage break-ups of our parents – something our parents themselves rarely had to deal with.

Friends speaks to us because it is about us. This group of six disparate people cling to each other through first dates, failed relationships, deaths and all manner of other crises that people in their twenties and thirties understand and relate to. For this is the generation that has housemates, like the Friends, in response to spiralling house prices, again something our parents never dealt with.

It is also a generation of people that, more so than ever before, tends not to live in the same place where they grew up and who turn to their friends where in the past they would have turned to their families – and that is how they get by, with a little help.

I am, like, so gonna miss my Friends.

nick.ahad@ypn.co.uk

The last episode of Friends is on Channel Four tonight at 9pm.