Recently, I responded to a Craigslist want ad titled, “seeking Jess from New Girl,” which led me to meeting a fascinating individual, Ben Davis. Ben is planning to graduate UCLA after next quarter (depending on how his Introspective Psychology final exam goes). When the reality of finishing college dawned on him over his last winter break, he discovered he did not feel ready to graduate. The main problem, he realized, was that he had yet to establish a group of friends that would stick with him through the remainder of his twenties, like he had seen on so many sitcoms. So he created a self-imposed graduation requirement, and even got a counselor to add it to his degree audit report on MyUCLA. I discovered that he had been making elaborate plans to find, or as he has been saying, ‘cast’ the right posse.
I asked Ben how it had started; he told me “I initially just hoped to meet lifelong friends that Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Cheers promised I’d have after college. It’s become a game to complete not just one sitcom friend group, but to recreate all of my favorite classics.” He later showed me that he’s even started working on some ‘scripts’ with activities to do and conversation topics to give to his casts so they can better represent their characters.
I met Ben at his University apartment for my audition for Jess. His plan was already in full swing when I found his apartment. His place resembles something you’d expect to see from a stalker on an episode of Law & Order SVU. I was alarmed to see a “wall of prospects” that featured paparazzi photographs of people he thought could match his dream clique. He admitted that he did not know these people personally, but they were people he “saw everywhere on campus.” He assured me that it was all in the name of good fun and good TV, and not to worry. Though, he recently did have a brush with the law after he was arrested for hopping into an ambulance. He saw an EMT that looked like Turk, and, not wanting to waste the opportunity to gather a Scrubs friend group, jumped into the ambulance and started asking the EMTs personal questions.
I asked what his roommates thought of all of this, and he told me he lives with randomly selected roommates. One is a transfer student who’s usually home with his parents, so not around much, but is “definitely a Kramer from Seinfeld.” And the other roommate, “a total Ross from Friends,” moved in with his girlfriend halfway through fall quarter. Ben further explained, “The roommate dynamic was a little strange. It’s nice to have the space to myself now, but I haven’t exactly gotten the college experience I was hoping for, which is why I felt the pressure to make these last few months count.” Ben explained to me that some groups have been harder to track down than others: “I’ve hung around the Engineering school for a while, so right now I’m only one member away from a Big Bang Theory. And I’ve spent the last week or so bar hopping in search of the perfect How I Met Your Mother gang, but Ted Mosby is such a complex guy, it’s been hard to find one of him in real life.” He continued to say that, “maybe I could be the Ted if I had to, but I really always saw myself as more of a Jim from The Office. My freshman year RA was a pretty great Dwight, but I’m still waiting to find my Pam”.
Although he was only trying to cast a single sitcom of friends, his inability to finish a group has led him to create a number of partial groups. What started as an attempt to expand his social circle quickly transformed into an obsession for Ben to collect them all, looking to cast a friend group with characters that resemble each of his favorite sitcoms. The advertisement I saw promised payment, but Ben confessed that the payment was actually in the form of friendship, and the password to his parents’ Netflix subscription.