Ross and Rachel

Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) got together at the end of the 'Friends' finale. (Warner Bros. / May 7, 2004)

Rachel and Ross got together, and Monica and Chandler got two babies not one. Like the 10-year hit series itself, there was nothing daring, magical or drop-jaw fabulous about the finale for Friends last night.

No one will ever confuse it with the unforgettable 1990 finale of Newhart, in which the New England inn owner played by Bob Newhart found himself in bed at the end of the hour with the woman who was Newhart's wife in a previous sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show, that went off the air in 1978. Neither will anyone likely be quoting the characters' final speeches as is still being done from the finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

But that does not mean that last night's Friends finale was a washout.

In explaining the goals for the final episode, Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the series, said, "We set out to make it feel as if they were all going to be OK."

That was certainly accomplished, but it was all done in such a traditional way - with babies and marriages for all of them except Joey (Matt LeBlanc), who instead of emotional closure got a sitcom. (LeBlanc will star next fall in Joey, an NBC spinoff airing Thursday nights at 8.)

The main story line of Rachel heading to the airport to leave for a new life in Paris as Ross hesitates and then decides to chase after her has only been used in about 2,000 romantic comedies. And that includes the penultimate moment with her voice on his answering machine when he returns to an empty apartment thinking that he has lost his true love.

But if the writing was not inspired, it did have moments of cleverness. Finales are about life passages, and the subplot of Monica demolishing Joey's foosball table to free a baby chick and a duckling that had become trapped inside was an apt metaphor for the journeys the members of this New York urban tribe had to navigate.

The foosball game represented their extended adolescence. To be worthy of the new lives that were placed in their hands last night they had to leave such dormitory games behind and grow up. Again, all except Joey, who has to remain enough of an adolescent to carry a sitcom by himself next year.

In the end, what probably matters most to the millions of fans is that last night's finale was for the most part consistent with the safe and comforting space that Friends has carved out for them on Thursday nights at 8 with its vision of a community based on a group of young people who truly care for one another without the ties of blood or workplace.

Maybe it's foolish to expect anything more than that of a sitcom. If anyone is to blame for inflated expectations, though, it is NBC, which squeezed in what seems like a dozen hours of related programs connected to last night's finale.

The final image of the six characters walking out of the apartment was a melancholy one, but not so much because of their departure. What seemed sad is how little this show that so clicked with its young adult viewers ultimately had to offer them.

Here's your future, Gen X: strollers, diapers and a home in the suburbs.

Maybe it wasn't so bad being stuck in second gear after all.