The first episode of the popular American sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S hit NBC exactly 25 years ago on 22 September 1994. Spanning 10 seasons and more than 200 episodes, the show became a household name, with a cult following. However, the show has also received flak for lack of ethnic diversity, sexism and cultivation of stereotypes.
ThePrint asks: F.R.I.E.N.D.S turns 25: Has the popular sitcom aged well?
After a long and tiring day at work, you turn to F.R.I.E.N.D.S not 13 Reasons Why
Editor (Media) and Editorial Skill Development, ThePrint
After an awful, long day at work, when the brain is a 5,000-piece jumbled jigsaw puzzle, the eyes are reading the alphabet backwards, and you are so tired you cannot sleep, you need something warm, familiar and mildly amusing — not 13 Reasons Why Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford) committed suicide.
That’s when you turn to F.R.I.E.N.D.S. The show has been around for so long, but the beauty of it is that while you have aged, it has remained ‘Forever Young’, with Rachel and Monica living in that Manhattan flat and all the six friends hanging out at Central Perk.
Night after night, you watch the six of them fight, love, squabble and reunite even with your eyes half closed, knowing that if you fall asleep on them, they’ll be there for you the next day – Ross and his goofy grin; Phoebe and her nonsensical non-sequiturs; Monica, Chandler and their lovers’ tiff; Rachel with a nose that wiggles; and Joey with a career that never takes off.
It’s comforting, reassuring – even Donald Trump cannot tamper with them. Sure, they are eye candy, but more because they’re kind of sweet than particularly attractive.
Let Carole King sing it for you (with a few necessary changes):
When you’re down and troubled
And you need some love and care…
Open your eyes and turn on the TV
And soon they will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
You’ve got Friends
Feminist movements have called out exactly the kind of behaviour F.R.I.E.N.D.S passed off as ‘cool’, ‘fun’
Senior web editor, ThePrint
F.R.I.E.N.D.S was made at a time when there was nothing like it on television, and a decade later, when it ended, there was still nothing like it on TV. But 25 years later, the sitcom cannot hold a candle to the comedy content we see today.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S has characters who are highly problematic — Ross and Joey in particular, who embody traits of toxic masculinity. The humour in the show is also homophobic, transphobic and sexist. The story arc for the characters, Ross and Rachel’s relationship for example, is all red-flags and symptomatic of how the show contributed to our regressive socio-cultural conditioning.
The past two years have seen multiple feminist movements gain momentum, calling out exactly the kind of behaviour that F.R.I.E.N.D.S passed off as ‘cool’ and ‘fun’. It may have just been a comedy show for some of us, but many aspired to be like the characters – Ross, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey. The show barely had any diversity. It had just one black character, who was featured in a couple of episodes .
Sure, many of us will always go back to it for nostalgia sake, but given how socially aware the world and pop culture in particular have become, it may be time for this long-running series to finally retire for good, and remain a thing of the past.
Sure, there’s a stretch of imagination & a bunch of other ‘-isms’, but we weren’t extra woke then
Associate editor, ThePrint
OH MY GOD! Janice’s nasal (over) exclamation was one of the definitive moments of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and perhaps the OG meme.
Today’s generation probably swears more by “Treat yourself!” – because Yass queen! You need to be doing some self-loving – but anyone who has watched F.R.I.E.N.D.S has also probably yelled “pivot” just to simply say ‘turn’. (No? Just me then, I guess)
As a ’90s kid, I grew up in the age F.R.I.E.N.D.S was set. The cultural references were familiar, even if the actors weren’t initially. Sure, there’s a stretch of imagination, and a whole bunch of other ‘-isms’, but we weren’t extra woke then, and ultimately, it’s a TV show.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S provides what mindless TV viewing does — a nicotine-like quick dose of comfort. The characters have their quirks, you watch them long enough for them to become endearing — Joey’s many food moments, Chandler’s many sarcastic/embarrassing ones, Rachel’s sassy quips, Monica’s OCD, Ross’ quest for Rachel/love, and Phoebe… just being Phoebe. Over the years, I’ve always dropped in and out of the series without needing continuity (although I prefer the episodes from the earlier seasons).
The show is still funny, a brilliant example of some really tight screen-writing, which doesn’t turn you off.
That isn’t to say it’s a great show. Of course, it has its problems, and by the time the show ended, it became quite dull. But, as with anything I watch, I take the entertainment and the good parts, and leave the rest to the neo-woke liberals to rip apart.
For most people, F.R.I.E.N.D.S is like the cheat day in an otherwise woke week
Senior copy editor, ThePrint
Six friends, all white, all cis-gender and all heterosexual. Cue laughter. That’s F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
I first started watching the show when my older cousin would see it on TV. I was too young to laugh along. Then, in college, a friend of mine downloaded all 10 seasons for me, and it was a laugh riot. It became the friend you would go back to. And since then, every year that I have binge-watched a few more episodes, I have cringed more when I was supposed to laugh. Could it BE anymore homophobic, racist, and sometimes, simply irrational?
Ross has a problem with a sensitive man Rachel has hired as a nanny (he calls him “Manny”). Chandler tells Joey he’s “turning into a woman” because he buys flowers. Joey puts out a roommate ad for a female roommate who is “non-smoker, non-ugly”. There were only two people of colour on the show — Julie (Asian) and Charlie (Black). And let’s not even talk about how a chef, a server/Ralph Lauren employee, a Chandler (because who knows what he does) and a struggling actor can afford a West Village apartment in Manhattan.
For most people, including me, F.R.I.E.N.D.S is like the cheat day in an otherwise woke week. It hasn’t aged well and there are no excuses for it. But it keeps singing ‘I’ll be there for you’.
Even if you watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S with rose-tinted glasses, it’s hard to miss problematic elements
It’s been 25 years since the first episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S aired, and here we are, still referring to Joey’s one-liners, still finding ways to recreate Monica’s apartment, and still rushing to binge on the show even when Netflix offers a plethora of shows set in today’s time.
If numbers tell a story, then nothing compares to F.R.I.E.N.D.S, whose stars continue to earn $20 million every year due to the show’s indisputable record in reruns.
You can’t deny the popularity of the show. But do we see the show exactly the way we did back then? Perhaps not.
Even when you watch the show with rose-tinted glasses, reminiscing about the ‘good-old-days’, it’s hard to miss the very obvious problematic elements of the show. The casual sexism, the unmistakable objectification of women, the homophobia, the staid definition of masculinity – you can’t miss it even if you try.
We have all made excuses for those childhood favorite movies, songs and sitcoms that popular culture now calls horrendous. ‘Times were different then’ is an oft-heard excuse. While it is true that times were in fact very different then, we certainly shouldn’t excuse art for glorifying problematic elements.
But here’s the thing with F.R.I.E.N.D.S – we fell in love with the show. We fell in love with everything that makes the show so unbelievably relatable – the six characters have become a part of our lives. And that is why it’s tough to detach ourselves from the show despite the glaring flaws.