It’s safe to say that some Friends jokes haven’t aged well in the 14 years since it ended. In included everything from homophobia (remember when Ross was so uncomfortable with a male Nanny he wanted to fire him? Or when he didn’t like that his son Ben chose to play with a Barbie doll?) to having less than a handful of POC characters (even though it was set in New York) throughout it’s ten year run, Friends is horrifically problematic.
Can you imagine a show being created now with a character who’s weight is not only a punchline, but an entire-episode-dedicated worthy joke? And it’s brought up in multiple episodes in the entire series run. And it’s the people closest to her that use it constantly as a source of shame. And even on top of that, she is portrayed a stereotype; unclean, obsessed with food, goofy (that word makes me shudder) and only able to have sexual partners/sexual appetite when she has lost the weight. Monica doesn’t even have a personality until she loses weight.
Friends taught a generation that is was okay to make fun of someone’s appearance. There is an episode (The One with the Nap Partners) where Monica finds out that Chandler split up with an ex because she gained weight. Monica spends the majority of the episode scared that if she were to gain weight again that Chandler would leave her also. Preteen me would have agreed that this was of genuine concern for a bride-to-be. Adult me is thinking “Dump your man, dump your friends, burn the apartment down and collect the insurance money”.
Is it safe that Friends is now accessible 24/7 again? Having recently been added to Netfilx, part of me wants to relive the nostalgia. On the other hand, I care far too much about myself to spend those 22 mins an ep in a constant state of vein-popping anger. I’m fairly certain for a lot of people out there Friends was the source of and/or heightened their insecurities and it has been given a platform to continue to do so. It doesn’t help that it also oozes white privilege.
I’m aware there is an argument that there are worse TV shows than Friends for these issues. Sure, probably. But Friends was watched by millions of young people not only in the 90s, but the 2000s too when it was on a constant cycle on E4 and is still watched globally. This is recently history, not the 1960s where jokes like this were expected. There is enormous progress being made breaking down the issues that Friends gleefully endorses. There was even a story line where Monica was shamed for how many men she had slept with but it was part of Joey’s personality to sleep with women and never call them back. They all in their own ways objectified women but Joey caused the most harm. Chandler’s father, who is transgender, was a source of embarrassment for the character and was never once treated with respect or as an opportunity to educate the masses. Chandler didn’t even invite her to his wedding initially, he was that ashamed.
Before you go ahead and rewatch, here’s a refresher of just how gross Friends is without you having to experience it and progressively learn for yourself:
It taught men that they must defend their masculinity at all costs
It taught women to not advance their careers if their boyfriends were jealous
It taught women that sexual assault is a punchline
It taught POC that they have no place on a popular show set in one of the most diverse cities in North America (I can only think of two named characters in Friends that were POC: Dr Charlie Wheeler and she wasn’t in it until the ninth series, and Kristen Lang who moved in down the street and caused Joey and Ross to fight over their affections rather than, y’know, respecting that she was capable of making up her own mind)
It taught parents that they must make their children conform to society’s idea of gender and must stick to the strict guidelines of what is means to be “male” or “female” (there’s only two genders according to Friends)
It taught lesbians that their relationships make men feel insecure abut their masculinity
It taught fat women that they are comic relief and will only ever been seen as such until they lose weight
Sure, it’s okay to re-watch a series that invokes nostalgia. And if you do decide to sit down and have a watch of your old favourite moments, use them as a talking point with your friends about how and why what they are saying is wrong. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the 90s trap and forget that there is so much wrong with your favourite episode of Friends.