Would You Be F.R.I.E.N.D.S With These 6 New Yorkers?

The recent airing of F.R.I.E.N.D.S on Netflix has millennial viewers yelling, “oh my god” *Janice voice* at its out-dated and offensive story lines.

image credit: allthefriendsoutfits on Instagram
image credit: allthefriendsoutfits on Instagram

F.R.I.E.N.D.S, which first debuted on NBC in 1994, is currently being watched with fresh 21st-century eyes and people are noticing how, unlike the actors, the show hasn’t aged particularly well. Because of Netflix’ popularity with millennials, the series has now garnered the attention of a younger audience, who have cited concern for some of the jokes made during the series. Whilst nostalgic fans are over the moon about all 10 series appearing on Netflix, it’s being scrutinised by others for its sense of humour, which the younger generation are finding offensive. Many millennials have taken to social media to voice their opinions on the upset it is causing today and some are going as far as wanting it removed from the online streaming platform altogether.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S has always been a go-to, easy watch series for me and despite having the box set shoved somewhere at the bottom of my coffee table, its recent airing on Netflix enticed me back into the lives of 6 friends in New York once more. However, even after watching every episode at least 5 times on Comedy Centrals’ never ending replays, it wasn’t until now that I noticed how dated the show actually was. Previously, I would have done near enough anything to be friends with them, but as I sit here binging through episode after episode, singing along to the theme song and joining in on the *clap, clap, clap, clap*, I’m beginning to wonder whether I would actually want to be F.R.I.E.N.D.S with these 6 New Yorkers today.

So, the issues: The popular sitcoms’ story lines feature regular one liners that fat-shame Monica, dub Chandler gay because of a particular “quality” and show a homophobic Ross having an issue with his lesbian ex-wife and partner, Susan. Joey has also been deemed sexist by some because of his ill-though out comments such as, “You know what blows my mind? Women can see breasts anytime they want, you just look down and there they are! How you get any work done is beyond me.”

As well as these size-orientated, sexist and homophobic comments which have been noted by modern viewers, the show has been slammed for its lack of diversity. The only two non-white main characters in the whole 10 series are Ross’ girlfriends, Julie and Dr Charlie Wheeler.

“It’s important to consider the series within the context it was filmed”

Whilst the shows’ sense of humour is problematic in 2018, it’s important to consider the series within the context it was filmed. It has been a mammoth 24 years since the first episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S aired, in a completely different cultural world, with no social media and little space for people to vocalise their concerns and opinions.

People have responded to the harsh backlash the show has received by arguing that the series brings into focus some really relevant debates, with issues of sexuality, body image and femininity being addressed within the narrative. For many of those watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S back when it was first released, Helena Handbasket (Chandler’s dad) was the first transgender woman they had seen on screen. While it’s a positive that the sitcom featured someone who didn’t conform to gender norms, the characters dubious and sometimes nasty reaction towards Chandler’s father clearly shows the nineties attitude to gender in an unflattering light.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S also showed how Ben was brought up in a loving family, raised by his father Ross, mother Carol and her partner Susan. While Ross’ constant ridicule and inability to come to terms with their relationship is eye-roll inducing, not all of the characters agree with his stance and all five friends turn up in support of Carol and Susan’s wedding.

Female empowerment is a welcome theme in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. There are more than a few scenes that show the idea of sisterhood, for example when Rachel and her best friend Mindy find out Barry has been seeing both of them, they team up to call him out as the misogynistic pig he is. Monica is as a successful head chef of a fancy restaurant and Rachel works her ass off becomes a merchandising manager for Ralph Lauren. The female characters also set the empowering example that women can be as sexually free and relaxed about relationships as men. It’s also worth noting that themes of gender equality and empowerment went further than the actors and scripts, with the cast protesting that all 6 actors should be on equal pay. In the last series, their protests were heard and all 6 friends were paid 1 million dollars an episode.

While it’s clear that sensitive situations are not addressed appropriately in F.R.I.E.N.D.S in the same way they would be now, we should take this comedy sitcom with a pinch of salt– and importantly, reflect on how our social awareness has improved since its release.

Nothing is perfect, and in 20 years from now we’ll probably be looking back at today’s TV shows and saying “could this *be* any more offensive?”

Follow Maisey at @maisey_brown



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