The much-anticipated reunion of the American sitcom Friends is just around the corner, and fans globally can’t wait to see Jennifer Anniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, and David Schwimmer, who have been waiting for a reboot/sequel/movie or basically anything more to do with the programme for the past 17 years.
While the cast members take us down memory lane with plenty of tears and laughter, it would be good if they also acknowledged the show’s flaws that have tarnished its reputation. Friends has unquestionably established a legacy that will outlast its first-generation viewers. Thanks to streaming sites and different networks throughout the world broadcast the show many times, the show’s popularity has already surpassed its original viewers. However, no amount of fame or popularity can change the fact that Friends’ portrayal of the milieu in which it was set was extremely biased.
Despite the show’s existence in cancel-culture, the problematic nature of many of its episodes has never been addressed. With the show’s much-anticipated reunion approaching, it appears to be the ideal time for the creators and cast members to address the issues that have been highlighted by critics over the years. Friends was heavily panned for being all-white when it first debuted. There were no important characters of colour cast in the show, and the six main characters were all straight white people. This subject was regularly addressed in shows during that time period, but unlike Friends, few had the popularity or the stage to discuss it.
As the show progressed into the woke period, the following generation, who were watching for the first time, began to point out that comments regarding a person’s weight, or how they became desirable after losing the weight, should not be utilised for humorous effect. The Fat-Monica recording had the full of Monica’s backstory, and it was performed in a disparaging manner.
Lisa Kudrow spoke about the programme on the WTF podcast years after it ended, and she candidly discussed how working on the show influenced her body image issues. “When you see yourself on television, you think to yourself, ‘Oh my god, I’m like a mountain of a lady and And I’m already taller than Courtney and Jennifer together. (I was) taller and heavier. My bones feel bigger, and I just felt like a mountain next to them. The sitcom’s body-shaming humour had real-life consequences for millions of people who watched it. In today’s environment, these jokes would never be broadcast, which is why it is so important for the show to acknowledge its misgivings.’
Friends depicted Chandler’s father, Charles Bing, a transgender person, as Kathleen Turner, a cis female actor. Seeing Chandler getting scared out by his father in The One With Chandler’s Dad is terribly heartbreaking, even if the producers may argue that they didn’t know any better at the time. The characters in this popular sitcom, particularly the guys, were depicted as being extremely homophobic. Friends was one of the first popular sitcoms to broadcast a lesbian wedding, and it treated Carol and Susan as any other loving couple, but it also mocked same-sex relationships by having its male lead characters comment on them.
Ross, Chandler, and Joey struggle to accept same-sex relationships, and their homophobia is clear throughout the series. A stranger in one of the series’ early episodes, The One With the Baby on the Bus, assumes Chandler and Joey are married and have adopted a child. It’s played in a matter-of-fact or rather kindly manner, but the reaction of the two male leads to the presumption is heartbreaking.
While a mainstream sitcom from the 1990s cannot be criticised for not being groundbreaking, it can surely be faulted for making fun of those who choose to walk outside of society’s assigned gender roles. Ross considers Rachel’s hire of a male nanny to be practically blasphemous, whereas Chandler considers Joey’s participation in a little house makeover to be “womanly.” The creators weren’t afraid to push traditional limits, as they gladly provided all three female characters various views of parenting, but this woke-ness on their part was only visible on rare occasions.
On a global scale, Friends has inspired a whole generation. The programme has been praised for its friendships, love tales, and character chemistry, and has even served as a model for many of its spin-off sitcoms, but it doesn’t excuse it from the difficulties that have tainted its reputation. No one can travel back in time and fix Friends’ troubles, but the show can certainly acknowledge those problems and hope that the generations ahead remember them for all the right reasons.