Though Friends is widely loved and celebrated by much of our generation, it’s time to question why we allow such questionable shows to remain our favourite Netflix binge series. From toxic masculinity to homophobia, racism to ableism, Friends is a harmful show that we shouldn’t continue to praise in 2020.
Before I begin, to those who may argue Friends was made in a time when these things were still ‘acceptable’, it aired from 1994-2004. By this time, MTV had shows such as The Real World, which showcased the struggles surrounding race and sexuality, rather than using them as a comical device. Third-wave feminism had begun, gay marriage had started being legalised in countries such as The Netherlands, and the ‘90s Hip Hop movement spoke out on police brutality and institutional racism. Yes, other shows may have been continuing to showcase ignorant and harmful narratives, but Friends remains popular even today, often watched and adored by individuals who would regard themselves as ‘woke’. This is what makes it such an issue in todays social and political climate: it encourages us to laugh at, and celebrate, racial stereotypes, toxic masculinity, and homophobia.
Now, to run through some of the examples/reasons as to why Friends is not worthy of our attention anymore. All the characters are flawed, but its men are particularly harmful. Joey is depicted as the simple-minded, ‘child’ of the group, clearly depicted and mocked in a way that’s intended to mimic a learning disability. Girls fall for his childlike innocence, and he is them admired and celebrated for sleeping with an indefinite amount of girls, remembering none of their names. Joey even celebrates young, almost underaged girls, shown when he tries to hit on Emma and her friends in a video made for when she turns 18 (but is currently just a baby). Ross is the epitome of emotional abuse, consistently ruining every opportunity Rachel has until she gives herself to him. This occurs right up to the last episode, where his persistence and begging causes her to miss her flight to Paris for her dream job, taking the easy option of choosing him. Ross can act how he likes, and date who he wants, but the second Rachel has another love interest he sabotages it in whatever way possible to keep her under his control. Chandler, aside from being downright annoying, is one of the most homophobic. Throughout, Chandler uses his father being gay as a pity card, refusing to have a relationship with his father due to their sexuality. It is also hinted, but never explicitly stated, that Chandler’s father, perceived as a gay drag queen, is actually a trans woman. However, this is consistently ignored and used as a comedic plot point, his father always being misgendered, such as when Chandler’s mum jokes “Don’t you have a little too much penis to be wearing a dress like that?”. Chandler was also extremely homophobic throughout in his fears of being considered gay – acting as if this was a fate worse than death. Returning to Ross, his ex-wife and her partner, though celebrated for Friends inclusion of a ‘90s lesbian romance, are again just a tick box and punchline. They’re used to emasculate Ross, further encouraing his toxic masculinity, whilst reinforcing incorrect stereotypes, i.e. Ross reflecting that he should’ve known Carol was gay because she drank beer “straight from the can”.
As for its female characters, Phoebe, though one of the most loved, is probably the most questionable. She is allowed to dabble in sexuality, but hugely critiques her male counterparts when they try to. For instance, when Joey tries on a pair of pantyhose, after always wondering what they’d feel like and finding comfort in them, is told by Phoebe “it’s important” he take them off and repress these feelings. Phoebe is also implored as the friendship groups ‘hood’ friend, due to her growing up on the streets of New York. Perhaps this was in place of allowing the cast of Friends to freature a POC in its main cast, believing this white middle class woman playing the ‘ghetto’ narrative to be close enough. Monica continues these questionable racial stereotypes, most notably when she gets her cornrows. This appropriation is mocked, but in a way to gain laughs rather than condemn this behaviour. Monica is shown appropriating this hairstyle from the African American community, enjoying playing with it rather than understanding its significance to a group she is not a part of. She also coincidentally jokes that she was singing Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ whilst dancing about, and then ends the episode by furthering her appropriation by donning a Rasta hat on top of her inappropriate hairstyle. To quickly add whilst on the topic of race, Charlie (Ross’ palaeontologist girlfriend) is the only black character to survive more than one episode, lasting an impressive three. Rachel is arguably the only redeemable character from this terrible show. She grows, changing from spoilt rich girl to career mum, all whilst navigating Ross’ obsession of control, and being somewhat the protagonist of the show. Though she is often regarded selfish, or the ‘dramatic bitch’ character (I.e. the whole “we were on a break” fiasco), aside from trying to ruin a few of Ross’ relationships (which he probably hoped she would), and hiring Tag because he was attractive, she never did anything that was stand-out controversial. At least, not in the sense that the others all did.
Overall, Friends is just one of those shows that needs to be left in the past. Yes, it may have paved the way for friendship group based sitcoms, however it’s not as if the sitcoms to follow haven’t copied similar questionable narratives and themes. The only way Friends can be seen as acceptable to watch is if its fans know that these characters should be condemned, not celebrated. Yet, on its 25th anniversary last year, every big newspaper continued to explain why we still love this ‘great’ show. Only one article in The Gothamist arguing that Friends is the wrong show to celebrate during the ‘Trump Era’, noting particularly on its heteronormativity and white supremacy. Friends may be a show you find comfort in due to its connections with your childhood, but this is one nostalgic memory that should be long forgotten by now. By watching Friends and laughing along to its ignorant and offensive humour, you are not only allowing a dangerous show to continue its 26 year success, you are also disregarding the feelings of your black, homosexual, transgender, and female friends, all whilst perpetuating toxic masculinity. Though cancel culture is a dangerous train to jump aboard, it’s safe to say that Friends, due to its disrespect and mockery of minority groups, should be ‘cancelled’ and left behind in 2020.