In 1994, a runaway bride, walked into a cafe in her wedding dress bumping into what would soon be her future friend family and a 10-season long massively popular television phenomenon. Like its literal representation onscreen, this very moment marked the beginning of an era which placed more importance on friendship than one’s own family. And the world agreed with this new-age F.R.I.E.N.D.S philosophy in unison.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S is undoubtedly a hero in the sitcom hall of fame — spurring rerun after rerun long after its end. However, as a standalone pop culture phenomenon, it certainly hasn’t aged well. If the show were to release in 2019, it would’ve been far less than iconic. In many aspects, problematic even, due to several instances like a few of these.
The overarching homophobia/transphobia.
Not only is homophobia used as a comedic tool, it is a dominant characteristic of Ross and Chandler.
In the episode where Ross and Rachel are looking for Emma’s potential nanny, Ross is not just uncomfortable, but he is literally repulsed by the idea of a man being a caregiver for a living. Sandy (the male nanny, who was even doing a fabulous job) gets fired by Ross for no reason other than the fact that he happens to be a man.
What is even worse is the treatment given to Chandler and his dad’s relationship. While the show was a positive step forward in simply the inclusion of a transgender character, its treatment was far from positive. Chandler’s father is reduced to a frivolous representation of transgender and drag queen combined.
Despite being a good parent, Chandler is embarrassed by his dad. and his repulsion does disservice to years of LGBTQ activists fighting for appropriate representation.
Throughout the show, there are several instances of gaycism displayed by various characters, noted ones being Ross’ ex-wife being the butt of ‘lesbian’ jokes throughout the series. This would’ve had no place in the woke era of the late 2010s.
The characters legitimise fragile masculinity.
God knows who hurt Ross, but his problem with gender identity was surely deep-seated and borderline offensive. When his son, Ben is seen playing with a Barbie doll, Ross flips out and how. Not once does he acknowledge this as normal and tries everything to repair this ‘abnormality’.
Throughout the show, anything which remotely doesn’t conform to society’s prescribed gender roles is mocked and treated with disdain. Like when Joey is mocked for carrying a bag.
Or when either of them is doing anything remotely ‘non-masculine’ so to speak.
Sexual harassment is casually brushed over.
Rachel’s relationship with her assistant, Tag is consensual. However, in a professional setting, it is highly inappropriate. While their relationship is pretty normal, how she pursues him and treats him borders sexual harassment and would call for a lawsuit in this day and age. Think about the same relationship but with reversed genders and you can see how glaringly tasteless it really is.
The series makes no bones about brazenly sexist remarks or statements with blatant objectification. To the extent that it normalises sexual harassment and lack of consent. This scene for instance:
And this one, just to name a few.
Body shaming is used as a punchline.
One of the longest running gags of the show is Monica’s old fat self who was constantly body-shamed and dismissed for, well, being fat.
The idea that she was somehow new and improved only after she lost weight was a dominant theme of Monica’s character arc. The show fed into the ‘ideal size’ stereotype and used it as a punchline for far too long until it became distasteful to say the least.
The importance placed on relationships over career and overall development.
As mentioned earlier, Rachel’s entry into the show marked the beginning of a new era in her life and ours. In a way, she is the protagonist of the show who has the steepest character arc. Once a naive spoilt girl who lived off of her father’s wealth soon grows into a career woman with ample opportunities and a great single mom.
However, in the very end, she throws all of her professional growth out the window when she decides to stay with Ross instead of pursuing a great opportunity in Paris. In 2019, both reel and real life has evolved to understand the importance of career over a relationship. Even a toxic one at that.
While F.R.I.E.N.D.S will always remain one of the most beloved sitcoms for us millennials, it cannot be welcomed into 2019 with open arms. While it is tone deaf for today’s time there were definitely several aspects about it which deserved applause, but that is a discussion for another day.
As of now, F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ legacy is that of an iconic series of its time which is a marker for how far we’ve come in terms of our social and political consciousness. But if it were to come out today it would’ve surely been far from iconic.