Last month marked the 25th anniversary of the premiere of one of our all time favourite shows: Friends. Why is this a special milestone you might ask? Well for one, everyone loves a pop-culture anniversary but this one was celebrated by pop-up experiences all over the world, and we can’t help but ask ourselves why this show is still so popular and what people are being so critical about even 25 years later.
It’s interesting to think about all the things you can chat about when it comes to Friends. Between Rachel Green’s insanely great fashion style, Chandler’s unique humour, Marcel the monkey and the oh-so controversial topics, we thought this might be the ideal time to look back at the popular sitcom.
I think it’s safe to say that unlike any other TV shows, this one seems to have a particular effect on people, whether they have seen all 10 series (usually about 10 times) or even not at all. As time goes by, more and more criticism has been taking place against the show, and newspaper headlines such as this one from the Telegraph: “If Friends falls victim to the new cultural revolution, nothing is safe” claimed that most TV shows are being criticised because of literally everything, and none are safe from scandalous claims, especially when created in the early 90s.
The biggest critic people have against Friends, according to my research online, is the fact that the sitcom is very homophobic. Between the awkwardness of Carole’s wedding and the abundance of bad lesbian jokes by Chandler, people haven’t been afraid to critic the prejudiced dialogues and storylines.
This specific episode, called “The One With the Lesbian Wedding“, was even removed from the air by two local affiliates in Texas and in Ohio, and has gotten slammed online. Looking back, yes, there’s no denying that some jokes are homophobic but I think it’s important to take into consideration the era the show was actually produced. Could the badly written jokes be a way to help the audience feel more comfortable about a somewhat unspoken topic at the time? It’s questionable in my opinion, but I would love to hear what you think in the comments!
Another issue that has been widely criticised is the fact that the cast is mainly white, and that there is very little diversity. There’s no doubt that most television shows were mostly white in the early 90s, and Friends could have been more progressive to introduce more diversity much earlier in the show. If any show had the power to break the barriers it would have been Friends, and it took nine years for a black woman to appear on the show!
How do you explain that? We’re not sure. I guess it is just a product of its time, but can you imagine what would have happened if an actor of colour had been introduced to the show years earlier? Or even been part of the main cast? What if it had set that precedent in the mid 90s?
And finally, another big thing haters of the sitcom feel strongly about is the way Chandler’s dad was portrayed and spoken about. This is, in my opinion, the clearest and most evident proof that Friends was indeed a product of its era, which was unfortunately, an era that did not respect transgendered people. It’s easy to cringe (rightfully so) when Chandler talks about his dad and it isn’t very clear if his dad is indeed trans, but the creators of the show; Kauffman and Crane, have confirmed that she was indeed a trans woman, although the term transgender wasn’t very widely known back then.
During an interview with the Independent, Kauffman stated that if she had written the show today, she would have changed that part of the story. “I think we didn’t have the knowledge about transgender people back then, so I’m not sure if we used the appropriate terms,” she explained. “I don’t know if I would have known those terms back then. I think that’s the biggest one.”
So there you go ladies and gents, our beloved sitcom is far from perfect, but it still is one of the most popular shows in the world. Sure, there are a lot of topics the writers would have loved to change as our culture evolved and became much more inclusive, but isn’t that the same for all popular culture of the 80s and 90s?
We wish these topics had been more progressive, especially with the influence the show had, but this shouldn’t take away from the cast’s amazing chemistry and the funny jokes we all like to quote on a night out with our best friends. As I read in an article on Vox, this show has added value, where it highlights both how far we’ve come as a society, and how much further we still have to go!
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