The TV show Friends ran from 1994-2004, and won 60 awards, including a BAFTA. More recently, it’s attracted a whole new generation of viewers by being launched globally on Netflix, as well as a whole lot of judgement about the writing and cast. In fact, you might say that lately, it hasn’t been Friends’ day, week, month… or even its year.
Somewhere inside me is the teenage girl who used to look forward to Big Thursdays on e4, call her off screen friends during the break in the show, before hurriedly putting the phone down when the advert for Ally Macbeal came on which meant we had 30 seconds until the cast was back on screen. And that teenage girl has found all the abuse hard to listen to.
Much like many of us following the #metoo movement have struggled to accept that some of our best loved actors and celebrities are actually kind of skeevy and gross, it’s kind of stressful to hear that the show that you believe was formative to your youth is actually just another example of Dustin Hoffman ogling an intern. Not quite illegal, but kind of disappointing none the less.
I’m not going to write about how Friends was a product of its time, although I do believe that’s true, and it seems unfair to judge it by our 2018 standards. But wrong is wrong, and I think we would all like to kind of delete The One with the Manny and pretend it never existed, and y’know, add more than 2 people of colour in the entire ten season back catalogue. And maybe just edit out some of the horrendous fat shaming. But I do think that if you look a little closer at this best-loved show, you’ll see that right alongside the issues, there are times where Friends was woke AF.
So join me, while I look at my favourite examples of when Friends pushed boundaries, and got us talking and thinking about issues that we may well have ignored otherwise. I’d love to hear your own!
The One with Marriage Equality
Did you know that the wedding of Carol and Susan was the first lesbian wedding to be shown on television? Back in 1996, Ross’s ex wife Carol married her lesbian lover, Susan, in a gorgeous wedding scene which ended up winning them awards and critical acclaim, as well as the episode being banned on several NBC affiliates. There were no tired stereotypes, Susan and Carol were then, and remained, two women who fell in love, and wanted to celebrate that love with the world. This, two decades before marriage equality was actually passed into law in the whole of the US. The storyline which progressed, where Ross, Carol and Susan co-parented Ben together was so ahead of its time, that I still can’t think of another quite like it.
The One Where There’s No Right Way to Have a Family
One amazing example of pushing the boundaries was Monica and Chandler’s struggle with infertility. Pregnancy in the world of television is more often seen as dozens of overly fertile women and teens who get pregnant after a one-night-stand, rather than what’s more often true to life, that it’s not simple for everyone to have a baby. Watching Monica and Chandler go through the adoption process, and then bring their twins home was a breath of fresh air which for many, has changed the way we talk about our fertility options. Plus, we got to meet Erica, the biological mother who was so clueless that she didn’t even realize she was having twins. “I thought that was just mine and the baby’s. They kept saying both heartbeats are really strong, and I thought well, that’s good ’cause I’m having a baby!”
The One Where Monica’s Career Comes First
Remember when Chandler moved to Tulsa? (Frankly, I’d sooner be in any other State!) While at first, Monica was going to come along and play the supportive wife, (It’s gonna be hard to keep Kosher in Tulsa!) once she got offered an awesome job in New York, she stayed right where she was. Eventually, when the toll it was taking on their marriage got too much to handle, Chandler was the one who gave up his job and moved back to New York, with his wife becoming the breadwinner and hardly a male ego bruised in the process. Men of the world, take note.
The One with the Animal Rights
When Chandler and Joey welcomed Chick and Duck into their lives, there was a clear agenda under the storyline. Under the laughs of the men’s new animal roommates was the sad truth that too many animals are bought for the holiday season, and then neglected or returned, where they end up being killed or abandoned. Of course, Phoebe kind of undermines that when she forgets about feeding them when the guys head to London, but let’s gloss over that part. Oh, and don’t forget, when Gary shoots a bird, it’s way over.
The One Where Your Friends are Your Family
For me, anyway, Friends was always about a world where the people you saw everyday weren’t your family, but your closest friends, the family you chose. Everyone had crazy siblings (Did I buy a falafel from you yesterday?) or weird parents (‘Ah! Nora Bing!’) or drama going on with their blood relatives, (“You work and you work and you work on a marriage…“ “You work and you work and you work on a boat”) but the six of them were the true nucleus of each other’s lives.
Is it a perfect world? Absolutely not, and the writers should be held partially accountable for some of the elements of the show that make us all wince as we watch in 2018. (Joey’s man bag anyone? Alongside his man jacket and man shoes?) But this fan believes they should also be praised for the stuff they got right. And seeing as the show is old enough that Ben would now be 23, (!) that’s pretty darn good.