The popular sitcom first aired in 1994, and after ten seasons, the purple apartment door closed one final time in 2004. Now considered a cult classic from the 90s, the show is continuously re-watched by a solid fan-base and was more recently discovered by younger generations through its upload to UK Netflix earlier this year. Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey spend the ten seasons bonding over coffee and muffins in ‘Central Perk’ café, through the ups and downs of their personal and professional lives. However, watching the series from a 2018 perspective, the nostalgia it evokes is tainted by humor at the expense of its female characters.
While Friends remains a beloved series for its fans, millennials have had a hard time digesting the 90’s attitudes, and their reactions to controversial themes in the show exemplify the leaps and bounds society has taken since Friends first aired.
Signs of affection between the male characters are frequently depicted through a homophobic lens. Any possibility of homosexuality is shown as a serious threat to the three male characters’ ‘traditional’ notions of masculinity. While Joey bonds with his temporary roommate Janine (Elle Macpherson) over flower arranging, Chandler is appalled by the supposed femininity of this task. When Ross and Rachel are later hiring a nanny for their daughter, Ross is taken aback by the idea of them having a male nanny (a “manny”), ridiculing Sandy’s (Freddie Prinze Jr) profession. When Joey and Ross become nap buddies and cuddle together on the couch, the other friends silently judge them and shame them into stopping. The list unfortunately goes on throughout the show’s seasons.
While Friends struggles with toxic masculinity and male friendships, it was (and still is) progressive in different ways in depictions throught modernising the roles of women, as Gosling describes for The Guardian:
I watched Ben raised by two loving mothers, Rachel raise a baby unwed while working, Phoebe cope with her mother’s suicide, and discovered women as sexually free as men. Even now, that’s no small thing.
Yes, Friends is dated, and there should certainly be more minority characters featured, but the conversations remain relevant. People still struggle with size, sexuality, and femininity.
The Guardian, Gosling, 2018
For millennials, the show seems to present controversial opinions, but when considered within its historical context, striking themes such as the increased onscreen depiction of women’s sexual liberation in the 1990’s, as well as the acceptance of divorce, and having children out of wedlock, all promote progression.
Friends is a beloved series, but one that must be viewed with an open mind and an understanding of its context within TV history. Now often an awkward watch for modern-day audiences without a full understanding of the era of its initial broadcast, first-time viewers in 2018 might struggle to connect with the characters having no previous imaginary friendships with the Central Perk gang.
Images – NBC