For years I have been absolutely obsessed with Friends – I have Friends slippers, Friends pyjamas, Friends keyrings – you name it, I probably have a Friends version of it. But recently, when watching one of the many episodes that spanned over 10 seasons, I noticed a different side to the sitcom I love.
Let me take your mind back to Season 9, in particular Episode 13 – the one where Monica sings. The usually jovial episode had a different meaning to me, possibly shaped by a feminist perspective that has recently become more prevalent in the era of #MeToo, certainly more so than in the 1990s when the series was first developed.
After Chandler plucks Joey’s eyebrows, they claim that since they spent an hour doing ‘feminine’ activities, they need to do some ‘manly’ actions to counteract it. Normally, this comment would’ve glossed over me. Yet, in this recent era, the comment struck me: the idea that men could not do such feminine actions without some fear of retribution of judgement.
It’s a bizarre concept and one foreign to my generation. It indicates how the pressures of society were even shown in TV sitcoms, and people were okay with it. Let me remind you this was set in 2002, a time not all that long ago. It acts to show just how quickly society has changed - actions are no longer labelled feminine or masculine and neither do people feel the need to assert their gender. It's a time where people, men and women, can do what they want, without fear of judgement.
This idea is seen again in season 7, episode six – the one with the nap partners. In this episode, Ross and Joey accidentally fall asleep on each other, and label it the ‘best nap [they’ve] ever had’ and, take it from me, Joey naps a lot. Having enjoyed the experience, Joey tries to get Ross to nap together again but Ross refuses because it's too weird. This is the idea that male platonic relationships simply weren’t a thing during the 1990s. You couldn’t nap with another guy without being labelled ‘gay’. It's such a backwards concept. With more people ‘out and proud’ today than in any other time, it indicates the completely different era this popular sitcom is set in. When the gang walk in to find Joey and Ross asleep together, they even ‘subtly’ label them as gay, making snide jokes and remarks.
It’s the perception of a Gen-Z, not the perception of the baby boomers that the show was originally deigned to please. It's a staggering difference from what we have today, where we have shows the centre around gay relationships, or even male platonic ones. In a sitcom that tried so hard to be inclusive, they still fell behind. The idea of lesbians was one that was overtly sexualised by the show, with Joey joking continuously about how 'hot' lesbians are. If this show were to be filmed today, the snide remarks and the sexualisation just wouldn't be able to occur, the backlash would be too great. Yet, no-one complains about the show, it never faces any backlash. It gets more popular every year.
The point I’m getting at here are the stereotypes that used to be played on in these shows – Joey the dumb player, Chandler the sarcastic hard worker, Ross the mega nerd-come-palaeontologist, Rachel the ‘dumb’ blonde that relies on ‘Daddy’ for money, Monica the bossy, domineering clean freak and Phoebe, the absolute gem that she is, but the oddest character in the world - are all based on stereotypes of people in society. As much as I love the series, its views are dated and they no longer align with that of society. People now break free of society’s constraints, rather than following the path set out for them by the way they look or their personality. Times have changed, and we are changing with them.
It brings me to my final point. Friends is old. To me, it will forever be a classic, yet there are more and more shows coming out to replace them. Grey’s Anatomy, for example, is on its 15th season – record breaking. It tackles much more prevalent issues, such as exploring the Day of the Dead festival and cancer in family members. It could be argued that instead of Netflix funnelling more and more money into keeping Friends going, they could explore other shows, other opportunities rather than presenting dated, 1990 views that no longer exist.