Friends is turning 25 this month, which means it’s now roughly as old as its characters were (portrayed as) when it began. The success of the sitcom relied heavily on the fact that our mid-twenties are a tumultuous time for most of us, but the power of friendship prevails. Or, at least, a friendship between conventionally attractive people who are all sleeping together. In all of its studio audience laugh-tracked glory, Friends capitalized on the reality that being in your twenties in New York City (or a studio in Burbank, CA) would be a real garbage fire without friends—a concept apparently so unique for the 90s that its cast earned one million dollars per episode in the final season.
There’s a lot that I don’t understand about the success of Friends, partly because I started watching it in 2016 and I was largely confused about why there wasn’t a single man on the show who was wearing a suit that fit them. Then, there’s the fact that the pilot aired in 1994 and Jennifer Aniston hasn’t aged even slightly. How does Rachel make any money at that coffee shop? Why isn’t Monica and Rachel’s massive apartment mentioned in every single episode? How does Phoebe live on 92nd St, yet spend every moment commuting to Greenwich village to be continuously misunderstood by her so-called “friends”? I’m aware much of the dialogue relies on teasing banter, but Phoebe is, in my opinion, the most tragic character. While all of them bust on Joey’s overall idiocy and Monica’s former weight problem to their faces, Phoebe’s enemy is silence. After watching every season of Friends, my biggest fear is not entering a Ross-and-Rachel relationship, losing a sugar daddy over conflicts about children, or getting killed off of a soap opera—it’s becoming the Phoebe of the group.
Phoebe is quirky, psychic, spiritual, and arguably the most charming member of the Friends clique. But alas, she’s terrible at music. In fact, “terrible” might be too kind. She’s painfully awful at singing, playing guitar, and songwriting. I understand her lack of musical skill is a running joke of the show, but the tragedy of Phoebe is not that she has no talent. Rather, the arc that will haunt me and every dream I’ve ever pursued is that nobody ever tells her! Phoebe performs regularly on Friends (we all know “Smelly Cat”) from the coffee shop to outside the coffee shop to schools, and yet, after every performance, the entire group praises her, cringing from afar. The camera pans across their distressed faces while she screech-sings to nonexistent guitar chords, only to greet her offstage with smiles and applause.
I started doing stand-up comedy around the same time I started plowing through every episode of Friends on Netflix. I used Friends to fall asleep, as background noise while I cleaned my apartment (which is in every way the opposite of Monica and Rachel’s), and eventually, for a deep analysis on why nobody gently tells Phoebe that music isn’t her path. I immediately asked my friend, a devout Friends fan, why Phoebe continues to play despite never receiving any real positive feedback.
“You’re completely misunderstanding the complexity of Phoebe,” she said. “Phoebe doesn’t want a career in music, she doesn’t care if people think she’s bad, she just likes being weird.” This momentarily made sense to me considering there’s an episode where Phoebe says “If I was in this for the money, I would be a millionaire by now.” Still, who makes art without wanting to be good? Protecting someone’s feelings is honorable, but at what point does the dishonesty make you a bad friend? What if all my friends are coming to my comedy shows, feigning laughter, and indulging my delusions for 10 whole seasons without a million dollar episode contract for my finale? Phoebe’s music “career” repeatedly sends me into an existential spiral.
I would be willing to trust my friend’s rebuttal to my Phoebe fears if it wasn’t for season 2 episode 17, where Phoebe records an album, makes a music video, and then learns they dubbed her voice with another woman’s. Phoebe shows the music video (of course it’s “Smelly Cat”) to the crew, only to not recognize that her voice has been replaced. She’s shocked by how amazing she sounds, and what do the friends do? THEY DON’T TELL HER. This is their moment! Instead, they all sit quietly in Monica’s massive, perfectly decorated living room, allowing Phoebe to believe that all this time, she’s had the voice of a professional recording artist. This moment is a cardinal sin of friendship. The show shouldn’t be called Friends, it should be called “Smelly Cat Enablers.”
Before you peg me as an irrational moron, I do recognize that Friends is a sitcom and that I’m clearly projecting my own career insecurities onto the music career of a person who doesn’t exist. That isn’t lost on me. But, if we can take anything away from looking back on the show after 25 years, the hill I’m going to die on here is Phoebe’s music. Aside from the glaring lack of diversity and casual 90s sexism, the show’s main problem is that the group was protecting Phoebe’s ego and passing it off as friendship.
That being said, if Phoebe was pursuing music in 2019, the hecklers at the coffee shop would be replaced with internet trolls and she probably would be too broken to even write “Smelly Cat” to begin with. Is it ok to separate passion from skill? Is Phoebe a genuine artist because she makes art for the sake of making it and not because she wants a career?
Americans are obsessed with attaching our passions to our careers as an identity. The mindset that Phoebe isn’t a musician unless she makes money off of it is engrained in our culture, and maybe Phoebe’s shameless rejection of that notion is admirable after all. Perhaps on the 50th anniversary of Friends, I’ll no longer fear being the Phoebe. In the meantime, I’m incredibly grateful all of my friends told me to quit soccer.
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It’s the 25th anniversary of everyone’s favorite 90s sitcom featuring over-plucked eyebrows, ultra straight hair, and a Greenwich Village apartment we would all gladly sacrifice our most prized possessions to live in for just a few weeks. Friends has remained an iconic series since its premiere in 1994, and its 2004 final season that famously won the cast a shudder-inducing one million dollars per episode. However, it’s 2019 now. Even the most loyal of Friends fans sometimes use the 10 seasons as nostalgic background noise to fall asleep to after we’ve watched too many true crime shows and need the soothing trance of rhythmic studio audience laughter. When we’re sick of rewatching The Office, Friends and all its mind-numbing Ross and Rachel “will they?/won’t they?” drama is always there.
Still, Friends is very much a product of its time. It’s nearly devoid of diversity, and the New York City it portrays is a fantasyland considering it was filmed in Los Angeles and it is repeatedly disrespectful to the harsh reality of NYC rent. We can forgive the starved eyebrows, but a world without being constantly attached to our phones? No dating apps? No Instagram? And why, for the love of Jennifer Aniston’s legendary haircut, are they always hanging out at that coffee shop?
Here’s the alternate NYC friendship fantasy timeline nobody asked for but we all need: Friends in 2019.
They all live together in a windowless Brooklyn basement.
In the original Friends, Rachel and Monica’s Greenwich Village apartment with a gorgeous skylight, balcony, living room the size of a school gymnasium, and a kitchen so adorable it looks like it was designed by hipster Keebler elves is the main hangout spot. Joey and Chandler live across the hall in an apartment they also couldn’t afford while Phoebe lives on 92nd St, and it’s never fully explained how she is constantly commuting downtown to sit on a couch with a bunch of fellow beautiful people who don’t understand her art. In 2019, though, they’re all together in Brooklyn, baby! Monica and Rachel’s rent-controlled dream is in Williamsburg, but it’s a windowless basement they share with Chandler, Joey, Ross, Phoebe, and a few mice. Luxury!
Chandler works at a startup and is constantly bragging about unlimited cold brew on tap.
Chandler has a standing desk, a ping pong table and a fridge full of Kombucha at his office, and he needs everyone to know. The app Chandler works for is vaguely dating-related, but it’s unclear what exactly he does there because he’s much more interested in talking about “the perks.” Despite his office’s open floor plan and craft beer fridge, he and Monica (a food blogger) never make enough money to move out of the basement.
Rachel and Ross have an open relationship, but they can’t agree on the terms.
Open relationships can get complicated for anyone, but for Ross and Rachel? What a mess. The entire “we were on a break” episode is a situation where Ross ends up getting emotionally attached to a woman from work that he and Rachel occasionally have threesomes with. Turns out, Rachel was also developing feelings for her and by the final season, their arguments about their influence on their baby daughter’s gender identity send them to a few productive sessions of couple’s therapy.
Every episode’s main conflict is their crippling student loan debt.
Regardless of what happens, every episode of 2019 Friends ends with the realization that none of them will ever own property or live a live similar to the ones their parents led. The only one who successfully pays off her student debt is Rachel, but the rest of the group resents her because her wealthy family fronted most of the tab.
Phoebe’s “Smelly Cat” goes viral on YouTube and it changes her forever.
Phoebe couldn’t resist uploading “Smelly Cat” to her YouTube channel, and it becomes an overnight viral sensation. Phoebe is immediately recognized everywhere she goes and she decides to monetize the song’s success with an America’s Got Talent audition that unfortunately flops. Still, her Etsy shop for healing crystals is a success.
Joey is a contestant on ‘Bachelor in Paradise’.
This one is obvious, of course. Joey is made for Bachelor Nation and instantly becomes a fan favorite, working his way from The Bachelorette to Bachelor in Paradise to eventually becoming the Bachelor. Does he find a lasting love on the shows? Nope. But he does have a series of popular reaction gifs and makes a decent living from nightclub appearances. In the 2019 Friends 10th season, Joey returns to Bachelor Nation as the bartender on Bachelor in Paradise, but he gets kicked off for flirting with too many contestants.
Rachel is an Instagram influencer.
In season one of the real Friends, Rachel’s boss at Central Perk tells her she’s a terrible waitress. Yet she’s able to keep that job for years! How does she make any money when these people sit there for hours with a check of two coffees and one muffin? Rachel is fired from waitressing her third shift in 2019 Friends and turns to Instagram for money instead. With her family connections, a social media manager helps her build a brand that focuses mostly on “wellness,” “positivity,” and most importantly, being hot.
Joey’s role as Doctor Drake Ramoray is the closest any of them ever get to health insurance.
In 2019, Joey does appear on a soap opera, but the majority of his acting gigs are in Bachelor Nation. Still, none of the friends have real health insurance because Chandler’s startup purposefully hires people under 26 so they don’t have to provide health coverage. Rachel receives free teeth whitening and dental care kits from her sponsored content posts, but otherwise the gang just uses WebMD and hopes for the best.
That coffee shop is definitely a bar.
The most significant difference from the original is that the 2019 version of Friends replaces Central Perk coffee shop with a neighborhood dive bar. Considering 2019 coffee shops are filled with freelancers on laptops fighting over the table with the outlets, a coffee shop isn’t a great setting for a sitcom. Also, it’s forever unclear how that coffee shop stayed in business when they have a five person staff for a total of 10 customers and a very limited menu.
Eventually, NYC becomes too expensive for all of them.
The basement landlord finally discovers that Monica isn’t an “87-year-old woman who doesn’t know how to work a VCR” and the finale of 2019’s Friends features our fearless crew at the bar, defeated. “Maybe Philly?” Ross suggests, but Rachel replies, “Perhaps Austin.” It fades to black while an acoustic version of the beloved theme song plays.
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In preparation for its upcoming 25th anniversary, I have seen no less than 37 articles (the same article 37 times, really—same content, same gifs) that attempt to destroy America’s sweetheart TV show, Friends. Here’s the thing: it was the 90s. It is true that a lot of the jokes on Friends don’t hold up in 2019. But you can say that about any show 30 years later, and I think even with its problems, Friends is still super relatable. Like, I can’t wait to see how well 13 Reasons Why goes over in 30 years. Or Jersey Shore. For all that Friends has given us, it’s just not that controversial. It’s super weird to me that people think it is. Hey guys, maybe we should be reading the Betches Sup instead and focusing on actual problems, what do you think? Even with a few misplaced or not exactly nice jokes, Friends is still one of the best shows of our time and laid the groundwork for basically every twentysomething sitcom after it. In honor of Friends‘ 25th anniversary, I have broken down their most controversial-in-2019 storylines and why they’re really not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.
High School Monica
This is by far the most upsetting Friends storyline to people in 2019. High School Monica was dorky, frumpy, and they call her fat, but she was actually not even plus-size. Yes, it was Courteney Cox in a fat suit, but they couldn’t even find one above a size 10, which is pretty nuts when you consider this entire recurring joke essentially amounts to “lol Monica was fat!” That is bad and not funny, because being plus-size should not be worthy of derision. But fat-shaming aside, I actually love High School Monica and all the high school flashbacks. The jokes about high school Monica weren’t only about her weight—she was a total loser and embarrassment irrespective of her weight, and that was the joke. She called her virginity her “flower” (and Rachel was right—if you call it that, NO ONE will want to take it!). Everyone had a dorky period growing up, so I still find this funny and relatable.
That said, her weight should not have factored into this characterization at all. I am totally against body-shaming and the fat jokes don’t hold up well. It’s sh*t like this that caused our Photoshop/Facetune epidemic all over Instagram. But really, women have also been called fat their entire lives regardless of size, so this to me is relatable too. I was called fat in the 8th grade—I was 5’8 and weighed 105 lbs. What girl wasn’t called fat at some point by a pimply boy with braces who was a foot shorter than her? Is this really the worst of all insults? I get called a bitch on the daily and I don’t even notice anymore. Point being, high school Monica is still funny, even though the fat jokes are not. Also? They equally make fun of Rachel’s real nose, and I have yet to see any anti-nose-shaming articles. Being dorky and being made fun of for your teenage appearance is just part of growing up (unfortunately).
The Male Nanny
Ross is the worst. Everyone knows he’s the worst. So when he met male nanny Sandy, he acted very in character, i.e., the worst. He assumed Sandy was gay (because… only gay men like babies, I guess?), and was irrationally angered by Sandy’s sensitivity. Yes, these things are totally offensive and the poster for Toxic Masculinity. We agree on that for sure. But here’s the thing: so did the rest of the characters. Everyone else loved Sandy and told Ross he was a dipsh*t he was for being so toxic and insecure. Unfortunately for Men, as a brand, this is how A LOT of men act, especially 20 years ago! I don’t blame Friends for accurately depicting toxic men, I blame the men who behave this way to begin with. I actually think it’s badass that Friends showed it and publicly said, “hey, this is not okay behavior. Don’t be a Ross.”
Ross strikes again in the Barbie/GI Joe feud. Ross, POS father, King of Toxic Masculinity, basically throws a tantrum because his son wants to play with Barbies. People are offended that Friends showed this, but to me, this was exactly my dad, and many, many men of this generation. And I’m sure many men even in 2019. My dad was super offended by my mom buying me and my brother the same toys. He really got pissed when he came home to find my brother in a dress, my mom’s heels, clip-on earrings and us calling him Emily. But like, why? They showed this very relatable issue accurately on Friends and everyone told Ross he was being a complete idiot about it. I wonder how many toxic men watched it and realized how stupid they were being? I think it’s awesome that this was talked about, and again, Ross was called out for his backwards beliefs.
Ross In General
I’m realizing this should mostly be an article about how Ross is the worst, but here we are. Ross was the poster child for toxic masculinity and almost everything he did was offensive. Aside from the aforementioned nanny and Barbie issues, he also was sexist, shallow (Rachel DOES NOT have chubby ankles), super insecure (Mark), a cheater (A BREAK IS NOT A BREAKUP), controlling, paranoid, tried to f*ck his cousin (wait, what?), etc. etc. etc. Anyone who stans Ross has serious issues. However, while we can all agree his behavior was often terrible, it was just as equally called out. I’m not sure what show these other people are watching, but Ross gets away with none of this sh*tty behavior. Ross is essentially the Every Man Douchebag and they (Bethenny Frankel voice) MENTION IT ALL.
Yes, cornrows and braids are totally cultural appropriation. Yes, this is bad. I’m with you on this. But unlike every Kardashian, Monica doesn’t just go around wearing her hair like this on the reg. This happened when they went to Barbados (I think?) and Monica’s hair went crazy in the humidity. So essentially, this is every white girl who went on vacation in the 90s/2000s and got her hair braided on the beach along with a henna tattoo. This was what everyone did then. The trend is offensive for sure, but Friends hardly invented it. This was before white people gave a sh*t about cultural appropriation or even discussed it. Rather than canceling a whole show over one hairstyle, maybe we should be grateful we’ve moved into a better time where we do recognize this is not a good look. But yes, we can cancel this one episode.
Rachel Getting Off The Plane
We’ve discussed that Ross is the worst, but one of the worst things is that in spite of his issues, Rachel (SPOILERS AHEAD—I mean, the show came out 25 years ago, but okay, I’ll still warn you) still abandons her dream job in Paris to stay with him. I’m still mad about this, btw. I don’t think Ross and Rachel should have ended up together. But again, this is relatable. How many weddings have you been to where your amazing friend is marrying a repulsive, fratty, POS douchebag who makes her cry every time you go out? But at the wedding she’s like, “we’re best friends, he’s going to be a great father”, and you’re like, “Huh, that’s weird Karen, because last weekend you couldn’t stop crying because you found cocaine in his pants pocket again.” Sometimes our friends end up with douches. It blows, but it’s a fact of life.
After 25 years, Friends is still one of the most relatable shows ever. They covered a lot of issues that were common both then and now. To be honest, I think a TV show where every character was nice, polite, PC, and always said the right thing would be boring af. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Are these the worst incidences of Friends? What other ones do you think didn’t hold up well? Do you find Friends insanely offensive?
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