Okay, bit of a History lesson here – flick back your clock to a little year called 1994. Tony Blair (the War Criminal) had just been made Labour party leader ; yours truly was taking her first breath in this very strange world of ours, and a little American tv show set in New York, first began airing. Ah Friends, you beautiful…beautiful mess of a pop culture phenomenon. There’s just so much of you that has aged so very badly, such to the extent that each of these poorly aged elements could fill separate blog posts all their own. Shall I list them? Honestly it would be quicker to name the elements that haven’t aged badly but I’ve already planned this post so, onward we go.
There’s the fact that despite living in one of the most diverse cities in America, the friends cast are – baring an occasional recurring or bit character – monolithically white. The sheer amount of gay jokes running throughout many of the episodes of the ten seasoned show is really uncomfortable to watch, particularly on a streaming service like Netflix where you can watch episodes in quick succession…and I’m saying that as a straight woman. The jokes directed at Chandler’s Dad in particular were cringe-worthy at their best. Not to mention t it’s confusing relationship with toxic masculinity – but I’ll get more into that in a later post. Yet, all these terrible things are in no way unique to the show Friends: things like indoctrinated racism; homophobia, Trans-phobia; sexism and encouraging of toxic masculine behaviors were not uncommon in the early 90s to early 2000s – the time in which Friends aired on tv – I’d go even so far as to say they were commonplace. But what is unique to Friends – though please feel free to correct me in the comments if you feel otherwise – is that none of these things seem to have lessened it’s popularity over time. At least not in any significant way. We may no longer laugh at the gay jokes, but a lot of us are still laughing at Friends.
So what we have to ask ourselves is, why? What made Friends so special? Why has it lasted so long while other shows fall by the wayside? Well, honestly there’s probably a plethora of answers to that question, not least being the strong sense of nostalgia present in both Millennials (who grew up with it) and Generation X & Baby Boomers (who were the original target demographic). However, that would be a very different blog post than the one I have planned; so instead we’re getting freaky meta here and looking instead at the underlying theme of the show. *Evil laugh, while lightening crashes in the background.* And there’s no running away, I’ve already locked all the doors.
Okay so, themes. What is the underlying theme of Friends? Could it be the Power of Star Crossed Lovers symbolised by the Ross and Rachel story-line? Nope, by the end everyone but the writers was kind of sick of that. Could it be the power of friendship? After all that is the name of the show. Well, sort of, but I’d like to go one step beyond that in my dissection of it’s theme. Because the “Friends” ironically are not just regular friends, their deep love and affection for one another goes far beyond that. When it really comes down to it Friends isn’t just a show about friendship, but about a group of people that became each other’s family. Thus the Theme is not just the power of friendship or family, but the power of the found family.
We can see this especially clearly when we look at the Series’ Thanksgiving episodes. In the first Thanksgiving episode – season 1’s ” The One where the Underdog Gets Away” – a suspicious amount of coincidences have to line up so that the Friends’ are forced to have Thanksgiving together. Ross and Monica’s parents have to go on holiday, and therefore be unable to host ; Joey has to star in an embarrassing add, and thus have his whole family believe he has a VD; Phoebe’s Grandmother and her boyfriend have to celebrate Thanksgiving in December; and finally most notably, Rachel has to miss her flight so that’s she unable to attend her family’s Thanksgiving Ski trip. However, notice that this is the only episode where these great leaps of coincidences have to happen. Starting from Season 3 onward – since season 2 didn’t really have a proper Thanksgiving episode – it never once occurs to the Friends to eat Thanksgiving Dinner anywhere else. We can see this most distinctly in the Final Thanksgiving Episode – Season 10’s ” The One with the Late Thanksgiving” – where upon hearing that Monica and Chandler just don’t have the energy to host Thanksgiving, Phoebe decides its easier to trick Monica into it, rather than make alternative arrangements for herself. This, despite the fact that she is married to Mike at this point and thus does have someone else to have Thanksgiving Dinner with. A fact that’s even more true for the others, and yet, the possibility is never even once considered.
The affection of the found family over the traditional birth family is repeatedly shown throughout Friends’ 10 season run. A particular notable example being when Joey, and then Chandler, walk Phoebe down the isle – when her step-father is unable to do so. Despite the fact that only Ross and Monica are actually related, these people are each other’s real family. In fact it’s interesting to note that whenever a biological family member does appear on screen, trouble is never far behind. Think Jack and Judy Geller – Ross & Monica’s abusive parents introduced in the episode ‘The One With The Sonogram At The End’ – who always leave to the sound of Monica’s tears, particularly in the earlier episodes. Notably in the episode ‘The One with the Cuffs’ it is Phoebe who comforts and builds Monica back up, after she has yet again been ridiculed and belittled by her own mother. Also consider Rachel’s sisters’ Jill and Amy – who made their debuts in the episodes ‘The One With Rachel’s Sister’ (Jill) and ‘The One With Rachel’s Other Sister’ (Amy) – who give us an insight into how awful Rachel might have become if she had never found her true family . The only time we see Joey’s parents is when his father is cheating on his mother with another woman ; and of course who could forget Ursula, evil twin of our beloved Phoebe. Even Ross and Monica – brother and sister though they may be – were not at all close when they were children. With Monica even claiming that she hated her brother back then; and it wasn’t until they were adults, and away from the toxic influence of their abusive parents, that the two siblings were able to move past that history and find each other again.
I’m not saying that the love and affection these very different people show to one another, which leaves the show with an uplifting warmth not found in every sitcom then or today, excuses all the more unsavory aspects of the show. All I’m saying is it’s one explanation for why we still continue to love this weird show, Twenty Five Years after it’s original airing.
Alright, that’s me done – I’ll unlock the doors now. If you’ve enjoyed this trip down nostalgia lane and haven’t already fled, remember to follow my wee blog, if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and now my brand new Goodreads account. Also sign up to the Wee Mailing List for all new photos, rants and more. Until next time my Wee Readers, have a bonny day.