Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have noticed that Friends is now on Netflix.
You will probably have also noticed the numerous angry think pieces about how the show is ‘problematic’ (ugh, I hate that word), and the endless lists ranking the characters from best to worst (like we didn’t all decide our favourites twenty years ago).
However, this little gem, in particular, incensed me.
Firstly, the guy who wrote it seriously needs to lighten up. He describes the characters as ‘quite terrible people’, before going on to ask, ‘could they be anymore [sic] “first world problems”’?
Yes, he’s right; they’re all white, heterosexual and cisgender. Yes, some of them do come from ‘incredible privilege’ – I won’t argue that. Obviously, there are many jokes that don’t quite sit right with audiences today; this is true of a lot of shows in the 90’s, but I’m not going to use the ‘product of its time’ argument here. I’m also not going to list all the things the show did right, though there are many.
But to argue that they’re terrible people is, to me, slightly ridiculous.
They make questionable decisions, tease each other and yes, sometimes make inappropriate jokes. But if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, isn’t that what all groups of friends are like?
While I can’t deny his points about their socio-economic status, I do think this ‘first world problems’ rubbish and whining about ‘privilege’ stuff is just…well, it’s a load of crap to be honest.
The show is about a group of twenty-somethings, struggling to make their way in New York City. We see them go on disastrous job interviews, have money problems, endure break-ups and become single parents. Rachel goes from a broke waitress to a successful, independent career woman. Over several seasons, we see Monica work hard, pay her dues and become a head chef at a prestigious restaurant. Joey is a struggling actor and Chandler is stuck in a dead-end job he hates. At one point, the issue of money is not only brought up, but threatens to divide the friends.
Do all these things sound relatable? Yes – that’s because they are.
Suggesting that Friends tackles trivial issues (or ‘first world problems’) kind of misses the point of what the show was trying to achieve. Let’s stop trying to make out that Friends was trying to be ground-breaking. It was light entertainment about a group of ordinary people; crucially, it was designed to be relatable.
At the same time, it still did a fair job of challenging gender stereotypes, promoting LGBT rights (as much as you can argue the characters were ‘homophobic’, let’s not forget that two women get married, raise a child and have a happy, loving marriage – not something that happened in a lot of shows in the mid-90’s) and had plenty of serious storylines – Monica and Chandler’s infertility, for example.
Can’t we all just enjoy Friends as what it is – a snapshot of life in 90’s America, as shown by six regular people?
As for Monica being the worst character? Well, I disagree there too. The author says this can’t come as too much of a surprise, given that Monica is controlling and obsessive. Am I the only person who sees that she was also generous, kind-hearted and loving? Let’s also not get started on calling ‘obsessive’ a flaw (ugh). It’s funny, because I see lots of people criticising the other characters for mocking Monica’s ‘OCD’, yet these same people supposedly hate her for being obsessive. Hmmm.
Oh, and what is this guy’s beef with Monica losing weight because of a man? Sadly, she won’t have been the first person to do this, and I fail to understand why this makes her a bad person (also, great job on shifting the focus away from Chandler, who made the rude comment in the first place). If anything, it just makes her more – you guessed it, I’m going to say it again – relatable.
The bottom line is, Friends is supposed to be light entertainment. Sure, some of the jokes miss the mark now, but again, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, haven’t we all made jokes that were slightly questionable?
On the show, problematic opinions were challenged, and the characters ultimately grew over time – as we all do in real life.
Is this what makes us so uncomfortable, knowing that at one time or another, we’ve probably all made a tasteless joke, or laughed at something we shouldn’t have? Is it that Friends reminds us that we’ve all had problematic misconceptions of our own?
If the characters on Friends had been perfectly nice to each other all the time, not had problematic opinions or made inappropriate jokes, would the show have been as relatable as it was?
I would argue probably not.