Friends: why is it considered an offensive series today?

Friends: why is it considered an offensive series today?


In the end Jennifer Aniston , the legendary Rachel of Friends , also had to admit it. Although she has now shown that she can free herself from that role that gave her fame, also recently starring in the acclaimed Apple series The Morning Show and in the upcoming Murder Mystery 2 (from March 31 on Netflix alongside Adam Sandler), the actress is constantly reminded of the comedy series that was a real cult of the nineties. Recently, however, alongside a renewed interest in the show after its landing on the various streaming platforms, there are also those who have expressed numerous perplexities with respect to a television product that has now done its time. Aniston herself said it in a recent interview : “ There is a whole generation of kids who look back at some episodes of Friends and find them offensive ”.

“ There were things that weren't intentional and others that…well, we should have thought better of that. But I don't think there was the sensitivity that there is now ”, admitted the actress, who also adds that “the comedy has evolved ” in recent years. It is not the first time that one of the protagonists of the series has intervened in retrospect, imagining how things could have gone differently: in 2020 Lisa Kudrow , the interpreter of the extravagant Phoebe, had declared that if ever you wanted to reboot Friends the first thing to do would have been to not have “an all-white cast”.

In fact, that of Friends is a decidedly interesting parable: already a record hit in the original ten seasons between 1994 and 2004, it had then fallen a bit into oblivion overtaken by more modern comedies such as Will & Grace , How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory ; the advent of streaming platforms such as Netflix, with their voracious need for titles to feed their immense catalogues, has restored prestige to the sitcom which has leapt again in the ranking of the most watched series, often far surpassing the most recent and expensive productions contemporary. In the meantime, however, there are also those who viewed this renewed success with suspicion, seeing in Friends an old-fashioned type of comedy, outdated by the times if not downright problematic.

The sore points

But what are the main problems of Friends ? The majority of criticisms, as also underlined by Kudrow, start from the lack of diversity in the cast: in fact the series starts from the description of a group of six friends (Rachel, Phoebe, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Ross), all white and more or less privileged. Throughout the entire series there are very few black characters who make their appearance, and only in minor roles (the African-American Aisha Tyler, Joey and Ross' girlfriend for a certain period, appears in only nine episodes). However, Kudrow herself explains that, since the series was written from the experience of the two creators, David Crane and Marta Kauffman , the two were based on their own experience of white people and their friends. Today, such a thing would still be considered unacceptable.

In general, however, there are other "problems" that dot the various episodes of Friends. For example, an extensive rewatch can only bring out a kind of widespread sexism that dwells in various storylines: Ross is deeply shocked when he discovers that his son Ben plays with a doll and later will have big problems accepting a male "nanny"; when Joey decides to wear a shoulder bag that he thinks is very trendy, he is scolded by his friends for wearing a "women's bag" and so on. There are also those who see some toxicity in some of the love stories told - albeit with irony - in the series, and in particular the one between Ross and Rachel (Ross, so control freak and possessive, doesn't actually emerge very well from this elusive and nostalgic binge watching ).

The mirror of the times

But the aspects that make today's sensibilities prick up the antennae do not end there: for example Monica's whole past, ridiculed for her having been obese (in the flashbacks the actress Courteney Cox even wears a flashy fat suit), would make the recent controversy surrounding the film The Whale pale. Then there is the big theme of LGBTQ + representation: Ross's wife, Carol, discovers she is a lesbian and, apart from her absolutely marginal presence, she is told with a thousand stereotypes and elbow shots; then there are countless cringe jokes about her father, indeed Chandler's transgender mother, played by a biological woman like the actress Kathleen Turner; Chandler himself is terrified in one episode that people will think he is homosexual.

On closer inspection, there are thousands of these problematic implications in any series or film of the past; the fact that they are most noticeable on Friends is due to the magnitude of its success, which still reverberates today as if it came out the day before yesterday. But that's exactly the point: Friends is not a sitcom from 2023, but from thirty years ago. In perspective, pretending that all its narrative articulation corresponds to today's sensibility, in which great strides have rightly been made in the representation of independent women, fat people and the LGBTQ+ community, is perhaps an exaggerated utopia.

On the contrary, historicizing a show like this, placing it in its past dimension helps to understand how much these things shouldn't be repeated today and how a brilliant and generational series like that could have its flaws. TV products of 2023 are also likely to suffer the same fate of criticism and suspicion in 2053. The great thing, nowadays, is that the spectrum of our possibilities of choice is much wider: on Netflix there are hundreds of more inclusive series to being able to watch, after all there will always be those who will continue to watch Friends out of a sense of nostalgia, but also to understand how much we have grown and how far we have come compared to those six thirty-year-old New Yorkers.