The One About Where We All Realize Ross is Trash
August 31, 2019 2:05 PM   Subscribe

"Friends" hasn't aged well but here's the thing — this show has always been awful. by Scaachi Koul [Buzzfeed] “...as someone who lived through the first round of Friends’ cultural reign, who was conscious for at least half of it, and who participated in it in real time, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you all of the truth: Friends, a show about white people being thin and having the pointiest nipples in the continental Americas — and a show that I, at one time, watched and enjoyed — is absolute garbage. [...] There’s been some ongoing online discussion about the strange dissonance between Friends nostalgia and the reality of the show’s poor quality. But still, overwhelmingly, audiences seem fine pretending that Friends was any good at all.”
posted by Fizz (219 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Eh, it was fine.





This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
posted by gwint at 2:13 PM on August 31, 2019 [76 favorites]


Scacchi's right - Friends is garbage. It's not garbage in the sense that 95% of the sitcoms at the time were so tropey and unfunny that it came across as "good" - but it wasn't groundbreaking or even super funny. It's not going to stand the test of time but it's going to be on reruns forever. It's a lot less Seinfeld and a lot more Big Bang Theory. And that's fine. But it's also fine to recognize it's not that great.

But here's the thing - she's out here saying a sitcom was bad and her mentions are just full of people treating her like shit for not liking Friends. People are losing it over this. It's grossly toxic.
posted by thecjm at 2:15 PM on August 31, 2019 [45 favorites]


It's not going to stand the test of time but it's going to be on reruns forever.

Say what now?
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:22 PM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


Even knowing the People Are Awful on The Internet, Especially on Twitter, Especially to Women And Minorities, I was surprised by the level of vitriol. Yeesh. Anyway, Friends is...fine. I watched it for a few seasons during PEAK FRIENDS. Ross sucks, Chandler sucks, Phoebe sucks, Monica and Rachel are probably terrible, too. Joey...I think Joey is probably good, actually. My memories of the group are poor, because I watched the show when I was a child and I've never been remotely interested in rewatching any of it (unlike 30 Rock, which I binge helplessly at the slightest encouragement).
posted by grandiloquiet at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]




I remember when Friends was huge. I didn't really understand it then because I was a kid, but I do now. Even though Friends is pretty bad, it's no worse than anything else. It is not uniquely bad by the standards of television of the 90s or of the standards that exist now. People liked Friends then because it was aspirational. They like it now because it is an escape from the current hellscape that we live in.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2019 [20 favorites]


It's not going to stand the test of time but it's going to be on reruns forever.

Say what now?


It's going to be like Leave it to Beaver or The Brady Bunch. It's going to be on Nick at Night decades from now, but no one in 2150 is going to rank it in their Best Sitcoms of the 20th Century listicle.
posted by thecjm at 2:45 PM on August 31, 2019 [24 favorites]


I remember always having thought Friends was basically not good, from when it originally aired, through mini-eruptions of revivals (a friend watched all of it a few years back at his partner's behest), to right now, and am baffled that anyone is glad of its return, or its anniversary, or whatever has peoples' knickers freshly twisted. Moderately pleased out of nostalgia and familiarity, sure, but positively excited?
posted by kenko at 2:47 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


I ended up watching a lot of it when I broke my leg (daytime TV options were limited.)

I didn't think it was amazing or anything, but I remember some of it being pretty funny.

"The line is a dot to you!"
posted by kyrademon at 2:57 PM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


I haven't seen enough of it to have an opinion, but I remember one of my Japanese students telling me that he was sad to come to the end of Friends because after so many episodes he felt like they were his friends. I would imagine that's the draw for many people.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:01 PM on August 31, 2019 [11 favorites]


"Friends" made a generation of young people want to move to New York City. There were a lot of reasons for NYC's cultural and social revival in the 1990s, but "Friends" was definitely one of them.
posted by Modest House at 3:06 PM on August 31, 2019 [13 favorites]


Friends was always trash elevated solely by the comedic talent and charisma of the three women in the ensemble. Any one of them would have been the break out comedic star of any of other show; they just all happened to be in this one. And Aniston, Cox, and Kudrow all went on to have long and successful careers, especially in comparison to their male costars, who...did not.

As performers, Aniston, Cox, and Kudrow were (are) really, really good. I think performing talent is often overlooked, partially because we’re so used to seeing a really high standard, but comedy is hard, and making dumb comedy work is even harder.

They were really, really good, especially given what they had to work with.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2019 [90 favorites]


Ross sucks, Chandler sucks, Phoebe sucks, Monica and Rachel are probably terrible, too. Joey...I think Joey is probably good, actually.

Joey said a ton of creepy shit.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:09 PM on August 31, 2019 [19 favorites]


How you doin'?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:11 PM on August 31, 2019 [13 favorites]


Before Friends, how many sitcoms were there that let young adults just be young adults? The main two examples I can think of are Dobie Gillis and Happy Days, but in those shows the characters were stereotypes of what the older writers thought young people should be.

Friends was popular because (white) people got to see somewhat authentic versions of themselves in a sitcom. It wasn’t necessarily good, but it filled a niche.

The Brady Bunch was popular for a similar reason, I think. The Brady kids acted like real kids, and not stereotypes of kids, or small people talking like adults.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 3:11 PM on August 31, 2019 [18 favorites]


I was in my 30's during the Friends and Must See TV nonsense, and remember the whole Ross and Rachel broughhaha.
I would rather not relive that.
Instead of watching 236 episodes of Friends, I think I'll watch the 180 episodes of Seinfeld and 90 episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and call it even.
Or 255 episodes of MASH.
And so on.
posted by Bill Watches Movies Podcast at 3:14 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


Eh...there was a lot of horrible glop to overlook, but I was surprised to find myself laughing at parts of an ep when stuck at the doctor's office. Joey is pretending to be an imaginary co-worker of Chandler's and it gets out of hand.

Also, Joey and Rachel trading off favorite books, leading Joey to be permanently traumatized by Little Women ("the first book he's ever loved that didn't star Jack Nicholson"), was pretty damn solid.

Really, if Ross wasn't there, it'd be fine.
posted by praemunire at 3:16 PM on August 31, 2019 [24 favorites]


Oh for God's sake, the cruel comments aren't deserved but the writer of that article starts by saying how "old" she is and then says she was 3 when Friends aired.

Speaking as part of the actual demographic who watched the show when it was on... Sorry, it was a damn good show by the standards of the day. It was well written and had six actors who could actually act. It had some of the most intelligent humor you could find on TV at the time -- I'd say it was the best for that if it wasn't immediately followed on Thursday nights by "Seinfeld."

Sure, it had tons of content that was transphobic or borderline racist, but so did Frasier and Seinfeld, to which the author of the article gives a pass. And so do lots of modern shows like "The Big Bang Theory".

I agree with schadenfrau that the three female leads really made this show work. And this in itself was unusual for the time, it passed the Bechdel test in the first episode. Contrast this with "The Big Bang Theory" which started out in its first seasons (in 2007!) with a single female lead, whose main character trait was that she was stupid compared to the male ones.

Matthew Perry was also a stand-out, and improvised a lot of the best lines.

Joey's character doesn't age well, although he's certainly a trope of sitcoms of the time. And yeah, once you realize Ross was an evil doppelgänger sent by the devil to torment the others, you can't re-watch the show and enjoy it the same way. But it WAS a good show.
posted by mmoncur at 3:17 PM on August 31, 2019 [88 favorites]


Well, that’s some opinion piece.

As someone who watched the show in her 20s (aka the target audience), I remember it fondly but through an adult lens. I actually remember noticing that Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe dated and slept around without stigma. My friends and I kinda all knew that there was no way they could afford NYC with those jobs, we knew none of them were perfect, etc. Some jokes are very problematic as heard today. Other episodes make me laugh as much now as they did then. But nostalgia is a powerful thing and when nostalgia surges there always needs to be a counterweight of “but that show sucked” or else we wouldn’t have the Internet.

I feel like interpreting Joey’s “how you doin’” as a catcall instead of a pickup line is a bit sensational but since it’s already been published it’s a moo point.
posted by kimberussell at 3:21 PM on August 31, 2019 [45 favorites]


I actually remember noticing that Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe dated and slept around without stigma.

Compare this to how much of an asshole Frasier was about his producer's love life.
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on August 31, 2019 [42 favorites]


I never liked that show. I was always surprised that there were people I knew who did. I mean aside from pretty people eye candy. Though if you want that, they made that show about lifeguards with that one guy they like in Germany...
Sorry can't remember the name.
posted by evilDoug at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm in my 50s, and I've never watched an episode of Friends.

It's been a quest of mine, ever since the show came out. I always found a way to be elsewhere, doing elsething, whenever it came on.

And now, all of that dedication has been validated by a writer on Buzzfeed.

I'm so proud.
posted by MrVisible at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2019 [22 favorites]


You must live a charmed life.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:28 PM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


Oh right, babe watch. David Hasselhoff
That show, that guy.
posted by evilDoug at 3:35 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Evildoug, you are thinking of Baywatch, and David Hasselhof.
posted by janell at 3:35 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


You got there.
posted by janell at 3:35 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Compare this to how much of an asshole Frasier was about his producer's love life.

Poor Frasier wouldn't even have time for that
posted by thelonius at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


I feel like interpreting Joey’s “how you doin’” as a catcall instead of a pickup line is a bit sensational but since it’s already been published it’s a moo point.

"Moo point" is a genuinely useful addition to the English language.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:52 PM on August 31, 2019 [47 favorites]


Yeah, Friends definitely piggybacked on Seinfeld, which has always struck me as tedious and trafficking in various cliches, mostly about Jews, but also other “social types.”

With Curb Your Enthusiasm coming around more recently to make it even plainer.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:54 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


Everyone should just watch the British "version," Coupling, which was so much better.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:00 PM on August 31, 2019 [22 favorites]


Like, honest to god, Friends was a truly entertaining show. It had no deep purpose, and the characters in it were all intrinsically flawed (you don't get conflict or comedy if everyone gets along) but in the great pantheon of what network television has offered us as half-hour sitcoms, it's basically harmless.

It's better than Will & Grace (characters hate each other and pretend to be friends in the service of LGBT issues). It's better than Big Bang Theory (characters hate each other and pretend to be friends in service of non-standard brain issues). It's better than a lot of sitcoms.

It's not better than anything that Norman Lear ever produced. It's not better than Barney Miller. It's not better than the truly best of what network television has offered across the decades. There are a lot of shows which are better than Friends.

But Friends was mostly harmless, and in our culture, being harmless is a major feat.
posted by hippybear at 4:02 PM on August 31, 2019 [40 favorites]


At least it spawned a killer podcast.
posted by Beardman at 4:05 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


I always thought it was weird that all these characters who are ostensibly professionals with successful careers basically talked fuck-all about the things they were spending at least 8 hours a day doing in between all the catch-phrases and bed-hopping.

Like, Ross was a paleontologist for Christ's sake. If I were a paleontologist I'd be talking about dinosaur fossils like all goddamn day.
posted by adoarns at 4:12 PM on August 31, 2019 [24 favorites]


He lived year round in New York City. He probably didn't even like being a paleontologist.
posted by riruro at 4:15 PM on August 31, 2019 [12 favorites]


praemunire: "Also, Joey and Rachel trading off favorite books, leading Joey to be permanently traumatized by Little Women ("the first book he's ever loved that didn't star Jack Nicholson"), was pretty damn solid."

My housemate and I were definitely not fans of Friends, and yet somehow we wound up watching that specific episode, and it struck a chord. For years afterwards stressful things were put in the freezer*.



* During one particularly bad bout of suicidal ideation my housemate gathered up all of our sharp kitchen knives and put them in the freezer. Walking in on that procedure in-progress was a bit daunting.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2019 [15 favorites]


Oh for God's sake, the cruel comments aren't deserved but the writer of that article starts by saying how "old" she is and then says she was 3 when Friends aired.

I was in my mid-teens to mid 20's when Friends originally aired and watched it sometimes, but speaking as someone who just graduated from college, Friends is INCREDIBLY popular with people in their late-teens to 20's now. I think this is what the author is more likely reacting to. It's pretty baffling. I didn't like it very much when it was on (I was a goth Latina so not exactly the target demo...) but I actually did try to rewatch it when it was picked up by Netflix and really found it completely unwatchable. I'm sort of baffled by how popular it is again.
posted by primalux at 4:29 PM on August 31, 2019 [23 favorites]


I remember watching it because it was on, as one did in the day. I think that's kind of hard to convey to anyone who's grown up spoiled for choice. There were some really funny lines from time to time, but I give it a meh overall.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


Ross did talk about dinosaurs but the others didn't listen or really care until it led them to Bermuda I think it was? Also, I found it really interesting the introduction of technology, specifically beepers or pagers and cell phones. It's a strange contrast to the beginning of the series and later seasons when they're on cell phones and such.
posted by VyanSelei at 4:33 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Okay but "Miss Chanandler Bong" will always be funny.

(See also: "Transponster!")
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:37 PM on August 31, 2019 [28 favorites]


What Primalux said. One of my nieces, now in her mid-twenties, has been a huge fan since before she was old enough to drive, watching the reruns in syndication and then on Netflix. Apparently many of her friends like the show as well.

I saw most of the first two seasons when they originally aired, and then drifted away after that, as I started watching less TV during the week. So I guess that puts me in the category of "It was OK, but no big deal really."

It is interesting that none of the cast members subsequently have been involved with anything nearly as successful. I don't think it's necessarily due to a lack of talent, but then again, presumably none of them have to work because their salaries and residuals from "Friends" have made them all multi-millionaires.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:39 PM on August 31, 2019


I'm puzzled by the strong reactions for and against Friends. I was in college during its heyday, and my friend circle was big on getting together for "Must See TV" as an excuse to do something cheap to do.

One thing I'm not sure I've seen mentioned - yes, the show had a good cast. It also was only really competing with a handful of other TV shows. Unless you had premium cable, you were choosing between Friends or Murder, She Wrote (not what my age group was watching) or maybe a Touched by an Angel spinoff.

Looking back, I enjoyed it well enough. It was fun to watch with a small group, but wasn't compelling enough for me to bother taping or keeping up with after graduation. I'm not sure how the show ended, nor have I been motivated to go back and find out despite Netflix wasting gobs of cash on retaining streaming rights instead of keeping shows I actually follow. (I hope whoever decided to cancel Santa Clarita Diet always runs out of hot water just before they're done bathing.)

Somebody else mentioned Barney Miller. I think it's a damn shame that Barney Miller, Soap, WKRP and a number of other classic sitcoms are not available on streaming and hardly findable on DVD while mediocre work like Friends carries on. But I can't find any enthusiasm for hating on the show, either.
posted by jzb at 4:45 PM on August 31, 2019 [19 favorites]


I always thought it was weird that all these characters who are ostensibly professionals with successful careers basically talked fuck-all about the things they were spending at least 8 hours a day doing in between all the catch-phrases and bed-hopping.

Ross was a terrible paleontologist, though.

Monica frequently talked about working in kitchens, and Rachel was all about fashion.

Joey had his own theory of acting ("Smell the fart acting") and Phoebe was always talking about her different massage clients ("I did a workshop on self-massage, and now all my clients are off massaging themselves.")

Chandler never really talked about his job, but that's because no-one knew what his job was.

I work in advertising research. When people ask me to describe what I do, I usually just say "I have Chandler's job." Most people get that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:45 PM on August 31, 2019 [32 favorites]


The thing about both Friends and Seinfeld is that they illustrate how mean, shitty and misogynist the 90s really were, even though at the time we thought we were all post-Reagan woke. Popular nineties culture is really, really mean and really really smug. I was there. I didn't like it much at the time but couldn't put my finger on why. Now that I see the characteristic failings that we developed as Gen X young people in contrast to the characteristic failings of various other demographics, the meanness, boy-centric-ness and smugness really stand out.

I do not like Friends. I do not like Seinfeld. I don't even really like The [old] Baffler or most fanzines or Subpop Records. In retrospect, the nineties things I really like are almost exclusively composed of Love and Rockets, various gay comics and this one solid patchouli perfume I had back when there was a sort of temporary fusion of hippie and punk.
posted by Frowner at 4:48 PM on August 31, 2019 [90 favorites]


A lot of people watch TV to hang out with interesting/nice people. They don't do it to hang out with groundbreaking people.
posted by amtho at 4:53 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


Oh, yeah, Friends was trash. My wife and I knew it was trash at the time, but we watched it anyway. Because as bad as it was, it was not nearly as bad as most of the other trash NBC tried to pass off as Must See TV (the Single Guy, Caroline and the City, etc). As someone about the same age as the Friends, who moved to New York City, it was just stupid how unrealistic it was. But it also captured the hangout culture that we'd lost after college. And it was something to watch before ER came on, which was the big draw (remember when we used to watch a whole block of shows because they were on at a particular time?). Eventually ER became a self-parody of its finer days and CSI became the new show to watch and we quit watching Friends before it ended because it had become so bloated and boring anyway (on top of being trash). At least Seinfeld felt authentically New York (despite being filmed in LA).

And, yeah, you're very right about 90's culture. Xander Harris from Buffy is another data point of someone I thought was lovable and funny at the time but is a horrorshow on rewatch. Maybe if they'd done just the women it would've held up better. All three guys were total creeps.

And seconding "Meet My Friends the Friends," Tom Scharpling's podcast that is ostensibly a recap podcast about Friends but which goes hilariously off the rails over an extended period of time.
posted by rikschell at 5:01 PM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


Barney Miller is on Crackle

It's just a matter of getting the youths hooked on Wojo
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:04 PM on August 31, 2019 [25 favorites]


My favorite game was a friend who did a watch of Friends and would note the times any people of color appeared in the frame. They are very very very very very very rare for a show about New York.
posted by artlung at 5:07 PM on August 31, 2019 [24 favorites]


Oh, and if you do listen to "Meet My Friends the Friends," don't start in the middle like the Vulture article seems to suggest. You owe it to yourself to start from the beginning. They're short, but every one is a finely crafted gem.
posted by rikschell at 5:08 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


Popular nineties culture is really, really mean and really really smug.

But that was expressly the entire point of Seinfeld. These were mean, petty people doing shitty things. The humor came from their terrible behavior. It wasn't meant to be aspirational like Friends.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:22 PM on August 31, 2019 [30 favorites]


The entire point of the last episode Seinfeld was that they were starting to pay for their shitty behavior over the previous, what? 7 years?

Seinfeld was people being mean, full stop. Even when it wasn't the main characters who were being mean, it was that they felt they were being treated mean by others.

So much US media comedy is based on people being mean to each other in varying ways.
posted by hippybear at 5:27 PM on August 31, 2019 [11 favorites]


To the moon, Alice!
posted by hippybear at 5:28 PM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


Hated Friends from the get; never watched an episode all the way through because it made my gorge rise.

I did like Phoebe quite a lot though, yet the rest made it insufferable.
posted by jamjam at 5:28 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


Friends was meh. The closest it got to being good were some of the random side characters and plots like this guy. And I did love the early days of M and C getting together <3
posted by sallybrown at 5:31 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


But that was expressly the entire point of Seinfeld. These were mean, petty people doing shitty things. The humor came from their terrible behavior. It wasn't meant to be aspirational like Friends.

Yes, but we all thought that endlessly watching the antics of shitty, classist, racist, misogynist people was great entertainment because we were so very very smart and of course we saw right through it. That's the nineties-ism, thinking that we were a bunch of special snowflakes who were too smart to be taken in by mainstream values as all the while we stuffed ourselves with them.

I mean, I had some great shoes in the nineties, really great - these just super platform sandals with wide forties-style straps. And I had a really good sterling ear cuff that didn't hurt my ear even though I have big ears, that was all right too. And I also had my first ever burrito in the nineties, so it wasn't all bad.
posted by Frowner at 5:46 PM on August 31, 2019 [26 favorites]


Ross as a paleontologist was and still is to this day the most absurd backstory I've ever discovered on television. And that ridiculous monkey!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:52 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


I totally forgot Ross had a monkey for a while. And Joey and Chandler had the chick and duck? What was up with that?

I occasionally watched Friends when it aired, and I've probably seen all the episodes because of reruns. For a while, one of the local channels played like four episodes in a row every weeknight. I never set out to watch, it just would be on when I wanted something on while I did house stuff. This is how people used to binge watch back before Netflix, kids.

I get the nostalgia thing--even for people who weren't alive when it aired. Second hand nostalgia? I used to watch old 50s and 60s sitcoms on Nick at Nite and enjoyed them for probably the same reasons young people like Friends now.
posted by lovecrafty at 5:57 PM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


It's a lot less Seinfeld and a lot more Big Bang Theory.

Friends is to 90s New Yorkers as Big Bang Theory is to scientists/engineers.

And just to drive home what garbage Friends is (despite a very talented cast), here's a scene without the laugh track (awkward and unfunny) and a scene with Ross without the laugh track (sociopathic and unfunny).
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:13 PM on August 31, 2019 [11 favorites]


We are currently now as far away from the premiere year of Friends as the premiere year of Friends was from this television schedule.
posted by hippybear at 6:13 PM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?

...seen on a crappy tv in a bar outside Muang Ngoi while twisted on opium and some ... other ... things was and remains the best song recorded by humankind. Just FYI.
posted by aramaic at 6:14 PM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


That's the nineties-ism, thinking that we were a bunch of special snowflakes who were too smart to be taken in by mainstream values as all the while we stuffed ourselves with them.

I feel like being mean and petty are pretty much universal human traits, from the mainstream to the indiest indie. When I watch a Seinfeld rerun, I don't actually think "Wow, I'm better than these people" (though I do hope I am), I think, "ah, here is a ridiculous character trait of me or people I know exaggerated for humor" (which usually, it's worth noting, leads to the characters being the architects of their own mild comeuppances or frustrations; the Seinfeld characters are absolute masters of self-sabotage).

I don't think anything in either Friends or Seinfeld can hold a candle to the nasty spirit of later-season Big Bang Theory, which isn't even by that point funny. On the other hand, there's nothing in 90s TV that can compare to the purity of heart of The Good Place--but if you don't like mean, petty characters, you're going to have a rough entry on that one.
posted by praemunire at 6:17 PM on August 31, 2019 [27 favorites]


I'm a youngin who somehow missed every rerunning sitcom except for The Nanny as a kid so I've been using them as bedtime tv for the past year. Got through Seinfeld, Cheers, and Friends and all of them have been surprisingly funny but surprisingly awful as far as characters and plots. Friends was the one that got me the most steamed and that I complained the most about while watching but I also stayed riveted for the whole run of the show and rewound the episodes I fell asleep during. I got really attached to everyone except Ross, who is in fact the worst. So ... Friends.

(also, I understand so many pop culture jokes now)
posted by gaybobbie at 6:18 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


In my head canon, at least, Monica realizes shortly after adopting their babies that her parents are fucking terrible and cuts them off.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:19 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


To the moon, Alice!

That's not an astronaut, it's a TV comedian! And he was just using space travel as a metaphor for beating his wife!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:27 PM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


Literally the point I was making!
posted by hippybear at 6:28 PM on August 31, 2019 [18 favorites]


I never had any patience with Friends -- it was a tedious spectacle of six thirtysomething characters carrying on like they were fifteen years younger than they were -- but I found this article a let down, because I was expecting the writer to craft a solid case for hating the show, and it was basically just her going on about how much she hates it with just a few passing references to why.
posted by orange swan at 6:36 PM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


FRIENDS has creative writing. I enjoy it for what it is, the writing is funny and the acting is intentionally exaggerated. The one where Phoebe teaches Joey how to play the guitar had me laughing so hard. “I don’t know the actual chords but I made up names for them as to how my hand looks when I’m playing them.”
I look back on it as an end of an era when we knew how to laugh, were comfortable in our own skin, and didn’t expect everyone to have the same opinion without being ostracized. Hmph. Critics.
posted by ascrabblecat at 6:46 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


Literally the point I was making!

I was quoting Futurama, but I should have used quotation marks.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:32 PM on August 31, 2019 [13 favorites]


I think it's a damn shame that Barney Miller, Soap, WKRP and a number of other classic sitcoms are not available on streaming and hardly findable on DVD while mediocre work like Friends carries on.

Many years ago, I entered an insomniac and disoriented phase of life, where I tended to stay up most of the night drinking coffee and smoking dirtweed. I had a beat-up old TV that got 2 or 3 channels, and I started watching it in the middle of the night. Reruns of "Coach" were on, and it was really pretty good! I had thought I was above watching any popular sitcom back in the 80's, when I guess it was on.

Also that was the period where they gave Tom Snyder a late show again, and it was really nice, a little coda to an icon of the 70's. Then there was this cool late night network news broadcast, on I think, ABC; after that, I could get some sleep. It was kind of a neat little era in my life, except I lost my job.
posted by thelonius at 7:33 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was just out having dinner and walked by an ice-cream place that had some branded goods in the window. One was a t-shirt done in the style of the Friends logo. I was wondering”why is this a thing?” And I come home to read this and understand.

I watched it when it was on because it was what was on. I can’t remember anything about the show except for the space porn of their apartments and the time porn of their perpetual hanging out in the coffee shop.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


I can’t remember anything about the show except for the space porn of their apartments and the time porn of their perpetual hanging out in the coffee shop.

I mean, those are a big part of the appeal
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:56 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


That's the nineties-ism, thinking that we were a bunch of special snowflakes who were too smart to be taken in by mainstream values as all the while we stuffed ourselves with them.

That would explain why most of the indie rock people I've met have been insufferable.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:00 PM on August 31, 2019


Middle-class twentysomethings in the 90s did more aimless hanging out than I think a Millennial can fully understand. There was just a lot more...margin for everything than there is now.
posted by praemunire at 8:00 PM on August 31, 2019 [41 favorites]


WKRP is something else that Disney has screwed up. The show featured copyrighted music and with the clusterfuck that is modern rights management
The expense of procuring licenses for the original music in the series delayed any release of a DVD set for years.[28] When it finally was released, much of the music was replaced by generic substitutes. Some scenes were shortened or cut entirely, and voiceovers were used to avoid using unlicensed musical content
I watched it for a few seasons during PEAK FRIENDS. Ross sucks, Chandler sucks, Phoebe sucks, Monica and Rachel are probably terrible, too. Joey...I think Joey is probably good, actually.

This seems to be the eventual way of any successful sitcom. They need to keep ratching the story up as time goes on till the characters have completely lost any relation to reality. The first season of Friends is quite watchable,

Ross starting out as the Butt Monkey[TVTropes] means he was locked into that roll and so suffered the most.

It's nice though that the character evilness is mostly of the bumbling variety as opposed to the Seinfeld actively evil variety.

One of the only redeeming features of Firefly getting cancel in the first season is the characters didn't get warped into weird caricatures of their starting rolls (though you can still see it starting with River in the movie).

"Moo point" is a genuinely useful addition to the English language.

Moo point and "The line is a dot to you" are a couple phrases I use pretty often. Even got a 20 year old apprentice to laugh at them at one point. Besides Friends is probably the only reason people my age know what a vestibule is.

Everyone should just watch the British "version," Coupling, which was so much better.

Oh god yes.

Like, Ross was a paleontologist for Christ's sake. If I were a paleontologist I'd be talking about dinosaur fossils like all goddamn day.

Ross was, it was one of the running jokes of the show. Even the copy girl knew him initially as the dinosaur guy. And everyone else had arcs of their professional life in the show; even Chandler whose professional life was mostly a joke because no one knew what he did had the bit with Joseph and .the bit where he was relocating to Tulsa.
posted by Mitheral at 8:04 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


No one is going to mention that "How I Met Your Mother" is Friends done right?
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 8:11 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


Everyone should just watch the British "version," Coupling, which was so much better.

Oh god yes.


While "Inferno" is one of the funniest sitcom episodes of all time ("vegetarianism isn't about not eating meat, it's about...choices!"), hoo boy, those gender politics did not date well, either.
posted by praemunire at 8:15 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


no one knew what he did

He did something non-techy and middle-manage-ey in networking. That's why he had to worry about the weenus and anus.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:22 PM on August 31, 2019


The thing about both Friends and Seinfeld is that they illustrate how mean, shitty and misogynist the 90s really were, even though at the time we thought we were all post-Reagan woke.

I think that was the influence of '70s TV, particularly Norman Lear. In All in the Family just about every character would have a clever quip, anyone who visited the Bunkers or random person in a checkout line. Their snark didn't seem as mean since the target was always Archie. TV writers who grew up with AitF as the edgiest thing on primetime adopted that into everyone-is-snarky-to-everyone model of '90s TV.
posted by riruro at 8:37 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


The author also says they'd rather watch Will and Grace reruns than Chernobyl, so, uh, maybe we can file this under half-assed hot take.

There are very solid reasons to have contempt for that show but uh, CTRL-F "homophobia" zero results, CTRL-F "gay panic," zero results... the author isn't that interested in them. This is lazy Thing I Don't Like Is Bad and You Are Bad If You Like It hackery. The fact that she has some funny lines scattered in doesn't make this more than it is.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 PM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


the time porn of their perpetual hanging out in the coffee shop.

I mean, those are a big part of the appeal
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:56 PM on August 31


so, you waste time by watching a show about wasting time...i think i've never felt so productive about playing so many video games and reading comics all through the nineties. thank you, friends fans
posted by eustatic at 9:08 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Plot of almost every episode of Friends (OK, almost every sit com):
1) Someone does something stupid.
2) That someone tries to hide the fact they did something stupid.
3) Their friends find out about the stupid thing done.
4) Everyone laughs together about the stupid thing done.
5) Ending credits.

The one episode I wanted to be made would have been Ross dealing with existential dread of realizing what an awful person he is and wondering why anyone would want to be his friend.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:09 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ah, Coupling.... I rewatched recently and some bits really are still amazing.

BUT THEN THERE ARE REAL PROBLEMS: Patrick maintains a giant library of tapes he's filmed of his many conquests, and past girlfriend Susan had no idea there was a tape of her, which suggests these tapes were made secretly without his partners' knowledge or consent. It's super gross. And there's tons of homophobia/bisexuality played for laughs. And lots of objectification of women. And Jeff! Where to begin with Jeff? I adore Richard Coyle (he's in Sabrina now!) but Jeff is a cringey horrible problem throughout.

So even Coupling, which started airing in 2000, six years after Friends started, can't get a pass on this one. I'm not sure what could.
posted by mochapickle at 9:21 PM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


Counteropinion:
”You may see it as a comedy, but I cannot laugh with you. To me, Friends signals a harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America, where a gifted and intelligent man is persecuted by his idiot compatriots.”
How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization

So, yeah, let’s keep shitting on Ross.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:22 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


Why didn’t anyone drink alcohol in ‘90s sitcoms? That’s what I always take away from Friends and Seinfeld.

The 2000s hit and suddenly whoa everyone was drinking again.
posted by Automocar at 9:27 PM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]


let’s keep shitting on Ross

Gonna blow your mind by telling you that the reason everyone hates Ross now is not that he's smart, or even that he's nerdy.
posted by praemunire at 9:35 PM on August 31, 2019 [20 favorites]


Um. Viewers aren't bagging on Ross for being a paleontologist, which is actually the best thing about him. Even jocks like dinosaurs. Yeah, in the FRIENDS-universe, you were supposed to think it was funny that Ross was "nerdy" and his first wife turned out to be a lesbian. But in our universe, Ross is a joke because he is a shallow, unreliable pedant who tears his romantic partners down and complains relentlessly about everything. I've never heard any viewer suggest that the real problem that they have with Ross is that he's too into fossils.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:35 PM on August 31, 2019 [37 favorites]


previously

I like Friends. It's okay. I won't argue against any specific complaints about the show because they are probably all true, but I still have a fair bit of fondness for it, as I do for Frasier.

It's great for falling asleep because the volume is fairly steady, nothing too terrible or noisy happens, and any conflict is generally sewn up by the end of the episode.

But it also hasn't aged well in many respects, and I have to hope that if it were being made today, many decisions would be different.

And Ross annoys this crap out of me.
posted by bunderful at 9:36 PM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


There are definitely a long, long list of reasons to hate Ross, but the show really did held him in open contempt for liking science and for knowing things. It's entirely reasonable to think he's a wreck of toxic masculinity and still think casting scientific consensus as a form of arrogance on par with believing in a flat Earth is silly horseshit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:39 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


How I Met Your Mother is basically Friends 2.0, and Ted is just as insufferable as Ross was. Possibly worse!
posted by emd3737 at 9:46 PM on August 31, 2019 [22 favorites]


Time for some game theory!!!

My hypothesis is that the reason Friends is so popular among teens and early twenties, is because that generation grew up watching watered down Friends tropes woven into Disney channel tween shit like Wizards of Waverly Place. Now that they've grown, the kids can go from the thin gruel of shitty Friends-derivative kids shows to the real rotten oatmeal of the original!
posted by benzenedream at 9:53 PM on August 31, 2019 [10 favorites]


[T]hat show about lifeguards with that one guy they like in Germany ...

That reads amazingly like the possible title of a Friends double-header.
posted by New Frontier at 10:06 PM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]


Friends is INCREDIBLY popular with people in their late-teens to 20's now. I think this is what the author is more likely reacting to. It's pretty baffling.

People today in this demographic like to watch shows about when people in their same age bracket had career prospects.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:13 PM on August 31, 2019 [26 favorites]


How I Met Your Mother adds in a very healthy dose of serial rape; something I don't remember too much of in Friends.
posted by Mitheral at 10:24 PM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


There are definitely a long, long list of reasons to hate Ross, but the show really did held him in open contempt for liking science and for knowing things. It's entirely reasonable to think he's a wreck of toxic masculinity and still think casting scientific consensus as a form of arrogance on par with believing in a flat Earth is silly horseshit.

As an engineer and science advocate, this was one of my favorite moments in the show and one of the times I actually identified with Ross. The show isn't calling Ross as arrogant as a flat-earther, Phoebe is, and Phoebe represents an extreme viewpoint and admits at the end that she was basically trying to mess with him. If you asked the other characters, except Joey, they'd all agree with Ross's point of view BUT think he's foolish to keep arguing with Phoebe. I'm one of those "science guys" who can't shut up when something like this comes up and I've been in this exact situation. Because, like Ross, I'm not a professional debater.

There's certainly some "Ha ha, Ross is a science nerd" stuff in this show, but no more than any other show... Heck, you can see some of the exact same jokes being made about Chidi in The Good Place, the most intelligent and funny comedy ever to appear on television.

How I Met Your Mother is basically Friends 2.0, and Ted is just as insufferable as Ross was. Possibly worse!

My theory about HIMYM is that Ted is the McGuffin of the show. He serves no purpose except to introduce the other characters to each other and move the plot forward.

And for all people go on about Joey being creepy, HIMYM (which started a year after Friends ended and ran to 2014) featured Barney, who made Joey look like a feminist ideal of modern woke manhood.

My hypothesis is that the reason Friends is so popular among teens and early twenties, is because that generation grew up watching watered down Friends tropes woven into Disney channel tween shit like Wizards of Waverly Place.

I think you have something here. The really good modern comedies (The Good Place, Parks & Recreation, 30 Rock, The Office, etc.) are all a more modern style of comedy, with single cameras, awkwardness, long pauses, complex situations, and complex storytelling methods. "Friends" is simple straightforward comedy like those Disney shows, but smarter and featuring mature characters who have jobs and have sex. My 17-year-old has no patience for the modern shows yet, but he binge-watched the entire series of "How I Met Your Mother" for much the same reason.
posted by mmoncur at 10:29 PM on August 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


Lisa Kudrow's father and brother were/are noted neurologists and she actually used to do research with her father.

A NPR interviewer knew this and slipped in a question about the type of research she did and she started to answer the question in highly technical detail, then stopped herself and said "Oh wow, listen to me!" I imagined the NPR interviewer having an mischievous grin at that point, having successfully caught her out of character.

Mayim Bialik is not the only comedy sitcom neuroscientist.
posted by eye of newt at 10:33 PM on August 31, 2019 [21 favorites]


I really didn't like Friends when it was on (in my high school years) and most of the people I knew who actively liked Friends have long since disappeared from my life, and I think that's worked out well. I'm not sure I know anyone who likes Big Bang Theory either, and I'm sure both sides of that equation are happier for it.

I don't make a big deal out of it - a lot of people like sitcoms, and I don't see much in the way of benefit that would come out of me going on about how awful I think many otherwise popular things are. That'd be like bringing up how carcinogenic, addictive, and otherwise unhealthy alcohol is - no one likes a spoil sport. That being said, I sure did enjoy reading this article! Totally on board with all the vitriol. And it is pretty funny that the writer thinks that "in internet years, [they're] very old." I imagine most of us here snorted when that was followed with "Friends premiered in 1994, when I was 3 years old." Oh, kid.
posted by Leviathant at 10:41 PM on August 31, 2019 [8 favorites]


THE MELTY MAN!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:41 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]


Word to the wise: for 90s ensemble cast sitcoms set in New York, you can't beat NewsRadio.
posted by LURK at 12:58 AM on September 1, 2019 [38 favorites]


Come on. Friends is objectively a bad show. Remember it came after Twin Peaks, and after Seinfeld. After M.A.S.H. It's not like there weren't ideas about how to do a good show. I don't know anyone my age who watched Friends when it was running for the first time (and I was a young-ish adult), it's only our much younger siblings, and now our children.
Also, I've never understood why people like Jennifer Aniston.
posted by mumimor at 12:58 AM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Friends also came after AfterMASH.
posted by hippybear at 1:12 AM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


If today’s teens really wanted to annoy their X’er parents they’d ditch Friends for Frasier and Mad About You.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:15 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


If today’s teens really wanted to annoy their X’er parents they’d ditch Friends for Frasier and Mad About You.

Where would My So-Called Life fit in all this?

Also, I've never understood why people like Jennifer Aniston.

Checked IMDB on a whim to see what else she's been in of note (Guess The Bounty Hunter and We're The Millers were more popular than I remembered) and discovered that there was a (short-lived and apparently utter shit) TV series of Ferris Bueller('s Day Off) where she played sister Jeannie. Whether this would constitute a bigger skeleton-in-closet than Misfits of Science is probably not for me to decide.
posted by gtrwolf at 1:36 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I never understood the Aniston appeal, either. Maybe she's just one of those bland, inoffensive, safe types like that woman whose name I can never remember who keeps getting all those million-dollar leads in the big movies for no reason I can figure.

That NewsRadio link makes me wish I could cast Dailymotion to the steam-powered Roku box attached to my coconut TV.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:46 AM on September 1, 2019


I can’t believe no one’s mentioned yet the contempt with which the show treated Phoebe’s character. Hippies and artists and those “counter cultural” types — they’re just like that because they’re stupid and weird and isn’t it funny to laugh at how stupid and weird they are with nothing real to say from inside our otherwise normal sense-making J. Crew world? If people like that are lucky enough have any friends at all, they’re going to be normal good looking white people who keep them around because they are harmless and good for comic relief.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:01 AM on September 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


I may have watched the odd episode of Friends here and there. It didn't really do anything for me one way or the other. I couldn't say whether it's any good or not.

I never read Buzzfeed though. Because it's absolute trash.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 2:33 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’m here to unapologetically say I love Friends. I am one of those people who have watched each episode maybe 30 times. I get a bit excited if I run across an episode I’ve “only” watched 25 times. I went to Friendsfest. I bought my baby a bib that says “MY SANDWICH?!”

As time marches on, it is indeed deeply flawed but I love it more so for those flaws. Will explain.

Every time I watch another episode for the millionth time I have these moments:

Yup, this is still funny
- Moo point, Drink the fat, beef trifle, transponster that’s not even a word, I’m Fiiiiiine!, unagi!, the vein has spoken, etc

Wow that was kinda modern for the time?
- the girls did sleep with a lot of guys (way more than Chandler and Ross) and it was just taken completely for granted, the lesbian wedding, ross’s two kids out of wedlock, Monica running her own restaurant, phoebe being a surrogate for her brother, Monica and chandlers infertility issues as main plot point, etc.

Ooh that did not age well
- Ross as controlling jealous boyfriend, casual homophobic jokes, Ross can’t deal with male nanny (which I always found oddly contrary to Ross’ character), treatment of Phoebe as a ditz (this is mainly isolated to the first couple of seasons), treatment of Emily, Ross’ fiancé (She was totally justified asking Ross to cut ties with Rachel, AskMe would agree).

Maybe that last group of reactions should turn me off from watching Friends but it doesn’t. I cringe but I also think “it’s kinda interesting how times have progressed and I wonder how the plot would have changed if rewritten for today?”

Maybe if enough time passes, the third reaction will overwhelm the first two enough that it will no longer be watchable for me but I think it’ll be a while still. I could see how it’s enough for new or younger audiences to be turned off. Placed in the context of today, a lot of the show is gross.

But for me, because I lived through it at its peak, rewatching it over and over again is an interesting exercise in social anthropology.
posted by like_neon at 2:50 AM on September 1, 2019 [28 favorites]


But that was expressly the entire point of Seinfeld. These were mean, petty people doing shitty things. The humor came from their terrible behavior.

The thing about Seinfeld is, uh, Always Sunny does that a lot better. Or Curb Your Enthusiasm also does Larry David's side of Seinfeld better, for that matter. I think it does have some episodes that hold up because of the writers they had though.
posted by atoxyl at 3:33 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Friends debuted when I was in my early 20s, so I am someone who fit right into the target demographic during its initial run. The show was essentially a rom-com in TV form; how much you enjoyed it or not depended a lot on how invested you were in the Ross-Rachel romance. As someone who never bought into the “she should go for the nerd guy since he likes her a lot, what other criteria could a woman possibly have for in a guy?” plotline, I was never more than a mild fan. So I am absolutely someone who should be predisposed to like a well-articulated take-down of a much beloved TV institution like Friends, yet I found this article wanting.

Her reason for saying Friends is trash essentially amounts to the show, looking back on it with 2019 eyes, has very problematic elements in terms of homophobia, transphobia, and race. Which, no argument there, but she then compares it unfavorably with other shows of the same era. Like, Frasier, which had not just one, but two separate episodes where the entire plot amounted to, “Hilarity ensues when a gay man assumes one of the Crane brothers is homosexual and takes a romantic interest in him”? Or Seinfeld, who coined a whole phrase based on a episode with a similar “How hysterical is it that someone assumed Jerry and George are gay lovers” plotline? Or the plethora of main characters of color in either? It just seems weird to singularly point out Friends for being problematic in this area and then give many of its comtemporaries a pass.

Her other argument is....some guest stars didn’t have a great time when they appeared on the show? Like, I feel bad if that was their experience, but that really isn’t an argument on the quality of the end product. I mean, it would be heartbreaking if I found out Kirsten Dunst had a bad experience filming “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, but it wouldn’t make the quality of the movie any better or worse.
posted by The Gooch at 3:49 AM on September 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


> "... she then compares it unfavorably with other shows of the same era."

With *some* shows of the same era. Honestly, the popularity of Friends (and Frasier and Seinfeld) at the time makes a lot more sense when you realize that they overlapped with, say, Full House.
posted by kyrademon at 3:56 AM on September 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


The few times I couldn't avoid seeing bits of Friends, it struck me as the American sitcom reduced to its purest essence. The standard Sitcom House set, the canned laugh track recorded at some time between then and the 1950s, the psychological depth of a 3-panel Garfield strip. The thing that struck me the most was that the characters were all pumped-up extroverts with no apparent inner life, whose interaction was seemingly limited to slinging zingers at each other, and then as the laugh track kicked in, mugging at the camera.

Perhaps Friends, in its unapologetic vapidity, did pave the way for the Kardashian era, though.
posted by acb at 4:51 AM on September 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


Where would My So-Called Life fit in all this?

My So-Called Life is the perfect television show and is the best of all time and there is no comparison.
posted by hippybear at 5:08 AM on September 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


In sum: Not everything appeals to everybody the same and it's a lot easier and less risky to express disdain for a thing than enthusiasm.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:19 AM on September 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


Where would My So-Called Life fit in all this?

JORDAN CATALANO CAN'T READ! He can't read!

*sobs, runs away*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:22 AM on September 1, 2019 [16 favorites]


I’m 49 and loved Friends so much during its initial run I had the cookbook and would recap episodes to my Mom over the phone.

Why didn’t anyone drink alcohol in ‘90s sitcoms? That’s what I always take away from Friends and Seinfeld.

One of my favorite throw away Phoebe moments.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:30 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Teenage me found Friends just about the only sitcom on TV that was humorous at all. They made jokes I laughed about, the people didn't deserve to be defenestrated at the earliest possible moment (well, not all of them) and if you only caught an episode or two here or there, the creepiness of any particular character never really came out.

I contrast that with Seinfeld, which I maintain made exactly one good joke during any of the episodes that I saw. It was the last line yelled at Jerry while he's trying to do his standup in prison. Friends made jokes, Seinfeld made observations and references that I somehow lack the mutant gene to find funny.

Was it a good show? No. All sitcoms are pure trash. But it was entertaining trash, which puts it light years ahead of every other sitcom on in the 90s.
posted by Hactar at 5:44 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Despite being the target audience, I somehow managed to avoid watching Friends entirely, plus nearly all of Seinfeld. I think it’s because both their timeslots were scheduled precisely when I had to be somewhere else: dinner, work, driving somewhere.

Instead, the one show that I watched religiously in the ‘90s was The X-Files, and that was some damn fine television.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:52 AM on September 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


All sitcoms are pure trash.

There was an entire era of sitcoms which starkly commented on US culture and were truly culturally important in ways which were deeply important. All the Norman Lear sitcoms in the 70s, and others like Barney Miller. Sitcoms are not as a genre "pure trash". Most of them are, but there was a giant era where sitcoms were the driving force in reflecting on US culture and helping to move the needle of our culture toward more acceptance and understanding.
posted by hippybear at 5:53 AM on September 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


something must be broken inside me because I feel more meanness and pettiness from this thread's enthusiasm for shitting on silly sitcoms than I ever felt from the sitcoms themselves
posted by scrowdid at 6:08 AM on September 1, 2019 [27 favorites]


Could there be a more Orwellian, Newspeak-sounding word than "sitcom"?

"Friends" doupleplusungood!
posted by thelonius at 6:36 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Meh. I mean, it's a well-written article, but she's too young to have been part of the true zeitgeist of that era (and calling herself old under those circumstances makes me want to tell her to get off my lawn, sweet summer child).

My sister was enormously into "Friends" (she still maintains that there is a "Friends" quote for any situation, and so far she's been proven pretty much correct). I watched it, I was never really a huge fan of it, but I watched it anyway. It was funny, it was silly, I loved the sets, and as has been noted, the three female leads were awesome (Jennifer Aniston's amazing skill as a comedic actress is often far underappreciated, even nowadays, and Courteney Cox is an expert nonverbal actress). It was occasionally profound.

It was troublesome sometimes by today's standards, but also in some ways shows the sort of things we were beginning to work through at the time, laying the groundwork for greater acceptance for transfolk etc. And "Helena Handbasket"...I mean....come on! That's awesome. (I have the same opinion of those house hunting shows, as an aside. I think the greatest steps forward in mainstream society towards full equality for LGBTQ folks is aided in large part by "Larry and Ed are looking for a ranch close to Larry's work, their budget is $550,000", where the couple are just Larry and Ed not "LOOK AT THESE GAY MEN!", and their scripted disagreement about the size of the walk-in closet or whatever is just like us).

"I've got my sweatpants on, let's eat!" (also Joey talking about the horrendous shepherd's pie/trifle concoction that happened when cookbook pages got stuck together....I STILL laugh about that "what's not to like? Ground beef? GOOOOOOD! Whipped cream? GOOOOOD!")
posted by biscotti at 6:39 AM on September 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


It is a weird experience to see a thing that you ambivalently enjoyed when it was current being argued about by people who weren’t there then. I assume this is a central experience of aging but I don’t like it one bit.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:03 AM on September 1, 2019 [37 favorites]


Here’s a statement that the author of the article would not understand: Friends was on TV the same night of the week I played in my school softball league, but my dad prioritized some other show on during that time for his VCR programmed recording, so I never got to watch it. Missing Friends was a common lament amongst my teammates.

I never got into it later and have zero regrets, though I do remember seeing and enjoying the smelly cat episode.
posted by Maarika at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ross is a joke because he is a shallow, unreliable pedant who tears his romantic partners down and complains relentlessly about everything.

I also never understood why, as the largest friend, Ross didn't simply eat the other five.
posted by nubs at 7:24 AM on September 1, 2019 [35 favorites]


I also never understood why, as the largest friend, Ross didn't simply eat the other five.

Futuramical!
posted by rochrobbb at 7:38 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was in my mid 20s when Friends was first run. I remember the Cardigans as a band before that song. I remember the show trying to appeal to me as a college educated person trying to figure out my life at a time when my real life friends were my surrogate family.

I will give that the show was very smartly written, in that the jokes were sharp, the timing was great, the characters as written took actions that were mostly true to themselves. I agree that the cast were very talented comedically.

The problem was the situation part of the situation comedy was all so, so wrong. Offensively so. This was the grunge era. “Let’s have them live in this ‘industrial-artist type’ space and hang out in a cafe.” Except it was sparkling clean, 3000 square foot in Manhattan, everyone was almost always gainfully employed in some well paying profession, even if it was retail (you know, to keep it real). No diversity whatsoever. I mean sitcoms are always this unreal world that exists nowhere, but the fact that Friends’ premise was targeted at the “struggles” of people like me just made it seem so offensively vapid. In a way that I couldn’t even watch it ironically like Beverly Hills 90210. The Big Bang Theory isn’t my demo really but I get why people might be put off the same way by that one.

If I’m going to watch a sitcom, it needs to be more like the real world I know (Silicon Valley, Modern Family) or so completely absurd that I can suspend identifying with the situation as real world (Scrubs, MASH).
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:46 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I watched Friends in a casual, space-filling, soul-idling way back in the nineties, before landing fully in middle age and realizing human life expectancy for men in my demographic is roughly 79 and I now have just 18 years left to do everything I’m going to do. Now, the stuff I used to shrug off gets drowned in the cognitive dissonance of my inner monologue screaming “OH MY FUCKING GOD ALL MY CELLS ARE DYING WHY AM I SQUANDERING MY LAST REMAINING HOURS ON SITCOMS” while unrealistic people act out bad scripts depicting situations that I could at least be living in my own swiftly eroding lifetime.

My niece, a smart, engaging young lady born in the nineties, binge-watched the whole miserable run of Friends and I had to remind myself that we all have to make a journey, and just telling her how valuable those years when all our parts work properly and our entanglements are limited are wouldn’t make the point that another couple decades of life at the grindstone will make so much more effectively.

I’m not made of stone, and I consumed The Good Place like the nectar of the gods, but fortunately, the introduction of the tightly arc’d ten-episode season borrowed from UK television means I don’t have to slog through seemingly thousands of episodes of low-density small talk before feeling like I’ve heard a story told in its entirety.

VIVEZ SANS TEMPS MORT while you can, methinks.
posted by sonascope at 7:51 AM on September 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


I watched the first two seasons of Friends and it was fine but I really don't remember much about it. I'm exactly the same age as Courtney Cox (within two weeks) but in '94 I was already married with a kid in kindergarten so hanging out in coffee shops with friends wasn't really a big part of my life at that point.
posted by octothorpe at 8:05 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


If this is a vote, then I conform with the majority. Since it first appeared, I've always found Friends to be annoying and unfunny. I also found Sienfeld to be fairly annoying, but with the occaisional good quip. I actually wouldn't care that much, except that it seems like these shows were really over-rated.

I also think of that era as like the dark ages of television art in general. The past hadn't quite gone but the future hadn't quite started yet, it was kinda stuck between phases.

I have some fondness for previous eras of TV comedy, especially the zany absurdism of some of the 60s stuff, and the more earnest Norman Lear experiments of the 70s. I'd admit that for some of these shows that I haven't rewatched in years, they may not have aged well. But that's comedy for ya.
posted by ovvl at 8:10 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


To me, the interesting thing about this article is that it's posted on Buzzfeed, which has been doing some hard peddling of 90s nostalgia lately - including for Friends. It's often deliberately hard to tell sponsored posts from non-sponsored ones. They operate under content-farm rules and their writers have to push out a lot of content, a lot of which is about hyping products or media.

I'm not saying that this writer was paid to trash Friends, but I don't think that renewed interest in 90s sitcoms is 100% organic and natural. There is a lot of marketing behind it. I wouldn't be surprised if she was paid to write about Friends, or if she wrote about Friends and Buzzfeed was like "yes this will fit nicely into our hype machine." It's gotten people talking about Friends even more!

I'm disgusted by how people are treating her on Twitter.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:19 AM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


The problem was the situation part of the situation comedy was all so, so wrong. Offensively so. This was the grunge era. “Let’s have them live in this ‘industrial-artist type’ space and hang out in a cafe.” Except it was sparkling clean, 3000 square foot in Manhattan, everyone was almost always gainfully employed in some well paying profession, even if it was retail (you know, to keep it real). No diversity whatsoever.

Yeah, Henry Rollins used to do a spoken-word bit about how "Friends" was essentially just good-looking people moving from one warm well-lit comfortable space to another warm well-lit comfortable space. And how for a lot of us that just wasn't our reality, and maybe it was kind of offensive or enraging to have that depicted as how our lives should be. Especially given how so many of us (of roughly the same age as the characters) were dealing with the "jobless recovery" of the early-90's US recession.

Although there certainly were people whose lives were basically spent in warm well-lit comfortable spaces, and I now suspect that some people found - or currently find - that comforting in a sort of aspirational way. I wonder if that's a factor in why so many younger people (apparently) like the show so much.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:20 AM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Friends was and is vacuous ideology. I thought that was objective knowledge by now.
posted by PHINC at 8:22 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’m getting annoyed at myself for getting annoyed at this thread (but still all in good humour and affection!). Y’all raggin’ on the show don’t remember the details enough to rag on it correctly.

First of all, a lot of the characters had shitty jobs. In fact, this was a central plot point of one episode, where chandler, Ross and Monica had more money than Rachel, phoebe and joey, making for uncomfortable social situations. At the end of the episode, Monica ironically gets fired. Yes Rachel grew up rich but then she had to serve coffee (very badly) for years. Then she very slowly climbed the fashion retail ladder and honestly she is pure goals. Joey was notoriously hard up for money as a bad actor before he landed his gig on Days of Our Lives. He has also admitted he has had to donate blood and semen for money. He also sold Christmas trees. Phoebe has always had a murky and troubled childhood, and hinted more than once that she had to live on the streets. Her mom committed suicide! She’s estranged from her cruel twin sister! She lived with her grandma for years and worked as a poorly paid masseuse.

Also, they did not all live in sparkling clean apartments although they spent a majority of time at Monica’s. Joey and Chandlers place was a gross bachelor pad. Phoebe likes to keep mice at hers. It was actually not that nice looking when she lived with her grandma and the early part of when Rachel lived with her. It was a bit of a hodgepodge until Rachel scummed it up with pottery barn and eventually there was a fire and then all of a sudden it was super nice after the remodel. And even and Monica’s - she had gross bathroom tiles until joey pointed them out to her and let’s not forget her Secret Crazy Junk Closet.

So yeah, they didn’t just all live super insulated, blessed lives and to charge the show with that is really showing how little the person has actually watched the show.

Just one criticism from this thread that bent my nose out of shape and I felt compelled to rebut. I love a hot take but some of these are too much.
posted by like_neon at 8:33 AM on September 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


No discussion of Friends is complete without the clickhole Friends quiz, which justifies the existence of clickhole all on its own.

The one where they scream for entire episode but the screams are silent
posted by logicpunk at 8:36 AM on September 1, 2019


Well, this is weird. I don't even think about Friends much at all because I've never liked it, but I had some insanely detailed dream last night about Friends and how one of the actors or characters just came out as gay and there was all this surreal drama and outrage about it that didn't make any sense and well it was all very 1990s and here we are.

Maybe some of this is based in history I forgot or something, I don't remember or really care, but that wow that dream sure was incredibly detailed and ongoing.

Anyway, Friends was dumb and I was absolutely mystified about how popular it was among a bunch of my gen-X cohort and how people were actually having parties about watching new episodes of this weird mushy dreck and I swear just like five minutes before these same people in my life were just ranting about how TV and mainstream media was evil and now they're all acting like weird pod people about this show and, of all the damn things, Seinfeld.

It was one of the many things I found deeply confusing about the 1990s. It was like "Come on, you were just at a real warehouse rave with your head in a speaker and now you want to watch this normcore stuff what the hell is wrong with you?"

Anyway, arguably the only good things to have come out of Friends was Phoebe's wardrobe and Smelly Cat.
posted by loquacious at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I didn't watch "Friends" or Seinfeld" or "Cheers" because I had spent my teenage years watching "All in the Family", "The Bob Newhart Show", Mary Tyler Moore and "MASH". I won't argue that those were better shows, just that they had served for me the purpose sitcoms serve and I didn't need any more. Sitcoms help you, as a young person, learn social norms. You learn what a friend is supposed to do, how you should respond to authority, how to get along with neighbors, and what you should aspire to. I was lucky that the shows guiding me were, for the time, progressive (Watching "MASH' recently, I was horrified at how badly it had aged). So I'm not going to sneer at at a younger generation watching "Friends" now, I'll just hope those young people also find more diverse choices on cable and streaming.
posted by acrasis at 8:47 AM on September 1, 2019


I think it’s interesting to watch Friends alongside Reality Bites. Both came out in 94 and were about an interlocking group of friends/more-than-friends in their early 20s. They both have major issues with realism but Friends makes Reality Bites look like a straight up documentary.
posted by sallybrown at 8:50 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Dang it I’m not done.

Phoebe was a great character and I’m gonna Argue that the writers realised how great she was later in the series and treated her with the respect she deserved.

Yes, in the earlier seasons she is the throwaway weirdo, hippie, artsy, ditzy character that everyone rolls their eyes at and you wonder why they are even friends with her (or more accurately, why is she even friends with them).

But as the show progresses, she’s pretty awesome and I would argue the character that holds up best over time. (Similar trajectory as Miranda from SATC, which will probably get a similar takedown any second now, but I digress.)

It is heavily implied she actually has other friends and interests outside of the six, something the others do not get much of. Even if we don’t meet any of them these other friends are drawn from all walks of life. She is shown to have real integrity over and over again (ok sometimes she cracks but come on Pottery Barn did have some cracking things in the 90s and can you blame her for wanting health insurance by working for a corporate spa?). She is so freaking loyal but also so honest with the other five. She holds them accountable many times. And there was a heart to heart between her and every single one of them where they praise her qualities (I could cite but I’m currently neglecting guests for this, ha!). Her relationship with Joey is particularly sweet and pure.

And then she ends up with the BEST and least problematic Friends boyfriend (everyone loves Paul Rudd, fact), has a fairytale wedding in the snow, and stays true to herself the whole time!

She’s awesome and the show did not treat her like trash. You can tell the writers actually loved phoebe.
posted by like_neon at 9:00 AM on September 1, 2019 [21 favorites]


I've never been a huge fan of Friends and I don't think it's objectively that great a show or anything, but if you want to understand why it ended up in the cultural place that it did, you have to look at it relative to other shows that were on at the same time. Which, if Friends is trash, some of the other stuff that it ran alongside were... I dunno, high-level radioactive medical waste? Septic-tank pumpout sludge? The stuff that's left in the bottom of the grease dumpster when all the liquid has been poured out at the rendering plant? I don't mean the shows we remember—that's looking at everything through a filter—I mean the stuff that was actually on daily at the time.

The early/mid 90s were not a high point for TV, IMO. You had a lot of shows that had been on since the 80s and were aging very badly, and then on the other end you had MTV-ish stuff that was edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy and didn't have exactly universal appeal. And existing almost in a separate universe from all that were the shows aimed at uncomfortably-aging Boomers who were terrified of crack-jacked superpredators climbing out of the ghetto and pulling a Sherman-through-Atlanta towards the white suburbs, and led to a raft of formulaic cop and lawyer shows. And, oh god, 90s daytime TV.

It's a little weird because you would have thought the 90s would have had better TV. The ingredients were there. It was when cable really took off, and you had an explosion of channels, from maybe a dozen if you were in a major metro area with good UHF reception (and 3-4 if you were in a rural area), to multiple dozens even in the edge-of-civilization cable markets where I lived. In theory, that should have been the "golden age of TV"—but most of the cable networks were, in retrospect, pretty crappy and concentrated on reruns and tired formulas. Oh, and movies. For some reason everyone was obsessed with the idea of getting movies in their house in the 90s. Why? Dunno—it turns out that well-crafted episodic TV with a long plot arc is actually a much better storytelling medium, and can be made with production values as high as movies... but nope, in the 90s the premium networks were all about movies and even the ad-supported cable channels like TNT put their best foot forward when they were doing made-for-TV movies, not shows.

Anyway... that was the context that Friends ran in, and probably why a lot of people in a certain age bracket have very fond memories of it. It's not good, but it was what was on.

"Friends" was essentially just good-looking people moving from one warm well-lit comfortable space to another warm well-lit comfortable space. And how for a lot of us that just wasn't our reality, and maybe it was kind of offensive or enraging to have that depicted as how our lives should be.

This is true, but the same comfortableness was also part of its appeal, I think. It was an opportunity to watch attractive young white people bumble around in slightly-awkward situations but without any real consequences. There's something reassuring about that. For some people I think Friends was watchable specifically because it was a sort of antidote to the real world of the 90s, which was a confusing miasma of triumphalist consumer capitalism, grinding culture wars, and technology eating the world. IMO, Friends was always a guilty-pleasure show, at a time when American culture was at its maximally self-indulgent.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:02 AM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I've never understood why people like Jennifer Aniston.

I felt like this until I saw "Horrible Bosses" in which she made me laugh. Hard. I had no idea.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


So, yeah, let’s keep shitting on Ross.

That article was itself lazy hackery (and I said so when it was posted as an FPP!), so, sure, let's.
posted by kenko at 9:16 AM on September 1, 2019


Monica only had her apartment because it used to be her grandmother's place and she's living there under her grandmother's name because of rent control.

Rachel only lived with Monica because she abandoned her intended husband at the alter and was fleeing her situation and Monica gave her a place to live.

I have no idea how Joey and Chandler afforded their place, but I think that Chandler had a really well-paid job in some kind of middle management position (this is a recurring joke on the show -- that nobody knows really what Chandler does for work), and Joey is an actor so maybe he's making more money than one expects.

Phoebe and Ross both live Elsewhere In The City and we have only rare glimpses into what their lives are away from the two apartments which are the main sets for the show.

All in all, Friends is a more amenable show (to me) than, say, Big Bang Theory. It isn't focussed on finding a subset of human to punch down on like BBT and instead it finds its comedy through other means, which are more genuinely funny to me than "Sheldon is a horrible person, let's point at him and laugh".
posted by hippybear at 9:23 AM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also, I really admired how the actors in Friends maintained equity across the 6 of them, demanding that they all be paid the same because they were all equally important to its success. That sort of thing still doesn't happen much, which is a scandalous shame. Pay equity for the win!
posted by hippybear at 9:25 AM on September 1, 2019 [25 favorites]


And also, let's not forget that Iron Man director Jon Favreau was Monica's MMA obsessed boyfriend for a few episodes at one point.
posted by hippybear at 9:27 AM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


And finally... Smelly Cat... it's not your fault.
posted by hippybear at 9:28 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Seinfeld was a weekly competition between four friends to determine the Worst Human Being On Earth. George was the odds-on favorite on any given week, but it was always competitive.

Friends was a collection of familiar stereotypes let loose in a well-lit NYC ant farm.

Sunny is Seinfeld in which all of the cast are generally aware that they are in a Worst Human Being on Earth competition.
posted by delfin at 9:38 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Phoebe's apartment is a small one bedroom she shares with a roommate so pretty realistic.
posted by Mitheral at 9:43 AM on September 1, 2019


My nineties TV watching was quite a bit different from most of America's; my main programs were the two Star Treks, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, the former getting better and better until it made the occasional episode of TNG that I caught seem bizarrely bland by comparison, and the latter raising one interesting premise after another and then either ignoring or abandoning them in the goal of trying to get TNG-level ratings. I also watched various UPN shows, which usually didn't last very long (one of them, Pig Sty, seemed like Friends except all-male, and, contrary to the title, took place in an apartment that was orders of magnitude neater than any all-male space I've ever lived in). The wife occasionally watched X-Files and was into Ally McBeal and The Practice in the early years, before they both decayed into suck, and we also watched MADtv because why not.

So, I didn't watch a complete episode of Friends until very recently, catching an episode by mistake when someone else had it on, and before the episode was half-done I wanted to throw a couple of the guys out the window, even wondering how many floors they were up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:46 AM on September 1, 2019


For people who loved Phoebe, Lisa Kudrow shows up in the fourth, I think, seasons of Frankie and Grace and essentially riffs on the Phoebe character, and it kind of works.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:50 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Honestly, Phoebe was this kind of feral space princess whose commitment to her own vision was total, the only funny character as opposed to character-who-might-do-funny-things-in-the-right-setup. She'd actually fit in pretty well in a modern comedy--profession aside, I can completely see her on the 9-9.
posted by praemunire at 10:55 AM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I also never understood why, as the largest friend, Ross didn't simply eat the other five.

That sets up a great Friends/Shallow Grave crossover/reboot.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:57 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


And they were on a break.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:58 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


And the only reason Phoebe had a twin is Lisa Kudrow was already working on Mad About You and didn't want to quit for the unknown show Friends. So the writers made Ursula Phoebe's twin to explain the same actress in two shows. Also because of this there was a cross over evening where MAY and Friends actors appeared as guests stars.
posted by Mitheral at 10:59 AM on September 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


FRIENDS was written and created for entertainment, as is anything else that is playing when the power button is selected. It has to be watched objectively like any other show.
posted by ascrabblecat at 11:05 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was in my 20s when Friends first showed up. I grew bored of it quickly, because the all white cast in New York City was pretty trite. Most of the plots seemed to be about people going out of their way not to communicate what the problem was solely for lazy plot reasons.

Heard the cast managed to get a million each per episode by the end, so hats off to them about that.

These days I'm enjoying The Expanse and Money Heist. I already re-watch Shameless a lot.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:53 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mad About You, now, there's a crap show
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:57 AM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is interesting that none of the cast members subsequently have been involved with anything nearly as successful. I don't think it's necessarily due to a lack of talent, but then again, presumably none of them have to work because their salaries and residuals from "Friends" have made them all multi-millionaires.

I haven't watched the show enough to have an opinion about it, but I'll always be a fan of how the actors collectively bargained to get a fair share of the money they were making for the network. Solidarity with the workers!

(And always have mucho side-eye for anyone whining about actors or athletes being paid "too much" while having no criticism for the owners who earn much more without having to do any of the work.)
posted by straight at 12:04 PM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have no idea how Joey and Chandler afforded their place, but I think that Chandler had a really well-paid job in some kind of middle management position (this is a recurring joke on the show -- that nobody knows really what Chandler does for work), and Joey is an actor so maybe he's making more money than one expects.

Chandler covers Joey’s rent quite often, and pays for a lot of his acting expenses (accent lessons, headshots, etc). When Joey finally makes a decent wage as a soap actor, he actually moves out to live in his own apartment which is decorated with overpriced tacky decor. He loses the apartment when his soap character is killed off and he has to move back in with Chandler.
Chandler also takes a significant loss in income when he later changes his career to advertising and he has to start as an unpaid intern. By this time he is living with his wife Monica who is running a successful restaurant. And as noted they are living in a rent controlled apartment.

Phoebe and Ross both live Elsewhere In The City and we have only rare glimpses into what their lives are away from the two apartments which are the main sets for the show

We actually see both Phoebe and Ross’ place quite a lot in later episodes. Ross’ place in particular after he moves across the street from Monica and Rachel. It’s seen so often that it was one of the featured sets at Friendsfest for fans to recognise and enjoy.
posted by like_neon at 12:12 PM on September 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


Hmmm, I may have watched each episode more than 30 times...
posted by like_neon at 12:14 PM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


[oops]
posted by kirkaracha at 12:54 PM on September 1, 2019


since it keeps being mentioned, i genuinely don't understand or get Seinfeld. I get the jokes fine but it's so 90s smug, awful people. Friends was huge here too, and I definitely didn't realise the lack of diversity, but on the other hand, in those teen years, in the 90s, there was A LOT of black american sitcoms that made it out into the world and where I was. So I treated all of them as niche programming (not having complete social context, of course). It does make me wonder, what happened to black american sitcoms and international syndication?? for the longest time, the only black-led sitcom on tv here was Everybody Hates Chris.

But still, at my English and cultural knowledge level, Friends was genuinely a lot funnier than Seinfeld. I held off watching Veep for years because I couldn't stand anybody on that show. and it's true! There's a Friends quote for every situation.
posted by cendawanita at 12:56 PM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Phoebe has always had a murky and troubled childhood, and hinted more than once that she had to live on the streets. Her mom committed suicide! She’s estranged from her cruel twin sister! She lived with her grandma for years and worked as a poorly paid masseuse.

Yeah. They did all that, then they handed her a guitar and the deepest thing she had to say about her life was a rumination on the odor of a cat. I totally feel the struggle and trauma.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:26 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I was one of those no-watch-TV types until my senior year of college, when the editorial board of the newspaper I worked on suspended meetings for weekly Beverly Hills 90210 viewings, then went back to work.

And then Friends debuted right as I graduated college and moved 400 miles away from everyone and everything I’d known to launch a whole new life. I managed to pull together a posse of fellow TV watchers and that Thursday-night social occasion with pizza and chatter and TV watching — we started with Friends, we went all the way through E.R. — was such an oasis in a time that was otherwise fraught with the ceaseless learning experiences and irritations of the new.

(Two years later, I tapped out on Friends after the Super Bowl episode and moved 3000 miles away, where I mitigated my relocation dislocation sadness by setting up a Mr. Show viewing posse.)

For me, the pleasures of 1990s TV — or TV watching in general, really — come down to the parasocial relations I had with the characters and the social relationships I could build using TV-watching as the icebreaker activity. I suspect there are probably younger adults who look at Instagram influencers the same way — their lives are shiny and packaged, the stories are quasi-relatable but not too close to the bone, and you can text or chat with someone all, “Can you believe that Jane Doe did that thing?”

I think I feel vaguely warmly toward the show mostly because I have a narrow frame of context for it. One of the neatest things about the media landscape now is watching people discover and react to media works independent of the times in which they were produced, and I love how younger people are paying attention to Friends and in turn, helping assess and appraise the Nineties from a not-at-all personal distance.
posted by sobell at 1:34 PM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


It does make me wonder, what happened to black american sitcoms and international syndication?? for the longest time, the only black-led sitcom on tv here was Everybody Hates Chris.

For the longest time, that was probably one of the only black sitcoms that aired long enough for syndication. American TV was a lot less black in the aughts. UPN aired a lot of shows created by and starring black talent, but most of them were culled during the WB merger. (The UPN-WB merger created the CW, which consisted mainly of WB shows on UPN networks. So...lots of sexy teen vampire shows, basically.) NPR's code switch did a segment on the topic that also pointed out a lot of black-led shows used to air on Fox, but the network switched its target to young men instead of black families.
posted by grandiloquiet at 1:35 PM on September 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


But Friends was mostly harmless, and in our culture, being harmless is a major feat.

hippybear, do you view it as harmless because you've thoroughly vetted the show and listened to what other demographics have said about the show's impact re: race and gender, or do you view it as harmless because you don't personally find it harmful to you as an individual - a white man?
posted by nightrecordings at 2:04 PM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the article grandiloquet! That's a lot of names I recognised. Made me realise if not for that moment in time, a lot more of the references in A Black Lady Sketch Show would've flown past me by.

Re: Friends - I remember cherishing the Got Milk? ad they did -- and it was literally the only reason why I put down money to buy a copy of EW (it's imported! they're expensive!). I truly did stan for this show, which is funny because for all the obsessive episodes-on-VCD collection I did, this whole resurgence has nonplussed me.
posted by cendawanita at 2:04 PM on September 1, 2019


Friends was basically entirely white, but as far as gender goes, it showed independent women living lives wherein they were doing their own struggles to maintain their careers and it was never about them being female but was about whether they were good at their jobs.

I'm not sure what you mean about me vetting the show for its impact about race and gender, because those were never issues the show explored in any depth. I would be surprised to learn that Friends had any deep, negative impact on anyone of color aside from its exclusion of people of color from its basic make-up. And gender doesn't seem to enter much into the equation either. And I'm a pretty aware person when it comes to viewing popular culture offerings. Could you share some context of the harm you claim this show did, so I can further educate myself and be more aware in the future.?
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on September 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


They did all that, then they handed her a guitar and the deepest thing she had to say about her life was a rumination on the odor of a cat. I totally feel the struggle and trauma.

Actually yeah you do if you watch the show?

There was the episode where she thought her mom was reincarnated as a cat. Laughs ensue as her friends, particularly Ross, treats her condescendingly for this. But things turn when she confronts him and asks him point blank if he’s ever lost a mother. Which he admits, very uncomfortably, he has not. It’s a sitcom so we don’t go into a therapy session but she drives the point home with her cutting remarks. It ends very appropriately with forcing Ross to apologise to the cat.

Another point. There are many episodes revolving around her search for her estranged father, meeting and developing a deep relationship with her half brother (she carried his triplets!), her biological mother, the loss of her grandmother, etc. All of these effect her deeply and it’s shown.

Final point, when she marries Mike she makes a touching vow about never having a reliable family, but how that changed with meeting Mike, because he was her family now.

For a sitcom, I thought they did pretty damn well with Phoebe’s unappreciated serious background.
posted by like_neon at 2:18 PM on September 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


but on the other hand, in those teen years, in the 90s, there was A LOT of black american sitcoms that made it out into the world and where I was.

Now that you mention it, my memory is basically the same. In the 80s, up to the mid-90s, at least half the sitcoms I tended to watch had black casts: 227, Cosby Show, A Different World, Fresh Prince. I never watched Family Matters, but tons of people did. And for that matter, in the 70s to mid-80s, there was What’s Happening?, the Jeffersons, Diff’rent Strokes and Good Times.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:27 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


They did all that, then they handed her a guitar and the deepest thing she had to say about her life was a rumination on the odor of a cat. I totally feel the struggle and trauma.

She had other songs, you know. Here's 22 minutes of them, which I'm not going to watch all of just now, but in the first five minutes we've got a couple songs about the death of her mother, angry songs about someone who's a jerk, an improv bit while locked in a storeroom about their bodies being found in the morning, and a song telling one of her friends that he has to decide what to do about the love triangle he's involved in. And, sure, they're played for laughs. It's a sitcom. But if I'm going to criticize the writing of her character, it's not going to be about how shallow her songs are. She obviously writes songs about everything. I can imagine the existence of deeper ones without them killing an episode showing them.

(Dear god, am I defending Friends? WTF even is this.)
posted by hades at 2:38 PM on September 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


The one thing I did not like about Friends was that there was no progress in the character arcs of any of the 4 characters except Joey and Rachel. The other four were exactly the same people from beginning to end. That always bothered me for some reason.
posted by indianbadger1 at 2:43 PM on September 1, 2019


6 characters. There were six main people in Friends. I don't know who you're editing out, but there were always six.
posted by hippybear at 2:45 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I liked the first few seasons of Friends, but I drifted away from it when it started focusing more on them becoming couples. I haven’t had much of an urge to rewatch it in reruns.

Also, the author of the article was born the year I graduated high school and now I feel very old.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:47 PM on September 1, 2019


I'm not sure what you mean about me vetting the show for its impact about race and gender, because those were never issues the show explored in any depth.

The fact that they never explored those issues in depth is precisely the problem. It leaves racialized/PoC out of the cultural conversation.

Could you share some context of the harm you claim this show did, so I can further educate myself and be more aware in the future.?

Sure. My husband, who gave me his blessing and permission to reference him directly in this comment, grew up watching Friends while he was navigating life as an Indian teenager and immigrant in Texas. Like almost every other show on television at the time, Friends failed to account for cultures and identities outside of an assumed default whiteness. [Note: The fact that TV shows with mostly black casts also existed in the 90s does not make it acceptable for Friends to be race-exclusive. This is because 1) It fails to acknowledge the power imbalance that exists between white people and racialized peoples, and 2) Arguing that it's okay to have an all white show because there were some all black shows at the same time is arguing that separate but equal is OK. If this is difficult to understand, see my first point again about the power imbalance.] Friends offers itself as a TV show about New York City, and yet its vision of New York City only ever included two people of color with any meaningful storylines: Julie, an Asian woman who briefly dated Ross, and Dr. Charlie Wheeler, a black woman. This is not representative of New York City's racial and ethnic diversity, let alone the racial and ethnic diversity of the North American population as a whole.

Seeing nearly every major TV show reflect back a world where only white people matter as major characters is a cultural reinforcement to people of color that you do not exist and you do not matter. This can be especially harmful to young people of color who grow up watching a show like Friends.

My husband was one of those young persons of color, and he's seen the entire show. He has explicitly said to me that it was harmful to him to grow up with very few television characters who looked like him. He and I have talked about the problems with Friends' whiteness, as well as the default whiteness of many other TV shows, on many, many occasions. It doesn't help that even some of the more recent sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory trade in caricatures and stereotypes of Indian and other radicalized peoples.

You should ask Fizz sometime what he thinks about the Big Bang Theory character Raj. He has a lot to say on the matter.
posted by nightrecordings at 2:59 PM on September 1, 2019 [24 favorites]


My hatred for Big Bang Theory is a point of enduring contention between me and mr. hippybear and I contuse to endure watching marathons of it even while he knows I hate it. We all make sacrifices for those we love.
posted by hippybear at 3:06 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I do remember being bothered by the fact that Monic's OCD was played as a good thing because it kept her from the abject horror of relapsing into fatness.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:16 PM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Could you share some context of the harm you claim this show did, so I can further educate myself and be more aware in the future?

The One with All the Gay Jokes (Bitch magazine, 2011) (video) "There is, in fact, ninety minutes’—a whole movie!—worth of homophobic jokes in Friends, as she found. But with some guidelines, and editing with a sitcom-narrative in mind, Mamula cut it down to forty-five."
The Plague of Whiteness in 'Friends' (Odyssey Online, 2016) "There were seventeen episodes out of 236 where people of color were present."
11 actually pretty shocking things Friends couldn't get away with today (Cosmopolitan, 2017) "[Joey]'s also prone to imagining his female friends in lesbian/threesome scenarios and ain't nobody got time for that sexism."
Millennials watching 'Friends' on Netflix Shocked by Storylines (The Independent, 2018) "New audiences claimed that Rachel would have been fired for sexual harassment because she hires an assistant who isn’t qualified for the position because she wants to date him."

There are a bunch more of these pieces, and they mostly hit the same themes--womanizing Joey, transphobic Chandler, sexist Ross (and the casual homophobia of all three male leads), fat-shamed Monica, presentation of coupled-with-children as a relationship ideal, extremely white cast with extremely unrealistic apartments, etc. The last of these (and probably some of the others) was part of the criticism 'Friends' received even when it originally aired.
posted by box at 3:21 PM on September 1, 2019 [16 favorites]


"Friends" was essentially just good-looking people moving from one warm well-lit comfortable space to another warm well-lit comfortable space. And how for a lot of us that just wasn't our reality, and maybe it was kind of offensive or enraging to have that depicted as how our lives should be.

I've seen him do that bit, and it didn't quite work for me because that was actually a big part of why I watched it - it was so obviously fantasy that I found it a little comforting when I was poor and hungry and it was in reruns. I didn't grow up with TV and had really never met anybody remotely like these people, so when I moved out on my own Friends was vaguely compelling. It hasn't aged well, and much of it is frankly horrid, but I have a vague soft spot for it.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:53 PM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think it’s kind of interesting that a major complaint about Friends is that it didn’t represent reality, while the hit shows that follow - House, Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, maybe Bones- have effected reality to the point where people think they are real.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:00 PM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


There can be no defense to the whiteness of Friends, which reaches, like, "Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues- every stately or lovely emblazoning- the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge- pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?" levels...but as a general rule I find the complaint that a sitcom is not realistic in its depiction of material reality to be...proceeding from a peculiar set of canons of artistic merit.
posted by praemunire at 6:28 PM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


There have been a few references to it, but to me, I am saddened that a show with a major plot line revolve around fatphobia and inclusion of a fat suit is seen as being harmless. I guess I’m not surprised because “fat people = funny” is pretty much the lens that every show operates (even newer shows, ie the reboot of Gilmore Girls has some gross fat jokes at the pool.) And that’s not the only part of the show I had major issues with, just one of the ways that watching it made me feel shitty about myself.

It’s fine if you liked it at the time and even now if you watch it with nostalgia. But please be open to hearing that the show’s lasting impact hasn’t been entirely positive, it’s pretty hurtful to read all the defense of Friends here and feel like we watched different shows based on how it made us feel about our own value. I am sure I’m not the only one who remembers the influence of Friends as being deliberately exclusive of one or more parts of their identity. Fat, gay, trans, neurodivergent, racialiazed people are often the butt of the joke or it’s pretended don’t exist at all — and to me talking about that, examining popular culture from a diverse lens, is so interesting. Friends is such a massively influential show, it deserves a lot of examination in terms of how it influenced the culture.

It feels like a wider and more critical perspective has been overwhelmed in this conversation by those who really want to talk about how funny the show is. The voices of those who love the show or haven’t considered the problems with it deserve to be heard too — but it’s really intimidating to share another perspective in a thread where often it’s being responded with multiple responses about scenes that you found funny or character backstories that you think make them more sympathetic. I would love to hear from more voices of people who never could watch the show without profound unease. I agree that the Buzzfeed article left a lot to be desired in terms of more detailed and well thought out criticism and I looked forward to getting more here.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:20 PM on September 1, 2019 [8 favorites]



the time porn of their perpetual hanging out in the coffee shop.


There was no internet. We spent SO MUCH TIME in coffee shops.

I miss that.

also: My So-Called Life was so perfect and realistic that my then 15-year-old friend couldn't watch it, it was like her life. At the grand old age of 17, I had enough distance to just appreciate how very real it was, how close it was to the experiences I had just had.
posted by jb at 8:23 PM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I am back! And this time I am here to defend Ross. I KNOW!

He is definitely the worst of the six. No doubt. I think he’s the most inconsistently written character so he often comes off as hypocritical. And yup he’s controlling and and an intellectual snob.

But I will present compelling evidence that he is also very funny and responsible for some of the funniest moment on the show.

This is mainly because the actor David Schwimmer is, I believe, very underrated for his talents as a physical comedian. Slapstick is really not my cup of tea, but he really sold it while playing Ross and it never seemed too out of place.

Very funny Ross moments:
- When he is at the laundromat with Rachel she spontaneously kisses him and he becomes so flustered he runs into the door of a dryer. I watched this with my best friend on the phone and we cry laughed for ages.
- When he’s at Bruce Willis’ cabin and gets caught out, literally with his pants down. His panic while looking for a way to hide makes me laugh every time.
- When he has to teach in rollerblades because his classes are so far apart. The moment where he breaks his pointer, which I am sure is not planned and his reaction is improvised.
- The leather jeans episode. Oh my god. The leather jeans. Especially when he has peaked in desperation and created a paste of baby powder and lotion and slaps himself while trying to put the pants back on. I defy people not to laugh at this scene. It’s especially impressive if you consider that’s he’s supposedly on the phone with Joey who isn’t very unhelpful, but in reality the actor was probably on his own the whole time with no one to react to.
- When he went for a fake spray tan and counted using Mississippi’s. Very funny. (By the by, the extra who plays the tan technician is also very funny).

These are just off the top of my head. I guess you could argue this doesn’t make Ross better, it’s mainly due to the actor. But I’d also say that these situations are very Ross and couldn’t have happened to the other characters.

posted by like_neon at 1:20 AM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


It feels like a wider and more critical perspective has been overwhelmed in this conversation by those who really want to talk about how funny the show is.

I am frustrated that a wider and more critical perspective is being overwhelmed by shallow takes from people who have obviously not really watched the show. Like, sure let’s talk about it! I would love to talk about it. But do the research.

I have plenty to criticise from then show, even as a huge fan. In the spirit if of rising to the invitation, here are my thoughts:

I was never really that bothered with the lack of diversity but I can see how jarring it is in the context of today. As an Asian American I was fascinated when they cast an Asian actress for Julie. She was ultimately wasted as a character and only served as a reason for Ross and Rachel to finally get together (the first time) but still, Asian! On a big show! This was a big deal to me. As others have noted, there were actually quite a few shows that featured an all black cast during this time, but seeing an Asian person was super rare.

There is plenty more wrong with the show. The fat shaming probably makes me cringe the most. I am not going to defend it because I think it’s not very defensible on the whole, but I will provide some more background, which may or may not be relevant for discussing the “Fat Monica” treatment.

Monica ultimately loses weight because she overheard Chandler calling her fat (which Ross sort of calls him out with a very weak “dude!”).

I don’t actually think it’s tied to her Type A neat freak tendencies as someone surmised above. That aspect is just part of her personality separate from being overweight. And I personally think this part of her personality is made fun of much more than her past as an overweight teen, but I haven’t done an audit so maybe not.

And again I am NOT trying to defend the show, but I think it’s also worth considering the fantasy alternate universe episode where Monica stays fat through adulthood. The ultimate point of that plot line was that she ends up with Chandler even in an alternate universe where she is still fat because they are great friends that have amazing sexual chemistry. Take that however you want.

The casual homophobia is very embarrassing to rewatch. They are cheap jokes that never really served a purpose except for cheap laughs. Did they contribute negatively to the general homophobia of that era? Absolutely. But I don’t think they were anywhere near the most egregious example of the time (many people have already pointed out how Frasier had more toxic examples.)

Friends is problematic and it would never be made today. But I don’t regret watching it and I will probably end up happily watching reruns at the retirement community media room.
posted by like_neon at 2:18 AM on September 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


My daughter on the other hand, will not “get” Friends and will have much better shows to watch. She already has better cartoons (Hey Duggee is so good!!) I’m totally happy about that.
posted by like_neon at 2:25 AM on September 2, 2019


Yeah, I agree. As a (global) poc fan, there's no way with all of my own raised consciousness etc would this show work for me now. But we also have a lot of better shows now too. And the linked hot take in the FPP is so indicative of the shallow knowledge. I mean, sure, Friends IS trash but is that same person seriously citing Frasier and Seinfeld as better examples of the era and it's casual ironic -isms? And it's actually reasonably well-executed and at least I can put Joey well back in my rear view. I still don't understand the appeal of Barney Stinson, he's like the worst combo of Joey and Chandler.
posted by cendawanita at 2:51 AM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues- every stately or lovely emblazoning- the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within


Fun Bobby isn't fun anymore.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:54 AM on September 2, 2019


There was a cross over evening where MAY and Friends actors appeared as guests stars

...which led to one of my favorite sitcom quotes ever, which I still use:

Ursula/Phoebe (as waitress): Would you like the usual?
Paul: Uh...sure
Ursula/Phoebe: Ok and that would be what?
posted by biscotti at 6:54 AM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


There was also a Mad About You crossover with Seinfeld where we find out that Kramer is subletting from Paul.
posted by octothorpe at 7:26 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is mainly because the actor David Schwimmer is, I believe, very underrated for his talents as a physical comedian.

Begrudgingly agree, except that I think a lot of Ross's creepiness is also down to Schwimmer's performance, so it's kind of a wash for me.
posted by schadenfrau at 7:56 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


> Also, I've never understood why people like Jennifer Aniston

She's funny. She has good timing and does well in a certain kind of role, which I appreciate for idle watching (while knitting, on planes, while eating pizza with my kids, etc). Murder Mystery is a good recent example -- it's not great filmmaking, but it's entertaining (even though it has Adam Sandler in it).
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:54 AM on September 2, 2019


I watched "Friends" only casually -- it was on, I didn't have cable or a VCR, might as well -- and yet I bet I've seen every episode. It was just in the air. I wasn't a fan but I can't move anything large up stairs without yelling "PIVOT! PIVOT! PI-VOT!" even if it's just to the cats.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:56 AM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Eh it was a good background noise show with the usual doltish cast and bad writing of a typical sitcom. I haven’t seen it in years and don’t miss it.
posted by disclaimer at 9:31 AM on September 2, 2019


Yeah I guess I wasn’t clear enough that when I said I had problems with Friends I wasn’t also putting out a table with a sign that says change my mind that fat jokes are funny! Fat suits are never okay.

Maybe the reason you think my problems with it are “shallow” and the reason I haven’t watched every episode is because casual fatphobia and homophobia aren’t fun to watch for me. It’s not a funny show to me. No one needs write a few more paragraphs about how anyone dismissing it just isn’t familiar enough with it. Friends was inescapable for me, and I guess the only helpful thing I can think about its ubiquity is that when I see friends and family laughing at jokes on it made at the expense of people like me then I can trust that person less and less. And that lack of trust is being extended to seeing people in this thread respond to folks who didn’t like the show by writing paragraphs about why it’s actually really funny.

It’s not the worst show ever by far. But it’s a massively popular show that had some real problems. And it needs to be okay to accept that those problems can coexist with your love of the show and realize that your ability to watch every episode and enjoy it is not a universal experience.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 10:31 AM on September 2, 2019 [15 favorites]


I did enjoy David Schwimmer as the West Side Curmudgeon on Will & Grace.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:55 AM on September 2, 2019


Side note: in Season 1 Episode 6 of "The Good Place," Michael tells Eleanor he has watched all 10 seasons of "Friends" as part of his study of humanity. And makes multiple references to the show.

Perhaps unrelated, it's the same episode where he explains the frozen yogurt - because it's such a human thing to take a great thing and ruin it a little so you can have more of it.
posted by bunderful at 12:01 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


My daughter on the other hand, will not “get” Friends and will have much better shows to watch. She already has better cartoons (Hey Duggee is so good!!) I’m totally happy about that.

I mean, part of the premise of this article is that The Kids Today (not the Genuine Milennials like the author or myself) inexplicably love Friends so maybe not?
posted by atoxyl at 2:23 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Sitcoms help you, as a young person, learn social norms. You learn what a friend is supposed to do, how you should respond to authority, how to get along with neighbors, and what you should aspire to.

Holy shit Jerry Mander was right.

As someone who was spared this particular form of mass indoctrination, it's enlightening to realize that these endless pop-culture discussions are actually a cover for something much more interesting: debates over educational policy and practice.
posted by shenderson at 9:30 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I remember once joking at a temp job back in the day that Friends don't let friends watch Friends and becoming a pariah on the spot to the X'ers among the cohort.
posted by y2karl at 9:34 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I didn't like Friends when it was on. I don't like it now. But what I like even less are unprompted negative takes on media (as in not reviews) that others love.

"This is a thing that's underrated!" Neat! I want this. Share this thing you love!

"This is a thing that's overrated!" Eh...

Let people like the things they like.
posted by brundlefly at 10:13 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I mean, part of the premise of this article is that The Kids Today (not the Genuine Milennials like the author or myself) inexplicably love Friends so maybe not?

I don't think that it's inexplicable at all, though. It seems driven by marketing - the hype started when it started streaming on Netflix, and sites that do fast-paced, clickbait-style media coverage like Buzzfeed started posting articles about it. This doesn't seem like an organic trend. (And as I said this article was also posted on Buzzfeed, so THE CIRCLE IS COMPLETE)

I'm not saying that the kids today don't like it. I mean, I bet a lot of them had already seen it, and that more liked it when they watched it for the first time. But I'm not sure how much of the trend just drummed-up hype coverage, how much is just kids picking an accessible sitcom they've heard of out of Netflix's limited TV offerings, and how much is a genuine revival of interest in Friends among the younger crowd.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:12 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I remember once joking at a temp job back in the day that Friends don't let friends watch Friends and becoming a pariah on the spot to the X'ers among the cohort.

Reminds me of the time I called The Squirrel Nut Zippers a "novelty act" at a party.
/90s ostracism
posted by thelonius at 11:25 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I once told a bunch of people at a party that Rage Against the Machine lyrics offer an overly-simplified political analysis.
posted by box at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


But what I like even less are unprompted negative takes on media (as in not reviews) that others love.

Sure. I mean, it's easy to take lazy potshots at Ross, or... *actually reads article*
And then of course there’s the infamous 2004 lawsuit that Amaani Lyle, an assistant in the writers room, filed against the show for being forced to listen to the writers joke about Joey raping Rachel, and watch them pantomime masturbating, and mock “black ghetto talk.” (The judge ruled that the writers’ behavior was necessary for a creative environment, laying the problematic groundwork for a “creative necessity” defense to be deployed elsewhere.)
Oh. Right. I actually hadn't known that before this article.

I gotta back this up:

It’s not the worst show ever by far. But it’s a massively popular show that had some real problems. And it needs to be okay to accept that those problems can coexist with your love of the show and realize that your ability to watch every episode and enjoy it is not a universal experience.

The problem here is not 'sometimes people like problematic things.' We all do. We live in a world built on innumerable interlocking systems of oppression, and we have to get by. Everybody likes something problematic because it is completely inescapable. I do too. (Not Friends. The era appropriate comparison would be: I liked Seinfeld when it was airing despite it having many similar issues to Friends in a bigger picture sense.)

It crosses over into 'you are doing something bad' not when someone likes Friends, but when they tell other people it's harmless. That crosses over from living in a world filled with bad things to becoming a support beam in them.

If we're going to link to comics instead of lengthy explanations, I got one too.

Like Batman? Great. I do too.

Tell me Batman's not problematic along numerous axes? Welp. :P

'Skinny white people are the only ones worth watching' is a bad message. And asking people to be able to hold and reconcile two disparate notions in their head at the same time should not be fucking rocket science:

"I like this" should be able to sit side by side with "But also there are problems." Pointing that out isn't a refusal to 'let people like what they like,' it's just asking people to grow up a little.
posted by mordax at 11:53 AM on September 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


I'm just here to say that I learned via one of the links in this article that a high school friend of mine sued the show and I am very proud of her.
posted by tangosnail at 1:38 PM on September 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


As an Asian American I was fascinated when they cast an Asian actress for Julie. She was ultimately wasted as a character and only served as a reason for Ross and Rachel to finally get together (the first time) but still, Asian! On a big show! This was a big deal to me. As others have noted, there were actually quite a few shows that featured an all black cast during this time, but seeing an Asian person was super rare.

I'm also Asian-American who got super-interested whenever an Asian American showed up, but I think Lauren Tom's 7-episode run as a recurring character on Friends was not particularly ground-breaking for the time.

imdb says that she first appeared on Friends on May 18, 1995.

Prior to that:

Kellye Nakamura appeared in 167 episodes of MASH in a recurring run as Nurse Kellye (from 1973-1983) and had an episode that was written about her.

Joan Chen was a main cast member in 18 episodes of Twin Peaks as Jocelyn Packard between 1989-1991.

Rosalind Chao appeared in 8 episodes of Star Trek TNG and 11 episodes of DS9 in the recurring role of Keiko O'Brien from 1993-1994.

Margaret Cho was the lead of All-American Girl (the first Asian-American family sitcom) starting in 1994.

Russell Wong was the lead of Vanishing Son starting in January of 1995.

Ming Na Wen wrapped up an 8-episode run as Deb Chen on ER in April of 1995. In September of 1995, (shortly after Tom's appearance on Friends) Wen was a series regular on The Single Guy, which at one point was part of NBC's vaunted Thursday night lineup.

And this is not even a comprehensive list, just the random Asian-American actors that I remember being active in the 1990's and earlier.

I'm not arguing about your subjective reaction to Lauren Tom's presence on the show; just wanted to give some context as to why it does not stand out to me as a particularly gutsy or notable moment on the Asian-American representation, even by the relatively abysmal standards of the time.
posted by creepygirl at 3:56 PM on September 3, 2019


11 episodes of DS9 in the recurring role of Keiko O'Brien

Huh. She was only in 11 episodes? I would have thought it was more. IMDB says 19 episodes, which seems a little closer to my memory.
posted by tavella at 4:32 PM on September 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


11 episode prior to Lauren Tom's appearance on Friends. I didn't count anything after 1995.
posted by creepygirl at 4:48 PM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I once told a bunch of people at a party that Rage Against the Machine lyrics offer an overly-simplified political analysis.

I once told a roomful of my fellow first-graders that the movie of The Wizard of Oz wasn't as smart as the books.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:09 PM on September 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


You know, I had this flash of insight based on hanging out on a couple of sites where virtually everyone is under thirty - people project a consistent far-right conservatism onto the past because they are not taught very much history and our mode of consuming old pop culture is limited and unsubtle. This is not just true of, like, Zoomers or whatever they are now; it was true of my generation as well when we considered, eg, the sixties or seventies.

So for instance, people will routinely say stuff that's basically, "oh, you can't expect your fifty-ish relative to know any better because they're an old person" (as if there were no anti-racism in, like, the nineties, or as if there were no gay activism, so any fifty-ish person is just a lump of ignorance who knows no better) or "oh, that was written in 1990, no wonder it's so shitty" or "this Not Absolutely Far Right Depiction of Immigrants from 1985 is incredibly ground-breaking and right on for its time". Basically, there is no left history and no history of political struggle prior to, like, the past five years - so younger people assume that the past was an uncontested field of far-right-ness, and therefore they accept a lot of shit. It's not even that people have a sense of "oh third wave feminism was flawed but it was a left response to conditions" or something - there's just no there there, no sense that people struggled to make social change prior to the present.

So my suspicion is that when younger people watch Friends, they write its various shittnesses off as "oh it was just the past the past was shitty" and discount them, instead of knowing that Friends was criticized at the time or that there were other depictions, eg, of Asian-American characters that were better, or that even at the time feminist women thought that the whole Monica in a fatsuit thing was misogynist and gross.

I add that back in the nineties, there was a left/non-mainstream skepticism of popular culture that doesn't seem to exist the same way now - no one I knew among punk/activist types watched TV regularly because we all figured it was shit, full of terrible ideas and lies. Younger activists that I know all stream plenty of TV and talk about it a lot. Now, on the one hand, TV is indubitably better than when I was young, but on the other hand when I watch a lot of shows they still seem full of really garbage underlying assumptions. I mean, they're profit-making vehicles for major corporations, so what do you expect, it's not exactly experimental Soviet animation studios around here, but at the same time I do feel that TV socializes you to accept a general garbage-y depiction of humans and human interaction, and to write off a lot of stupid and venal assumptions that come with the medium. And I think this also affects how we view past TV - basically, we're used to it.
posted by Frowner at 4:28 AM on September 4, 2019 [7 favorites]


I once told a bunch of people at a party that Rage Against the Machine lyrics offer an overly-simplified political analysis.

I once told people at a party about place nearby with great snacks that let people BYOB in the courtyard out back.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 AM on September 4, 2019


Building on Frowner's comment regarding the perceived conservatism of older generations:

Seniors Are More Conservative Because the Poor Don’t Survive to Become Seniors (NYMag)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:56 AM on September 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


I dunno, Frowner, certainly in the 80's and well into the 90's it seemed like anything that was mainstream enough to count as pop culture WAS inherently conservative. Even an openly politically liberal band like REM wasn't comfortable enough for Michael Stipe to come out in that environment. Anyone too political or progressive was sidelined out of the mainstream or never got into it in the first place. There were people doing stuff, to be sure, but Billy Bragg was not making an impact on the wider culture. Rock stars who'd been openly bi in the 70's walked that back or kept real quiet in the 80's. Even someone as flamboyant as Boy George was cagey about being gay. It was so crucial back then to paper over reality and not rock the boat.

This is what gives me hope about the current age. Our politics may have regressed to a sub-Nixon sub-Reagan level, but we're still battling the culture wars and holding our own. Openness has brought on the backlash, but it's also brought so much into the open.

We have to thank all those artists who toiled in the underground in the 80's and 90's. Who knew they'd never hit the big time because they let their freak flag fly. And we have to weep and thank and beg forgiveness for all those who died of AIDS, whose presence and then absence kick-started a revolution of reality and ended that age of pop-culture falseness. (We still have plenty of pop-culture shallowness and fakery, but it's not as compulsory as it was back then.)

Friends is an artifact of both ages. It's painfully white and homophobic and so forth in many ways, but it sides with young people and their new ideas and hopes and dreams rather than the status quo of the old "Greed is Good" culture. It's terrible and yet some people love it.
posted by rikschell at 9:14 AM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


the... Cardigans? Are we talking about the theme song? 'Cause that was the Rembrandts.
posted by radiosilents at 9:33 AM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was a little too young to watch the first seasons as they aired, but I do appreciate as one nugget, now, that they didn't make Susan and Carol either super masc or super femme. This might have been good for my baby gay self to see. It was pretty rare, even into the 00's, to see any depictions that lesbians could or did just look "normal" by social standards.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:34 AM on September 4, 2019




Jesus. Worse than I remember it being. Thanks for posting, sallybrown. I have forcibly forgotten how offensive the story was: In an alternate opening sequence, Fat Monica hops onto the gang’s couch and almost tips it over — and we’re supposed to laugh. Fat Monica is often seen eating sloppily, wiping chocolate from her face, or licking powdered sugar from her fingers. In “The One That Could Have Been” two-parter where Monica never loses weight in an alternate timeline, she remains a virgin for the longest time (because apparently fat people didn’t have sex in the ’90s?). And the show plays up the character’s hallmark neuroses for laughs when she is overly concerned with someone having sat on her Kit Kat bar (because being neurotic or struggling with OCD is complex…unless you’re fat) in the same episode.

I gotta say being told in this thread it wasn’t that bad felt a lot like gaslighting. I questioned whether my memory of Friends was maybe better based on your comments. No doubt no one intentionally meant to do that — but it was shitty nonetheless.

For what it’s worth, I have warm and fuzzy feelings about an equally problematic show, How I Met Your Mother. So I have my own issues. I just want folks to be more careful in assuming that popular media is benign.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:40 AM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


You remember that establishing outside shot of the apartment? Me neither, but in the Year of Our Lord 2019 it remains an active tourist spot in the West Village.

(Preferred Seinfeld but recognized the one or two genuine laughs per episode from Friends. Also, Team Phoebe.)
posted by whuppy at 6:55 AM on September 6, 2019


I am surprised at the absence of That 70's Show from the catalogue of problematic sitcoms herein.
posted by y2karl at 12:04 PM on September 9, 2019


Yeah, no, the eighties and nineties were absolutely much, much, much worse for gays and lesbians than today. That is...no.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:16 PM on September 9, 2019


the eighties and nineties were absolutely much, much, much worse for gays and lesbians

Part of my coming out process that led to fruition in 1990, my early 20s, was coming to personal acceptance that I was going to receive hate all the time from basically everyone and did I have the courage and tactics required to live a life that would be like that for another ~70 years. That's the calculation that was made back then. I'm not the only one.
posted by hippybear at 8:31 PM on September 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


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