From Fat Monica to Chandler’s dad: How well has ‘Friends’ aged, really?


It has been 24 years since Friends premiered and 14 since Monica, Chandler, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey took their final bow, and, for some time after the finale, Associates lived on as a innocent pop culture icon, a comfy present to return to in attempting occasions.

However that is 2019, and viewers – who’ve turn out to be extra attuned to how fiction shapes our imaginative and prescient of the world – are casting a extra essential eye on the sitcom. Some are reluctant to place Associates underneath the microscope. Is nothing sacred anymore? Is each childhood favorite destined to be ruined as we maintain popular culture to larger ethical requirements?

Properly, no. However Associates retains such a pull that Netflix was keen to shell out a reported $100m to maintain it on its platform for a minimum of one other yr. It appears important, then, to reckon with a number of the present’s most questionable elements – specifically, the truth that all six pals appeared to stay in a world overwhelmingly populated by straight, white folks. A world the place being fats or performing homosexual (no matter which means) doomed you to turn out to be the butt of many jokes.

“It’s truthful to say [Associates] was the product of its time, however the issue is that point was far much less inclusive, and an period when bigotry, even into the guise of a sitcom, was extra acceptable,” says Kelsey Miller, the creator of the not too long ago launched I’ll Be There for You, an in-depth look into the present’s historical past.

To know why Associates generally appears like an older relative with whom you’ll be able to talk about the climate however not essential social points, look no additional than race. As Miller factors out, it took the present – a present primarily based in New York Metropolis, of all locations – 9 seasons to have a recurring black character (palaeontologist Charlie Wheeler, performed by Aisha Tyler).

Associates let a few of its characters down with regards to faith, too. Some is likely to be stunned to study that Rachel Inexperienced is Jewish (a reality confirmed by present co-creator Marta Kauffman in an interview with the Jewish Telegraph) as a result of her id is rarely clearly said. As a substitute, Inexperienced’s faith is hinted at all through the present, reminiscent of when she refers to her grandmother utilizing the Yiddish phrase “Bubbe”.

“Lots of people speculate is as a result of they have been simply attempting to make it extra palatable and that having a kind of Jewish woman subsequent door, love curiosity character wouldn’t have labored as properly,” Miller says. “That’s definitely the way it went on these large, large sitcoms of the period.”

Then comes, after all, the “Fats Monica” downside. Monica Geller’s youthful self (performed by Courteney Cox in a fats swimsuit) is so faraway from her present-day character that she feels extra like a cartoonish alter ego than {the teenager} who would at some point turn out to be a reliable New York Metropolis chef.

“She’s a joke,” Miller – whose first guide, a memoir titled Massive Lady: How I Gave Up Weight-reduction plan and Bought A Life, delivered an in depth take-down of the weight-reduction plan business – says.

However as offensive because the portrayal is likely to be, it has some unexpectedly redeeming qualities that also resonate with some viewers immediately.

“Lots of people actually like Fats Monica as a result of she had confidence in a approach,” Miller says. “She appeared completely unaware of the truth that folks have been making enjoyable of her loads of the time. I feel for lots of fats girls and women, watching that character, that was sort of a cool factor.”

One of the vital unpalatable elements of the present immediately – the sort that makes you flip to your Netflix binging accomplice and say: “I forgot Associates was such a Nineties present” – is its therapy of queer characters and masculinity. A person expresses the slight curiosity in dancing, infants, or present wrapping? (Severely, present wrapping.) He should be homosexual, or a woman, or each. It’s clear now that Chandler’s dad is a trans lady (a reality confirmed by Kauffman in a 2016 interview) – and is ruthlessly mocked for it.

However there’s usually a ‘however’ at any time when Associates is mentioned, as a result of what appears intolerably out of date immediately was generally deemed groundbreaking twenty years in the past. Miller mentioned the case of Chandler’s mom with a trans lady, absolutely anticipating her to “lambaste” the character.

“However the lady I interviewed identified that Chandler’s ‘dad’ – and I say ‘Chandler’s dad’ as a result of that’s the way in which the character is referred to within the present – was the one trans character, actually at the moment, who was not a homicide sufferer on Legislation & Order,” Miller says.

“Lots of people mentioned, ‘Sure after all it was horrible, but it surely was approach worse in all places else.’ So having that illustration was higher than nothing – and isn’t {that a} unhappy reality? However I feel it was true for some of us.”

Maybe the most effective encapsulation of the anomaly of Associates is the season two episode The One With the Lesbian Marriage ceremony, wherein Ross’s ex-wife Carol marries the love of her life, Susan. The section gave viewers the primary lesbian marriage ceremony proven on community TV, 19 years earlier than the Supreme Court docket’s choice guaranteeing the precise to same-sex marriage. It attracted considerably much less controversy than anticipated. NBC had anticipated a deluge of telephone calls however acquired only some complaints, an obvious signal that the episode resonated with the 31.6 million viewers who tuned in.

However – right here it’s once more – Associates might have pushed the envelope even additional. “Though it was two girls getting married, there was loads of making it as conventional and as heteronormative as potential in different methods,” Miller says.

Each Carol and Susan are walked down the aisle by males, she factors out – Carol by Ross, Susan by each her dad and mom, together with her father in full army uniform. Each brides are carrying “very conventional robes”, though they don’t seem to be white and the veils have been changed by hats. And, in a transfer that appears paying homage to some present-day sitcom debates (it took Trendy Household a complete season to let Cam and Mitchell share a kiss on digital camera in 2010) the brides aren’t seen kissing after tying the knot.

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Jane Sibbett, who performed Carol, has acknowledged that she and Jessica Hecht (Susan) have been “disenchanted” by the choice.

“We weren’t allowed to kiss, and we have been disenchanted by that,” she instructed Metro final yr. “It wasn’t not allowed, it simply wasn’t filmed, that section of the marriage. Folks have been frightened that that was going to occur and possibly they pulled again on that just a little bit.”

Nobody is asking viewers to cease binge-watching Associates, however for a present usually so brilliantly crafted (if a line did not elicit the suitable response from the viewers, Miller recounts in her guide, it will be rewritten till it clicked, making for “marathon” shoot nights) it’s irritating to see, twenty years later, how usually it fell again on low cost laughs.

Associates can be simply as humorous with out Fats Monica. The sitcom by no means wanted a single “homosexual Chandler” joke. And it will have been simply truthful (particularly given what number of gags diminish lesbian intercourse, presenting it as merely a technique to arouse heterosexual males) to let two girls kiss at their very own marriage ceremony.


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